Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Toast to Allen Iverson in Retirement

I remember this cover like yesterday. The beginning of an era we'd never forget.
With Allen Iverson's retirement announcement, his NBA career should read like this. One of the most important players in NBA history. A cultural touchstone. A lethal scorer.

For better or worse, he impacted the game and left his mark that will be felt for years to come. He's a Hall of Famer that made you respect him regardless if you liked him. I say that from my own experience.

I'm of the generation that grew up on AI. He got drafted the year I started junior high in 1996. Many of my classmates in high school rocked corn rows and our best hoops player had a game similar to Iverson - a fearless, high scoring, volume shooter without the crazy hops or speed.

All that said, I couldn't identify with him like other peers. I was in awe of how fast he was and how he scored with ease but in those early jr. high/HS years, I didn't like how he embodied the street culture. Back then, I was Mr. Smart Guy raised to be everything but hood so I couldn't relate to that. I related more to Grant Hill and Kobe Bryant.

But things changed in 2000-01. AI's MVP season made me appreciate his heart. I remember him lighting up the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals, including a 26-point fourth quarter in Game 6. Then there's Game 1 of the NBA Finals. The greatest one-man effort I have ever seen and Iverson did it against the greatest playoff team of the last 15 years.

48 points and the now infamous embarrassment of Tyronn Lue. People forget that Lue actually played him well in the 4th quarter but you can't hold down a guy forever. It led to one of my favorite David Halberstam pieces that summed up my growing admiration for him.

Even though the Sixers lost the next four games, he sent that message that he'd always be fighting no matter the odds. That's when I realized he was special and he had a resolve like few others.

Most of his life he had to fight. Fight as his career was nearly derailed by a bowling alley brawl. Fight when John Thompson gave him a chance at Georgetown. Fight when his body took a pounding in the NBA to become one of the best and most memorable players in NBA history. Fight to be who he was despite folks trying to change him or raise a fuss about it.

And he beat that back. All while creating memories for me to marvel over. I remember the dunks. The driving lay-ups. The 50-point game streak his rookie year. The crossover that broke Jordan off and the double cross that abused Antonio Daniels.

The 2001 All-Star Game comeback he led with Stephon Marbury was a dream for us who saw them since 95-96. Copying a few moves from his Reebok commercials. The SLAM cover that became as iconic as any. The feuds with Larry Brown that brought the best out of him and unfortunately, that practice soundbyte that has overshadowed and unfairly defined him.

The cover that launched a 1,000 posters.
My last memory of Iverson was a mixed bag. New Years Eve 2009, several of my friends went to see him as the Clippers hosted the Sixers. It was surreal seeing Iverson be more of a distributor than a scorer. I remember he had five assists at halftime but zero points. 6 months later, he would play his last NBA game and his post-NBA life would be a mix of worrying about his finances or if he'd survive the dangerous challenge of life without basketball.

That sad end doesn't change that his career is one of the most impressive I've witnessed. In terms of great small guards (under 6-2), only Isiah Thomas and John Stockton are better. He was a better passer than given credit for as well as a decent defender. He's one of the 50 best players of all time and one of the 10 best players of the 2000's.

The crazy thing is how his career has been discussed since 2009. On Twitter, I routinely see folks call him overrated, a selfish gunner and anything else to say why he's not an all-time great. While he may have been a gunner, he also carried the Sixers as far as they could've gone. If he's not a Hall of Famer, then I don't know who is.

So as the Answer finally hangs them up, I raise my glass to somebody who deserves to be praised as one of the best. A cultural icon. A unique gift to hoops fans. And somebody who I pray continues to improve his life and find peace with it.


  1. Great piece as always Evan...that game in East finals against the Buck was "poorly" called to put it VERY lightly...to play devil's advocate...No why the league wanted Milwaukee in the Finals...Only Shaq, Kobe, and Timmy where better in 00s...maybe KG...but that's about it in my opinion...HOF no doubt but sad life post NBA..200 million blown...I was in ATL at the W when his Lambo go repo...so embarrassing that it feel like it was happening to me...

  2. Thanks man and yep, I remember how NOBODY wanted Milwaukee in there. But Ray Allen, Big Dog and them tried their best but it was tough. Me and my man Keith debated this - Iverson's one of the 10 best of that 00's behind Shaq, Kobe, Kidd, Duncan and KG. Right up there with Pierce and the rest of the "2nd-tier" HOF in that group. I just hope he gets his life right like you said - all that money blown and family drama is just a sad coda to what should be him celebrating one of the best rag to riches stories around. He's fought for so long already and I just want him to keep fighting smarter now.