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A Toast To Allen Iverson

Bhagwat KumarContributor INovember 26, 2009

I understand that I'm going to receive my fair share of criticism for this, and I'm ready for it. I'm aware that praising Allen Iverson is not exactly the most popular course to take right now, but I feel that it still needs to be done.

One of the most influential players in NBA history "retired" early today, and, just for a second, I want to take a break from all the stories about how he brought this on himself and possible comeback destinations to thank a man who might never play professional basketball again.

I want to start off by saying that Allen Iverson is one of my favorite players of all time, if not my favorite. My man-crush on Steve Nash is nothing compared to my fervent, sometimes illogical love for Iverson while he was on the Sixers.

I was still a Rockets fan, but against 29 other teams (28? Weren't there only 28 teams before the Bobcats were created) I rooted for the Sixers. I didn't particularly like their team, in fact their constant inability to find any help for A.I. infuriated me, but I loved them unconditionally and whole-heartedly because of Allen Iverson.

Pausing for a moment, I do realize now that one of the primary reasons they couldn't bring in anyone to "help" Iverson was because he believed himself to be above help.

I'm confident he would have driven anyone out of town with his often-selfish attitude, but that doesn't change the fact that no team should ever, ever have Glenn Robinson as their second best player and still somehow make the playoffs. That's what Iverson had to work with.

And while we're complaining about his teammates, can we all take a moment to appreciate that the man had Eric Snow as his starting point guard for years? And on top of that, he took a team that started Eric Snow to the NBA Finals. Eric Snow . Eric Effing Snow.

The same guy who, when you Google Eric Snow , appears in a Wikipedia page with the preview for the article calling him a "businesswoman." Yes, even unbiased internet sources make fun of Eric Snow. And now that I've gotten my quota of Eric Snow-bashing in for the day, I think it's time to move on.

Oh, and, just to get this out of the way. I guess what I'm trying to say is that Eric Snow really could've used some practice .

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But to talk less about Iverson's constantly sub-par supporting cast and more about the actual player this post is about, the one achievement that nobody can deny Iverson, regardless of how they feel about him, is his popularity.

You can say he scored because he was a chucker whose teammates were too intimidated to demand that he pass. You can say that he was a selfish boor whose attitude more than outweighed his basketball talents. You can say that he was an embarrassment to the NBA and is one of the main reasons clean-cut, down to Earth stars like the ones we have now are so appreciated.

And I might agree with you on all counts. But you cannot tell me that he was not the most loved player in the NBA during his time.

I can personally attest to this, as I owned three Iverson jerseys in my earlier days. The home and away ones were must-haves, but my favorite, and still my all-time favorite jersey, was this one . I'm pretty sure that for a solid two years my entire school-wardrobe was just a rotation of those three jerseys and one or two Rockets t-shirts.

For about three years, I lived and breathed Allen Iverson. I bought every one of his I3 shoes. I watched any and every Sixers game I could. I cried after Game Five of the NBA Finals. I remember proudly telling my friends before the 2001 All-Star Game that Iverson would score more than 20 and showing off to all of them when he had 25. This might have been the proudest moment of my life.

And while it may appear like the only point of this article is establishing how seemingly-traumatic my childhood was, I promise you there's more to it. I'm just trying to explain that I, like so many others, was caught up in the aura of Allen Iverson. He was never the best player in the NBA, never the most successful, never even the most likable. But he drew people to him.

Kids pretended to be Iverson when they played basketball. I would know, I was one of them. We tried to crossover like he did, burn defenders like only he could. I remember wanting cornrows for a little while, but my mom put a quick end to that. Regardless of how many arrests or disciplinary incidents Iverson might have had, his fans blindly followed him, unquestioning, unwavering in our faith.

But, just for those of you who prefer substance to fluff, performance to popularity, I'm moving this article on. And also because I can only dote on Iverson so much before it goes from quirky and slightly-endearing to flat-out creepy. And I think we passed the creepy stage about two paragraphs ago.

In any case, Iverson was one of the most electrifying and dangerous players to ever step on a basketball court, and I make that conviction with every intention of defending it to each comment on the contrary. And I don't mean dangerous because he'll come after you with a gun , I mean it in the basketball sense. Yeah, that was probably in poor taste.

