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Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, Members of '96 Draft Class Talk Facing Michael Jordan

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistApril 12, 2021

Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls, left, receives the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player trophy from National Basketball Assocation Commissioner David Stern in Chicago Tuesday, June 18, 1996. The Bulls defeated the Seattle SuperSonics Sunday to win the title. (AP Photo/Charles Bennett)
CHARLES BENNETT/Associated Press

Most sports fans have imagined themselves in athletes' shoes at some point, but try imagining what it was like to be an NBA rookie in 1996 going up against the one and only Michael Jordan.

The icon was in the middle of his second three-peat with the Chicago Bulls, one of the most famous people in the entire world and surely someone those rookies looked up to well before they reached the NBA.

Playing against him was surreal, even for the likes of Allen Iverson, Ray Allen and more members of the famous 1996 draft class.

"Just like I had seen umpteen times as a kid, the music comes on, the lights go out," Allen said. … "Chicago Bulls run out, and MJ's the last one and I just couldn't believe this is what I was looking at. Because I had seen this over and over again."

Fans will have the opportunity to see members of the 1996 draft class discuss what it was like to first face Jordan as part of NBA TV's two-part special, Ready or Not: The '96 NBA Draft, which airs Sunday and chronicles arguably the best draft class in league history.

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"The people who went in '96 are among the best to ever play the game." Ready or Not: The ’96 NBA Draft // Sunday @ 8pm ET on NBA TV https://t.co/8mShOfQZTr

"I remember it like it was yesterday," Iverson said. "That it didn't seem real … I'm looking at him like he was glowing. He looked totally different than everybody else on the court. And I'm looking at the Jordans, I'm like, 'Damn, he got on the Jordans.' … Once that ball went up in the air, everything went away. It was like, time to dance."

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Iverson also talked about his famous crossover he unleashed on No. 23:

"I used to tell my friends, my family, my teammates once I got the opportunity to play against him, if he was to ever switch out on me or anything I was gonna try my move. And then the opportunity presented itself, I came off the screen and I heard Phil Jackson say, 'Michael, get up on him.' And I backed up, and the rest is history. ... I didn't even know what I did in the moment. I didn't know how big it was until afterwards when I went to a restaurant, saw it all over ESPN and all over the highlights. They still talk about it today."

Kobe Bryant was also a member of the 1996 draft class and famously based much of his game on Jordan.

He was far from the only one in that class who idolized the Bulls legend, as Antoine Walker also had something of a personal connection.

"Coming from Chicago, being a diehard Bulls fan, to now competing against Michael," Walker said. "It was one of those surreal moments for me in my life." 

The members of the 1996 class may have never quite reached Jordan status, but there were four Hall of Famers in Bryant, Iverson, Allen and Steve Nash, and six other players who became All-Stars in Stephon Marbury, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Jermaine O'Neal, Peja Stojakovic and Walker.

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