For those who are still unaware, Allen Iverson retired from professional basketball last week. Wait, what? I can hear some people: “But he hasn’t played in like four years….” This may be true, but the retirement has been put off until now. Yet, shouldn’t it be obvious to fans of the game at this point that Allen Iverson does not just concede? While his career may have ended with a whimper rather than with a bang, the fact cannot be ignored that “AI” is indeed one of the best players of our generation, and he more than deserves a trip to the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Allen Iverson began his career as a Sixer in 1996. A six foot tall, 165 pound shooting guard, it is more than fair to say that Iverson was undersized. Yet what he lacked in size he more than made up for with his heart. The amount of times this little guy got banged and bruised is incomprehensible. Yet, whenever he fell, he not only got back up, but proceeded to break ankles and drop 30 points. There were countless commercials and in-game graphics that highlighted Iverson’s numerous injuries, yet no matter what, he just kept on chugging along. In 2001, he won the MVP award as he led a decent Sixers team to 56 wins and the NBA finals. The moment he crossed up Tyronn Lue, hit a jumper, and proceeded to stomp over Lue’s legs with a swagger that only he could produce, and that is still etched in my mind. That swagger will be forever engrained in NBA history too. And, oh yeah, he also scored 48 points that night. Although the Sixers lost and would never reach anywhere near where the 2001 team was, it was not his fault. Iverson has averaged 26.7 points per game throughout his career, good for the sixth highest average of all time. His 29.7 points per game playoff average is second only to Michael Jordan.
Iverson was instrumental in redefining his position. Being tremendously undersized for his position, he proved that size and strength are not essential to becoming an elite scoring guard. AI added flair to his game, not looking to imitate or build upon successes of past greats like Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, but instead create a unique style and identity on the court that would make him his own legend. Known for his crossover, Iverson could make even the league’s best defenders look like amateurs. He has crossed up everyone from Kobe Bryant to Michael Jordan, proving that he could score at will while not only making himself look good, but his defender silly. On the court he was a rogue and a bad boy all by himself as his confidence and style only aided his quick and destructive skillset.
While Iverson was one of the most dynamic and improbable scorers the NBA has ever seen, the tail end of Iverson’s career seemed to destroy his relevance and almost hinder his reputation. When AI was traded to the Denver Nuggets in December 2006, something felt off. At first, the trade looked like it would do wonders for the Nuggets as they now had both the first and second leading scorers in the NBA in Anthony and Iverson, respectively. However, they were quickly eliminated in the playoffs by the San Antonio Spurs. Iverson would spend one more full year in Denver before bouncing around to Detroit, Memphis and, eventually, back to Philadelphia. Yet, by this point, he was a shadow of his former self. After returning to the Sixers in 2010 for several games and performing moderately, Iverson left the team to tend to his daughter’s health issues. He would never return to the NBA.
For all of his accolades on the court, Iverson’s attitude and style on and off the court that helped define him and his generation in the NBA. Although he poured his heart out on a nightly basis, Iverson may have carried an aura of nonchalance throughout portions of his career. After losing to the Celtics in the 2002 playoffs, Iverson was criticized for missing some team practices. But come on, Iverson said that, “I mean, listen, we’re talking about practice, not a game, not a game, not a game, we talking about practice.” Iverson brought a certain image to the game, that much is clear. He was a pioneer who brought a certain bad boy image and edge to the league. When David Stern instituted a dress code before the 2005-2006 season, Iverson naturally protested. His image, which consisted of tattoos and baggy clothes was something that captivated fans and helped change the image of the league, yet it was something the NBA itself seemed to despise. They wanted their league to represent a squeaky clean image rather than a growing culture its players were helping define. Sure, Iverson was stubborn. But his conviction was what made him who he was.
When AI refused to come off the bench in Detroit at the end of his career, it was a statement to pride and the fact that Allen Iverson would not belittle himself. Yes, it was selfish, but in a strange way it only added to Iverson’s persona. He was not merely an all-star scorer; he was an identity — a figure who will withstand the test of time in the NBA. Hate him or love him, fans of basketball must respect Allen Iverson. They must respect him not only how he played, but for who he was, who he is, and what he contributed to the game both on and off the court. They must also respect him as one of the faces of his generation. Iverson should be a first ballot Hall of Famer, and he probably will be. If anything, his official announcement of retirement brought his name back to relevance. A few years removed from the latter half of his career, fans can observe and reflect on his influential and dominating career.