We all die. The goal isn't to live forever, the goal is to create something that will. – Chuck Palahniuk, author of "Fight Club"
Every great basketball player leaves behind a legacy.
Fair or not, that legacy is the way he will be remembered for the rest of time.
Some players’ legacies are carved throughout their entire careers. Michael Jordan, for instance, spent his whole basketball life becoming known as the greatest basketball player who ever lived.
With every championship he won, every MVP trophy he received and every gravity-defying move he made, Michael padded his glory and cemented his status as the best basketball player to ever walk the face of the earth.
Years from now, when our grandchildren’s grandchildren discuss the best basketball players to ever grace the hardwood, Jordan will still be mentioned. The memories of his career and the transcendent nature of his talents have led to Jordan’s lasting legacy as the best of the best.
Other legacies are set by a single moment that becomes a symbol for a whole career. Willis Reed, a New York Knicks great who averaged 18.7 points and 12.9 rebounds per game during an illustrious career, will never be remembered for any of his regular-season exploits.
Whether or not you like it, Reed will always be known for the most Herculean four-point effort in NBA history, when he hobbled onto the floor despite a torn muscle in his right leg, inspiring his team to its first NBA championship.
Willis averaged 33 points and 15 rebounds during the first four games of that series, but nobody ever remembers that. He will forever be linked to that four-point performance, when fate met circumstance and Reed became a legend. Reed is remembered for a great moment, but his incredibly solid career has been overlooked due to that one special night.
Every basketball player, every person, has a legacy that lasts after they’ve played their last game or taken their last breath.
Allen Iverson’s legacy is in trouble. His last few years, mired in selfish on-court play and divisive off-court demeanor, are threatening to mar a career filled with stellar accomplishments.
And it’s sad, because AI spent much of his career overcoming the prejudices that precluded his entrance to the NBA. He wore doo-rags, styled his hair in cornrows, and had bountiful tattoos.
Still, he earned the begrudging respect of even the most conservative observers by being a tough, tough bastard who brought 100 percent effort every night he took the floor.
I hope people can look past these few years and see Iverson’s career for what it was. For a time during the late 1990s and early 2000s, Iverson was the most stirring talent in the NBA.
He attacked the basket with reckless abandon, sacrificing his body and bouncing back time after time from contact that would have hurt players twice his size. During that time, Iverson was without a doubt the toughest player in the league, pound for pound.
With his daring drives to the basket and uncanny penchant for finishing at the rim, “The Answer” defied logic. He was a 6’0”, 170 pound shooting guard who didn’t even have a nice outside shot. But he had the heart of a heavyweight champion, and carried his teams to heights they never should have reached.
Do you remember those teams he played on in Philly? How about the team he brought to the NBA finals? The second- and third-leading scorers were Theo Ratliff and Dikembe Mutombo, respectively. When those guys are your best shot-blockers, your team probably has a pretty good defense.
But when they’re your top scorers? You’re team should be in big, big trouble.
Still, Iverson led them to the finals. He carried that team on his back and proved himself to be a rare player capable of leading a team almost single-handedly to the finals. Most teams need a second star, and maybe a third, to reach the finals.
But Iverson rolled solo, taking a bunch of role players to that finals berth. He was the premier scorer in the league—and a winner, too.
Undoubtedly, Iverson has faults. He has had brushes with the law, complained about going to practice, and is known as a tough player to coach. He’s been late for meetings, skipped practices altogether, and takes a lot of shots. He tends to dominate the ball and has struggled to fit in with other star players.
But let’s not let his flaws, nor these last couple down years, make us forget everything this man has accomplished. Let’s not forget the Allen Iverson who used a lightning-quick crossover, a devastating first step and explosive scoring ability to become the league’s MVP in 2001.
Let’s not forget the man who played every night with a chip on his shoulder, as if he had to prove himself all over again each time he took the court. Let’s not forget the warrior who played far bigger than his slight frame would suggest, who not only succeeded but stood out in a league of giants, through sheer will and utter determination.
We all die.
But Allen Iverson’s career and all his accomplishments should leave a lasting, positive mark that lives on forever.
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