But forget the fact that he barely stood six feet "tall", in basketball shoes, on a good day, the man was still one of the most prolific scorers in NBA history.

The reason he was able to flourish on so many terrible, terrible teams was because he was so adept at carrying them on his own. He could score so well that it didn't matter that he was doing it all by himself. The guy dropped 40 like it was 20.

Yeah, he probably took three times as many shots as any of his teammates in order to do so, but that doesn't change the fact that he did it. I can promise you that if Eric Snow was taking 25 shots a game, he'd probably average around 15 a night. That might be more of an indictment of Eric Snow than anything else, but you get my point. You don't score 24,000 points without not knowing what you're doing.

And Iverson did more than just score. If you ask someone about Allen Iverson, one of the first qualities they'll bring up is, for lack of a better term, his heart.

Yes, I know, it's so hard to quantify what "heart" is. It's an ambiguous term, and many times a person's definition of it is just based off of players who display what they consider to be heart. But let me tell you, my definition of heart was based solely on Iverson.

As ridiculous as his practice rant was, there was one point that I agreed on. I'm paraphrasing here, but when he talked about how he plays every game like it's his last, and how he leaves his heart on the floor every single time he steps on it, I couldn't help but agree. No man played hurt more than Iverson, no player overcame as many injuries and maladies as he did.

I remember during the 2001 Finals when he was hit in the ribs and had to leave the game. The commentators were question whether or not he would return, and A.I. simply walked to the stands, found and kissed his son, and walked back onto the floor.

No matter how selfish you think he was, no matter how much you think he disrespected the game, you have to agree that somehow, someway, he found the energy to nearly kill himself in almost every game that he played. Yeah, he had off nights, and yeah, he kept shooting like he was on even on those off nights, but the effort was always there.

As was the quickness. Even into his 30s, the quickness never left him. And that's one of the reasons I'm partially glad he left the game when he did. We'll never have to see a slow Allen Iverson, an Allen Iverson that's unable to blow by defenders like there not even there, an Allen Iverson without that legendary quickness. Oh, that quickness.

And while on the topic of Iverson's positive attributes, I don't think we can leave out what I can only define as his "coolness." Iverson was, to put it simply, the coolest player in the NBA. From the way he dressed to his voice to the way he played, it just seemed like everyone would rather be Allen Iverson than any other player in the league.

Again, it's not because he won the most or was even the best player in the NBA, he was just, and I hate to constantly repeat this word but it's all I have, the coolest.

Yet, despite my fawning and glorifying, this is by no means supposed to be an idealization of Iverson, I admit that he had his flaws. Most recently, his inability to adapt his game to age and changing times. A little before that, his rampant disregard for authority, and to a greater extent, defense and shot selection, on the Nuggets. And, before that, his often-fractured and eventually broken relationship with the Sixers.

But I also want to say that I'm fairly confident that we will never again see someone play basketball the way Iverson did. Always fearless, always attacking, always falling down, always getting up to knock down his free throws and get to work once again.

We will never again watch someone drive to the basket as consistently and relentlessly as Iverson did, we will never again see someone dominate while conceding as much in stature as Iverson did.

And in a way, I guess it's fitting that Iverson went down as he came up, alone and sticking to his guns (and again, that was in no way a joke about the aforementioned incident). He always had a me-against-the-world attitude, and I think that might have been what made him so endearing to so many fans.

He was a warrior, by himself, fighting what seemed like a perpetually-hopeless battle. He defied anyone and everyone, always daring people to confront him. He entered the league by himself, scoring, dazzling, impressing and succeeding, and left it by himself, moping, complaining and steadfastly never changing.

But, like I said to start this post, let's forget about all that for a moment. Just this once, let's only focus on what Iverson did well. As paradoxical as it seems, let's ignore the unavoidable baggage that he carried with him wherever he went.

So, a toast to you, Allen Iverson, a slayer of giants, a fighter to the end, an offensive juggernaut by yourself, a man with the heart and fight of a 7-footer stuffed into a barely 6-foot frame, a hero to millions, the face of a franchise—scratch that—the face of a league, the guy who made corn-rows iconic, one of the most talented, entertaining players to ever enter the NBA, one of most fascinating, enigmatic personalities basketball has ever seen, and my far and away favorite basketball player of all time.

Thanks for the memories, A.I., the NBA just won't be the same without you.

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