Allen Iverson, who announced his official retirement late this October, will go down in basketball history as a legendary figure for not only the Philadelphia 76ers, but for the entire NBA. He changed the game with his famous and at times infamous career. Adorned with his shooting sleeve, cornrows, tattoos and lethal crossover, he achieved something greater than expected from his 6'0", 165-pound frame. He escorted the NBA into a new era and redefined how an NBA player could be a role model—tattoos, gold chains and all.
Although he played for four different teams in his 14-year NBA career, Philadelphia was home. The Sixers drafted Iverson first overall out of Georgetown University in the 1996 NBA draft. It was there that Iverson emerged as one of the NBA's all-time great players and cultural icons.
An 11-time All-Star, Iverson spent a little over a decade in Philly, including one NBA Finals appearance, seven All-Star appearances, one Rookie of the Year award and one NBA MVP award. All in a No. 3 Sixers jersey.
The Philadelphia 76ers announced last week that the franchise will retire Allen Iverson's jersey in a ceremony during halftime of their March 1 game against the Washington Wizards at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
Allen Iverson is, without question, one of the most iconic players to ever wear the Sixers uniform. Allen left everything out on the court and no one could ever question his heart—he was relentless, fearless and pound-for-pound, was one of the greatest to ever play the game.
And he was. While some may say he was a ball hog, no one can question his passion for the game.
He willed the Sixers to the NBA Finals in 2001. The 76ers averaged 94.7 points per game; Allen Iverson averaged 31.4 of those. Their opponent, the Los Angeles Lakers, averaged 100.6 points per game and had two players, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, who were both averaging almost 30 points per game.
It was a miracle that the 76ers got one win on Bryant, O'Neal and the Lakers.
He dazzled with his almost streetball-like, yet under control style of play. His ball-handling skills were like nothing the NBA had ever seen before, as in this incredible crossover, where Iverson crosses Tyronn Lue, hits the jumper, stares down the Lakers bench and steps over the fallen Lue.
That is a perfect depiction of Allen Iverson—small, feisty and confident.
At six-foot nothing, AI found ways for a small guard to score and lead his team. He paved the way for the now guard-heavy NBA, showing the world that crafty ball-handling and change in speeds could be just as effective, if not more so, than height and muscle.
That "Riquickulous" Jordan campaign, seen on the right, doesn't happen without Allen Iverson's influence.
AI is the definition of "riquickulous."
What he did with the ball in his hands was out of this world. He's crossed just about everyone from John Stockton to Kobe Bryant and even the greatest of all time, Michael Jordan, seen in the video below.
Seeing a young, much smaller Iverson cross Jordan in his prime is a shocking image, but it's not all that shocking when you realize AI is top 10 in 40+ point games, and his scoring average is only behind Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and LeBron James, who called Iverson one of his role models in an interview with Chris Broussard as reported by ESPN.com:
I watch Jordan more than anybody, for sure. But I'll watch tapes of AI, too. I don't take anything from AI. Well, I do—his will. They say he was 6 feet, but AI was like 5-10½. Do we even want to say 160? 170 [pounds]? Do we even want to give him that much weight? And he played like a 6-8 2-guard. He was one of the greatest finishers we've ever seen. You could never question his heart. Ever. He gave it his all. AI was like my second-favorite player growing up, after MJ.
Not only did Iverson pave the way for how guards played, he paved the way for how an outspoken, tatted-up NBA player could be a role model. LeBron James, a guy who didn't go to college and humiliated his hometown with "The Decision," can still be a role model for kids, thanks to Iverson.
Iverson had his demons, for sure. His "practice" speech, seen below, wasn't his finest moment.
His departure from the NBA wasn't exactly graceful, but Iverson was a role model for young kids in Philadelphia and around the country who wanted to achieve more than their surroundings, and who wanted to achieve more than what they were given.
His legacy may not have ended gracefully, and we can probably all hear his "we talkin' bout practice" ringing in our heads when we think about Iverson, but the truth is he was one of the greatest. His stats show that.
But not only was he an amazing scorer with crazy handles, he was himself—completely, unapologetically himself. He didn't like to be fake or adhere to any politically correct rules or regulations.
As reported by Matt Watson of SB Nation, when asked by a reporter what he thought about some of the NBA charity events, Iverson replied, "Fake."
He went on to say he would rather the cameras not be on him when he helps those less fortunate than him.
As the discussion turned to his and other NBA players roles as role models, he said:
We are role models, regardless if we like it or not. It is something that we got to accept, but it is something that people should know that we're human and we make mistakes and we are not going to be perfect. You can want to be like Allen Iverson, but I don't think people should try to be like Allen Iverson. I think people should be better than Allen Iverson.
Iverson wasn't perfect, and he definitely had some issues and probably still does, but he was true to himself throughout his career. And his true self was an honest, hard-working game-changer, changing the game in big fur coats and gold chains.
But most importantly, changing the game in a No. 3 Philadelphia 76ers jersey.
"I will always be a Sixer til I die," Iverson said, via Fox 29.