As Allen Iverson prepares to enter the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, Sports Illustrated's NBA staff obviously started a journey down memory lane. Iverson will enter the hall with a star-studded group, standing beside Shaquille O'Neal, Yao Ming, Tom Izzo and many more.
Although there are other big names on the marquee, Iverson is obviously one of the main attractions. Stories jumped out at every member of the crew, and while there were too many to include in this forum, we pared down the absolute best of the 76ers star. With no further ado, here are the best moments of Iverson's career.
Ben Golliver: Dominating on the football field
I love each and every one of Allen Iverson’s greatest hits on the basketball court, but my favorite A.I. moment is actually the recurring moment of realization that The Answer could have dominated on the gridiron just like he did on the hardwood. Every year or so, I get to dreaming about the tantalizing “What-if?” of Iverson’s potential football career.
Yes, Bubba Chuck had real football chops. In Sports Illustrated’s famous 1993 story about Iverson’s tumultuous time as a prep star in Hampton, Va., writer Ned Zeman notes that his subject was named by Parade magazine as one of the top 10 football players in the country, noting that Iverson played “quarterback, and safety and returned six kickoffs for touchdowns.” A few years back, Iverson told Slam Online that he missed football so much while at Georgetown that he actually approached legendary basketball coach John Thompson about the possibility of playing both. And Gary Moore, Iverson’s manager, told Bleacher Report last year that Iverson was “far better” at football than basketball, that he had dreamed of playing for Notre Dame, and that he had Hall of Fame potential.
Go ahead, check the tape.
The lateral quickness, side-to-side jukes, general slipperiness and the remarkable understanding of spacing that made Iverson so special on the court translates perfectly to the football field. It’s easy to see why he drew comparisons to Deion Sanders and Michael Vick, and his three-minute highlight reel is chockful of “Wow” sequences. As we celebrate Iverson’s hoop career this week, let’s also take a few minutes to dream about the alternate reality in which he stuck with the sport he has called his “first love.”
Andrew Sharp: Stepping over Tyronn Lue
Everyone has their own favorite Iverson memories. I remember watching him at Georgetown, at U.S. Air Arena, when I was 8 years old. I remember this coat, this Jadakiss commercial, and this Chris Rock interview. I remember reading about how, when Team USA was in Athens, Iverson allegedly went out to the track one morning and ran a sub-four minute mile. I remember him playing an All-Star game after allegedly not sleeping for 72 hours, and then winning MVP. I remember yelling at soccer snobs, swearing that if Iverson had played soccer, he'd have been the best in the world. I remember that Sports Illustrated cover, and the SLAM covers, and the Philly Inquirer article that finally gave life to the whispers about his alcohol issues. I remember a lot of Iverson things. You probably have your own memories.
But everyone remembers what he did to Tyronn Lue.
That's the ultimate.
In fact, a good barometer for people who grew up with this is whether they remember Iverson by his practice rant, or the stepover in the Finals. The practice rant turned him into a caricature, which to a lot of people I guess he was. Fine. But stepping over Lue... That was Iverson at the peak. That was the attitude. The speed. The power at 175 pounds. The way he took people's dignity and in the process made you ready to go to war for him forever. That play happened in Game 1 against the 2001 Lakers—the most dominant team to hit the Finals this century—and Iverson was in the middle of scoring 48 points and beating them by himself. When it ended at 1 a.m., I was ready to put on a shooting sleeve—every 13 year-old kid in America owned a shooting sleeve in 2001—run into the streets, and start the revolution.
Of course, skeptics will note that he lost the next four games to Shaq, his Hall of Fame classmate this week. They may also point out that much of what made Iverson and the stepover iconic at the time now looks kind of childish. Basketball today is about more than taking people's dignity and refusing to compromise. Likewise, younger generations of fans will look at his efficiency and have trouble understanding why anyone worshipped him. Things have evolved. Iverson's whole persona looks cartoonish next to today's players, and he's still dressing the exact same way. Meanwhile, Ty Lue is an NBA champion.
