Allen Iverson has been pushed out of the spotlight and guys like LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, Brandon Roy and Kevin Durant are in that spotlight. This is what David Stern and the other major executives love. For about 10 years, Allen Iverson was the face of the league. He made the NBA adjust to him. As soon as Michael Jordan left the game, Allen Iverson became the face of the league.
June 26, 1996. A young man from the hard streets of Hampton stepped to the podium to shake David Stern's hand. Before that, he went out of the green room and gave his friends from Hampton hugs. Iverson was ready to take the league over and change the culture. The older legends and players did not like it. They did not like the way he played and they did not like what he was representing. They hated Iverson's swagger.
People were scared of this six-footer. He represented the black culture and the hip hop culture, and there were ignorant, racist people out there who thought that was a bad culture. There were people out there that just hated what Iverson did. As a rookie, Iverson had a tattoo and that raised eyebrows.
Little did people know that was just the beginning.
The face of the league was intimidating. By Iverson's third year in the league he had cornrows, more tattoos, and he wore tilted hats and large jewelery before games. He wore throwback jerseys, baggy shorts, baggy shirts, baggy jeans, and walked around with who he wanted to on camera, and there wasn't a damn thing anyone could do about.
He even recorded a gangster rap album, which was not allowed to be released because David Stern did not like the harsh lyrics. Older people like David Stern and other executives hated how Iverson acted and how he dressed.
But the young kids and teens loved it.
Every kid had Iverson sneakers and Iverson jerseys in their closets at home. Kids started to dress like him and act like Iverson. He was an icon and he was the best player in the league. That was the problem, though. Iverson was too good to be asked to change. How were you going to ask the face of the league to change? Allen Iverson made the NBA get used to him.
You see, Iverson started many trends in the league. Other players in the league started braiding their hair and wearing hip-hop clothing before games, other players wore expensive jewelery and listened to hip-hop music before games. It was getting brutal for Stern because he thought the league's image was getting nastier and nastier each week.
David Stern the genius could now tell everybody to change, and it would not just be Iverson he was asking. Everyone was doing what Iverson was doing, many players had cornrows and wore hip-hop clothing. Across the league, players' arms were filled with tattoos.
So, in 2005, David Stern created a dress code. Stern banned throwback jerseys, baggy jeans, crooked baseball caps, do-rags, knee-length t-shirts, large items of jewelry, and Timberland boots. Punishment for violations would include fines and possible suspensions for repeat violations.
Then, the NBA started the NBA Cares program. The league was trying so hard to be viewed as a league full of angels. They were trying so hard to be viewed as a friendly league where everything is perfect.
The reason for all this? Allen Iverson. The man who started all that and created trends the whole league was following was the reason there was a dress code. Iverson was the first to say something about this. Iverson criticized the dress code by saying that it "would not change a person's character regardless of what type of clothing they wore", and that "associating hip-hop styles of dress with violent crime, drugs, or a bad image is racist."
However, Iverson was forced to change. Now he is 34 years old and and NBA teams are asking him to change his game and adjust his style to become a role player. Last season, he was put into a situation where he was forced to not play his way. The year before, he averaged 26.4 ppg, 7.1 apg and 2.2 spg. He also shot 46% from the field. You can't fall off when you are that good, unless you are forced to change.
It is reported that Iverson is going to sign with the Charlotte Bobcats or Memphis Grizzlies in the following week. But, wherever he goes, Iverson has probably made it clear that he will only sign if he gets to play his way and is not forced to change. He has a lot to prove and needs to show the world he can still be an elite player. Maybe then the league again will be forced to put him in advertisements and Iverson will again be put in a position to revolutionize the game. Who knows.
One thing I do know is that if Iverson plays well, the league will have to get used to him again. The same way they had to get used to him all those other years.
Iverson will always be the face under the mask for the NBA, though.
Next time you see someone wearing a sleeve in a game, just remember Iverson started that.
Next time you see a player with tattoos and cornrows, remember that Iverson started it.
Next time an NBA player decides to rap, just remember Iverson was the first player bold enough to do that.
Next time you see a player wearing hip-hop clothing and jewelery, just remember Iverson started it.
Next time you see the NBA Cares commercial air 10 times between games, remember Iverson was the reason.
Next time you see LeBron James or Chris Paul or Dwyane Wade wearing fancy suits to their games, just remember Iverson is the reason.