Allen Iverson: A Legacy Misconstrued

Richard LeContributor IIISeptember 10, 2012

15 Jun 2001:  Allen Iverson #3 of the Philadelphia 76ers during pre-game introduction to game five of the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers at the First Union Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  The Lakers won 108-86 to take the series 4-1 and the NBA Championship Title. DIGITAL IMAGE.  Mandatory Credit: Ezra O. Shaw/Allsport.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

In the NBA, championships and dynasties are dictated by superstars. Whether they are conglomerates or single entities, the big-time superstars bring excitement, highlights, and wins to the audiences of the NBA.

The names of these superstars are forever imprinted in the annals of NBA history. In retrospect, other than the legendary Michael Jordan, no modern day superstar was as deadly and entertaining with the basketball as Allen Iverson.

Allen Iverson made a name for himself in the NBA as a little man with a big heart. The strength of his will and his slightness of frame made for an interesting contrast that ultimately combined to create an icon and inspiration for audiences.

Despite his small stature, there was nobody during Allen Iverson's prime who was a more lethal scorer than he. Similar to Shaquille O'Neal's dominance using strength, Allen Iverson was deadly using his speed.

With a streaky but lethal jumper and a myriad of crossovers and acrobatic skills, Allen Iverson became a household name for both his entertainment value and his ability to win, despite not playing with the most skilled offensive players.

Probably his most talented co-star in all his years with the 76ers was Dikembe Mutombo, and the man was no offensive juggernaut. With an aging defensive beast and a myriad of nearly competent role players surrounding him, Allen Iverson was able to carry his team to the finals, and garner the MVP of the regular season while doing so.

However, despite his many scoring titles, the coveted MVP title, and his numerous playoff pushes utilizing weaker talent, Allen Iverson has garnered the reputation of "team cancer" and "locker room liability" as his career slowed down, and ultimately fizzled.

Suddenly, his on-the-court dominance and unique playing style that used to garner universal praise had become a magnet for criticism.

Words like selfish, arrogant, and uncompromising became synonyms for Allen Iverson, according to NBA executives and coaches.

The beginning of this downward spiral began with his inability to mesh well with Carmelo Anthony in Denver, and was fueled by the downfall of the Detroit Pistons following his trade to their franchise. Ultimately, the act that would cement his poor reputation was his refusal to come off the bench in Memphis and the mysterious manner in which he ended his season with the 76ers.

However, under closer inspection, the public may have judged him too harshly.

Consider that Allen Iverson has played one style of basketball his entire career. He is the type of ball player that needs to dominate the ball in order to succeed. This is not unlike Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, and other players of the scorers' ilk.

What did Denver's management expect, signing Allen Iverson to their franchise? Was it his fault that they signed him—knowing his playing tendencies and style—and couldn't create a fluid offense with both Iverson and Anthony needing to dominate the ball? Was it fair for them to ask him to suddenly become more of a distributor than a lethal scorer? Not only that, but to ask him to be the old "Allen Iverson" at the same time?

Allen Iverson was not a bad passer. With a career average of 6.2 assists, he has proven that he can distribute the ball. However, he has always been a "score first" point guard. To expect him to drastically change his style of play to accommodate another superstar when he could, at that point in his career, still put up buckets was unreasonable—unless they were willing to undergo a transition period.

Furthermore, how was shifting Allen Iverson to the shooting guard position and putting the likes of Anthony Carter and his ilk in as the starting point guard supposed to spur Allen Iverson to become a more deferring type of player?

In fact, even with these complications and the less-than-expected chemistry on the Nuggets, they were still one of the highest ranked offenses in the league during Allen Iverson's tenure there and their main deficiency was their defense. Should their overall poor defensive play be pinned on Allen Iverson as well?

The key factor was teams' unwillingness to let Allen Iverson transform his style of play—one he had utilized for over a decade with the 76ers—and become the player they expect him to be over a transition period. They expected him to morph his game instantly. That's hard for any player, no matter how talented.

It is understandable that teams may not want to wait too long to start winning big time, especially with a player that demands so much money as Allen Iverson. However, if teams weren't willing to wait for him to drastically alter his playing style, and weren't willing to let him play to his true nature, then why trade for him in the first place? And why make him the scape goat for failures?

Allen Iverson's locker room problems with the Grizzlies and his bad attitude in terms of coming off the bench were inexcusable for an NBA player making as much money as he was.

Though there is no rational argument that counteracts his crimes, there were reasons for his bad attitude that could, to some degree, justify his anger.

After years of being the scape goat for Denver and for the Pistons, perhaps coming off the bench was that final straw on the camel's back.

After years of being disrespected and criticized for being himself, and then being disrespected and criticized more for trying to change his playing style (ineffectively), being forced to come off the bench for a rising youngster like Mike Conley might have pushed Allen Iverson over the edge.

His career fizzled out after his short stint in Memphis and a final few games with the 76ers, and his legacy came out looking worse for wear.

In retrospect, Allen Iverson has always been real and has always been true to himself.

Teams took gambles on his overwhelming talent, believing he could alter his game later in his career the same way scorers like Grant Hill did, and mesh with other prominent scorers. Those gambles didn't pay off. The side effects of these failed attempts have left a slight tarnish on the legacy of Allen Iverson.

Despite the misconstrued perspective on his legacy, Allen Iverson's body of work and his overachieving accomplishments given his small stature should be the defining legacy he is remembered by.

He was an inspiration for all ball players to be true to themselves, and should be remembered as a superstar; not a villain.