It's all right there. If you want to remember Iverson at his best, or if you want to remember why even Iverson at his best has gotten complicated, the stepover has symbolism for every story we'll ever tell. This includes the most important story to tell: In the moment, Iverson was f***ing FUN.
Jeremy Woo: Practice
We’ll remember Iverson in his prime for his acrobatics and his quickness, his ability to repeat the most difficult moves and surprise with his constant innovation, and because very few normal-sized people have ever enjoyed quite the same degree of individual dominance on a basketball court. Please read Gary Smith’s essential SI piece if you have not done so already.
But, of course, there is also this.
The mythos of “Practice” has only grown with time, with various accounts suggesting A.I. may have been drunk at the podium during a tumultuous 2001–02 season (he denies it). His drifting, self-defensive rhetoric as the media grilled him about his practice attendance—on the podium—is more candid than you’ll hear from almost any athlete ever. He says “practice” 22 times. Whoever the Sixers P.R. person was at the time, that guy is a hero for letting this happen.
It’s a slow motion car crash you can’t tear your eyes away from, yet it’s easy to side with Iverson himself. This is because he appears to truly care. He was asked about it again earlier this year, and the essence of his stance boiled down to this quote:
“You just heard me say I was the MVP. That's the best player in the whole world. You think I can be the MVP without practicing? That'd be a bad motherf*****.”
Golliver, Sharp and I were in Toronto last All-Star weekend when they announced this year’s Hall of Fame class. Every new inductee took the stage in suits and ties. A.I. walked out in jeans, a T-shirt and a massive, massive gold chain. There are pictures somewhere. He’ll never change, and that’s beautiful. This is Iverson’s essence, on-court feats and failures and pure, unapologetic sense of self. Remember him for both.
Jarrel Harris: Crossing over MJ
When you look back at Allen Iverson’s career, the crossover on Michael Jordan has to be listed as one of his most defining moments. While it was surreal to see the greatest of all-time get crossed up and become human, it was a sign that the game was changing with faster, younger, and more explosive players. Many spent time idolizing their favorite players, while Iverson spent time thinking of how to become his own player and plotted to destroy his idols. He was brashful in quotes and said, “I don’t want to be Michael Jordan, I don’t want to be Magic, I don’t want to be Bird or Isiah, I don’t want to be any of those guys. When my career is over, I’m going to look in the mirror and say I did it my way.”
I think Drake said it best: “And that’s around the time that your idols become your rivals. You make friends with Mike, but got to A.I. him for your survival.”
Iverson ushered in a new era for the NBA with stars to come such as Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter, and Tracy McGrady. He didn’t hold anything back and became a cultural icon in the process.
Over the course of time, Iverson and Jordan gained a lot of respect for each other as you can watch with this MJ quote in 1996, the 2003 All-Star Game chest bump, Jordan’s final NBA game and MJ hopping on a bus to congratulate Iverson after he was named a Hall of Famer.
DeAntae Prince: Skying over Camby
As the years wore on and the injuries piled up, Allen Iverson’s game grounded below the rim—but that wasn’t always the case. Iverson dunked plenty in his short career at Georgetown, and he brought that into the league with him. Back when he first entered the NBA, Iverson still had spring to his game that belied his short stature. Raptors center Marcus Camby learned about Iverson’s athleticism first-hand when the Sixers star emerged out of nowhere to grab an errant layup with one hand and crash down on Camby’s head with a vicious slam.
Iverson played in the NBA for 14 years, and he always had speed, will and craft. Early on, though, his athleticism extended well above the rim, and this was one of the best examples. And, in typical Iverson fashion, he wasn’t quiet about it. Only in this instance, his words didn’t do the talking, as he deliberately swung toward Camby’s head and hung over the rim for effect. Consider the message sent—twice.
Moments like this are why we all love Iverson so fiercely. At his peak, Iverson's speed and athleticism were matched by very few players in the league. The same can be said about his ball handling and shot-making ability. Even with all these gifts, though, Iverson still had something to say. His skill, heart and brashness all came together to form an undeniable package. It wasn't always pretty with Iverson, but it was certainly real.