’96 Gonna Be That Year.
Originally published in SLAM 96
The 6th Man: I used to be one of the haters. In a stance that probably should’ve kept me from getting a job here in the first place, I used to be one of those people who ignored all that was right in Allen Iverson’s game and instead spent my time looking for the wrong. It wasn’t personal, nor did it have anything to do with the aesthetic reasons others used to motivate their hate. I never embraced the tats and ’rows, but they never bothered me, either.
My beef was with the game. All I saw when I watched AI was questionable shot selection and a shooting percentage that was lower than a Miami bass track—way too low for an MVP candidate. But eventually, I came around. There was no light bulb moment, just the steady, undeniable proof in the effort and fearlessness and, yes, the numbers, that Iverson displayed night after night. What never changed, of course, was AI himself.
Now, curiously, it seems everyone has come around. I share an office wall with Elliott Wilson, the HKHIC* of hip-hop bible XXL. Upon hearing we were doing another AI cover, El had two things to say. One was, “Is Iverson your 50?” (The answer is yes, but with better numbers and a longer career.) The other was, “Everybody loves Iverson now. It’s really annoying.” While I can’t match Elliott’s incendiary editorial page steez (it’s tough to get fired up when you don’t have any competition), I gotta agree. It is annoying that the mainstream doesn’t seem to be bothered by Allen Iverson anymore. The culture has caught up—or maybe just given up—and realized that AI was never anything other than his own man. He was never out to scare anyone. He was just out to play ball, with a style and fire that continue to inspire. Allen got the point long ago—leave it on the court, and leave it at that—and never changed. He never had to. Ten years into an incredible career that has helped define this magazine, we say, Thanks.
Thanks, also, to the people who put together the ’96 Draft Remix that follows our AI cover story. What better way to celebrate the best Draft ever than by throwing the names back into the hat and doing it all over again? So, when you write your enraged letters wondering how the hell we left Priest Lauderdale out of our Top 10, please address them to Ben, Khalid, Lang, Russ, Sam, Susan and me. We’re all guilty on this one.
P.S. *Head Kobe Hater In Charge. Hey, it’s his title, not mine.