A courageous, fearless, mentally tough, and passionate player?
Then you've clearly never watched a Sixers or Nuggets game.
If you said coach-killing, dissatisfied thug you only know of him from his famous "practice" soliloquy or off-court run-ins with the police.
But Iverson is actually the toughest basketball player to have ever represented an NBA franchise with the Jerry West silhouette on his jersey.
He's a 6-foot, 165-pound dynamo who approaches the basket with the ferocity that Michael Jordan only wished Kwame Brown had when he drafted him No. 1 overall.
The result of his assault on the rim? Seven feet, 320 pound monsters are left in his path, flat-footed with their long arms and enormous hands around his ankles as he flies over them for one the most athletic dunks ever.
If you haven't figured it out yet, yes, Iverson is my favorite my basketball player of all-time and the athlete I respect the most.
I first became enarmored with Iverson during his tenure at Georgetown—before he was "The Answer," with the cornrows and tattoos that now adorn his slender frame.
Watching him as a freshman at Georgetown I saw the fastest human I have ever seen with a ball in his hands. I witnessed a kid explode to the rim, constantly getting knocked down by the likes of UMass' Marcus Camby and Syracuse's John Wallace—but he always got up. ALWAYS.
He played with the pride Jim Brown often spoke of when asked about his career. Brown, would always get up, no matter how hard he was hit, so that he other man would never have the satisfaction of knowing he got the best of him.
Iverson did not only rack up the points in college, he also played the best defense in the country the two years he was a Hoya. He was the total package, kind of like Lex Luger.
After two season at Georgetown, Iverson was selected by Philadelphia as the first overall pick in the NBA Draft. I instantly became a Sixers fan—overnight, Iverson became "The Answer."
It was around this time that some of the troubles that have hurt his reputation began to surface. As Biggie once rapped, "Mo' Money, Mo' Problems." Some of Iverson's friends from Hampton were arrested, bringing him down while he was trying to bring them up.
I admire Iverson for standing by his friends during the media backlash. He said that these were the guys who stuck with him when his electric was shut off and protected him from the negative influences of the streets.
Add his trademark tatts and cornrows to the mix and his rep just got worse—he was often referred to as the "NBA 2Pac." But Iverson wasn't backing down from anyone—on or off the court.
His strong will was not the only thing I grew to respect. In his rookie campaign at All-Star weekend, there was the annual Rookies Game that pitted two self-assured future stars on opposite sides—Iverson for the East and a young Kobe Bryant for the West.
At halftime, Iverson advised his teammates that they had to stop Kobe to win. This game was just an exhibition, and there were 16 other guys on the floor, but to these two young men this was Game Seven of the NBA Finals—they had to show the other up.
The East won 96-91, Iverson received MVP honors, and Kobe finished with 31 points. That day I knew the two of them were going to be predominant players in the NBA. Their competitiveness was synonymous with Michael Jordan's.
Now, fast forward to the 2001 NBA Finals that pitted Iverson's Sixers against Shaq, Kobe, and the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. In a remarkable performance in NBA Finals history, Iverson scored 48 points in Game One, leading the 76ers to upset the Lakers 107-101 in OT.
Although the Lakers ended up winning the championship, the world got to see Iverson's drive and determination to be a champion. That series reminded me of the 1997 Super Bowl where the Packers faced the Broncos. Brett Favre had the will, but John Elway had Terrell Davis.
The toughness Favre has displayed during his career as a Green Bay Packer is similar to Iverson's. His consecutive game streak alone is the stuff that legends are made of, but it is also his competitiveness and gunslinger mentality that has made Favre one of the most respected football players of all-time. His talent and arm strength make blowhards like John Madden weak in the knees.
Favre has also had his off-field personal drama, much like Iverson. I'm just not sure why Favre, who has shown his fair share of vulnerability, is worshipped while Iverson is villified by the media.
I have to believe it has to do with race. Most of the media is controlled by white men. Take ESPN for example—with the exception of corny Stuart Scott and the insane Stephen A. Smith, they are all white. Black athletes do not have a voice to represent them and, at times, defend them against harsh criticism. A lot of black athletes have brought the negative scrutiny upon themselves (Ron Artest, T.O., Marcus Vick, Mo Clarett, etc.), which has given other black athletes a bad rap.
As athletes and men, I believe Iverson and Fave were cut from the same cloth. Racial divide is the only reason Favre is so adored while Iverson is so misunderstood.
Before I am crucified by young white guys for desecrating Favre by comparing him to (in their words) "a thug like Iverson who hates to practice," let it be known that I am a young white male who believes Favre is one of the three best QBs of all time. (For those scoring at home it's Marino, Elway, and Favre.) I respect him, but I also feel Iverson is the NBA version of Favre who just doesn't get as much respect across the board.
Maybe it's Favre's ring, or the fact that he's a QB, the most recognizable position in sports. Or maybe it's Iverson's appearance and the fact that there are still people in America who are unable to look past the "hip hop culture" and/or skin color.
I would like to believe it's the former.
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