Allen Iverson is a future first-ballot Hall of Famer.
His career was marred by drama, inefficiency and the absence of a championship, but that doesn't change how great a player he was.
He gave the NBA 14 years of potent scoring and underrated playmaking. When those tasked with recognizing greatness look at Iverson, that's what they'll see.
They'll also see an embattled soul who didn't quite know when to let go. It took Iverson three years to officially retire, after all.
Trouncing that, however, was what he accomplished on the basketball court. His achievements and unbridled devotion to the game itself (not practice) were pure—they remain incorruptible. They can't be overshadowed by anything, nor will they be.
Come 2015, when Slam Online indicates he'll be eligible for induction into the Hall of Fame, he won't need a second chance.
He's going to get in.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.
Only part of the story is told by Iverson's career average of 26.7 points per game.
In 14 seasons, he amassed 24,368 total points, making him one of 38 players to ever eclipse the 20,000-point plateau. Of those 38, Iverson and 12 others are the only ones to hit the benchmark by or before their 11th season.
Wait, it gets better.
Of those 12 others, 10 are currently in the Hall of Fame. The two that aren't—Shaquille O'Neal and LeBron—will have a good case for themselves once they are they eligible.
In other words, Iverson could score. A lot. His four scoring titles pit him next to Michael Jordan, George Gervin and Wilt Chamberlain as the only players to secure four such crowns.
As for those 26.7 points a night, they leave him as one of only nine players to have averaged 26 or more points per game for their career.
Worthy of first-ballot induction? Most definitely.
Iverson's on-court displays weren't perfect. Far from it. In fact, they could even be categorized as inefficient.
Still, The Answer did more than just shoot without regard for field-goal percentages. So much more.
Presently, he's one of only eight players in league history to notch at least 20,000 points, 3,000 rebounds, 5,000 assists and 1,500 steals over the course of his career. His seven other companions read like a who's who of Hall of Fame constituents and inevitable candidates.
Jordan, Karl Malone, Gary Payton, Clyde Drexler and Larry Bird are already in the HOF. Kobe and Kevin Garnett—the other two—are first-ballot locks themselves.
Iverson shouldn't be any different, especially when you consider he's been able to distinguish himself even further.
Only two other players in NBA history averaged more than 25 points, five assists, three rebounds and two steals per game for their career—MJ and Jerry West, both of whom were already inducted.
Iverson's play style and off-court decisions remain open to interpretation, but the numbers do not. They are what they are and say what they say.
And they're telling us he belongs on the fast track to the Hall of Fame.
As controversial as Iverson was/is, he was an innovator.
Before him, the NBA wasn't as readily accepting of shooting guards trapped in a point guard's body. Someone his size should've been a pass-first floor general, not a habitual chucker.
This points us toward another issue: Iverson's shooting.
Even today, the league doesn't view volume shooters in the most favorable of lights. Kobe isn't free from criticism and players like Monta Ellis are ridiculed to no end.
At times, Iverson will fall victim to the same backlash. His 42.5 percent career conversion rate certainly isn't helping things.
That said, he related to current Hall of Famers more than he does to Ellis or Brandon Jennings.
Think about this: Once he's inducted into the Hall of Fame, he'll be one of just seven players with a career assist percentage above 28, putting himself in the company of John Stockton, Magic Johnson, Gary Payton, Tiny Archibald, Isiah Thomas and Oscar Robertson.
He and Robertson will then be the only inductees to accomplish such a feat while also averaging at least 25 points per night.
Iverson may not have changed the way we look at chuckers entirely, but he helped redefine the role of undersized guards by finding a balance between distributing and serial shooting.
For that, he deserves to be recognized.
It wasn't all sitting down on the scorer's table and missing practice for Iverson. He put in work.
Through 14 seasons, he averaged a combined 41.1 minutes a night. Only three times in his career did he ever play fewer than 40 minutes per game for a whole year.
Better still, just four other players in NBA history retired after playing 40 or more minutes a night for their careers. Each and every one of them is a Hall of Famer.
For all the sludge he forced his team and fans to wade through, Iverson was diligent. Practicing with his teammates wasn't a top priority, but being on the court for as long as humanly possible was.
Beneath that mercurial persona he built was a go-getter, someone who loved the game. If you ever get the chance, ask him yourself. I'm sure he'd tell you.
Contrary to popular belief, he cared—more than we may ever realize.
Why prolong the inevitable?
That's the stance I assume with regards to Iverson's future. Love him or hate him, he's going to make it to the Hall of Fame at some point.
Every player ever named league MVP has been inducted into the HOF. Obviously, this doesn't include active players. Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Derrick Rose, Garnett, LeBron and Kobe haven't retired yet. Shaquille O'Neal hasn't been out of the game long enough.
Tell me one of the aforementioned players won't be elected in on their first try. I dare you. I triple-dog, pie-in-the-sky dare you.
You could argue Rose or Nash if you want, but it's futile. It's going to happen...in one shot.
Admittedly, the whole "don't postpone fate" argument isn't the strongest of rebuttals to his detractors. Given everything else we know and have already discussed, however, it's not the only case to be made for him.
It's the cherry atop his first-ballot, Hall of Fame sundae.
Championships are nice, but they aren't everything.
Were players to be judged solely on the number of rings they procured during their career, Hall of Fame snubs would abound. Legends like Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley and Karl Malone, among many others, wouldn't have made it into the Hall of Fame.
Additions of title-less players shouldn't guarantee Iverson an induction, of course. That's not the point. The absence of a ring merely shouldn't be held against him.
Instead of looking at his empty fingers as a means of tarnishing his Hall of Fame case, we should be looking at the numbers we discussed previously and his ability to make the playoffs at all.
Iverson made eight postseason appearances through 14 years—nothing too crazy. But his 29.7 points per game in the playoffs are second only to His Airness' 33.4. He's also the only player in league history to average at least 25 points, six assists and two steals through a minimum of five postseason berths.
Sure, championships mean something and must be a part of the Hall of Fame discussion. Other accolades, however, are just as important.
Like the ones that allowed Iverson to set himself apart from everyone else, for instance—the great Michael Jordan included.