Can you believe Allen Iverson is 33 years old?
It just seems like yesterday that he broke into the league, rockin’ those red Sixers unis with that mini fro, putting up points and amassing critics, all while defying the league-wide memo on his controversial crossover. Best of all, Iverson did it his way then, and has stayed true to himself now. Whether in Philly or the Mile High, Iverson has played every game like it’s his last – like he always promised he would. To give him his proper due, let’s run a little Truth or Myth on The Answer.
Myth: Iverson is finally slowing down.
Truth: If he is, he forgot to play like it. This past season, you could make the case that AI was never more efficient: 82 games at 41.2 minutes per, 46-35-80 shooting percentages, his lowest TO year ever, over seven assists nightly, and 26.4 PPG on just 19 shots a night. I mean, is this the anti-Iverson or what? He had no business leading the Nugs in scoring instead of Melo, but he did.
And there was plenty of stuff for the AI scrapbook: He dropped 86 points in the space of 24 hours on LA and Dallas in December. He went over 30 points on 25 occasions. When the Nugs needed wins to clinch a postseason spot in April, it was with their sub-six-footer leading them.
What makes this all the more remarkable is the nightly pounding he has taken for the past decade – considering his stature – and that he’s maintained the third-highest scoring average in NBA history behind MJ and Wilt. How? He’s bound to slow down sometime soon, logic tells us, but then again, Iverson isn’t a logical player.
Myth: Iverson never played with a scorer in Philadelphia.
Truth: An oft-overlooked tidbit is that, as a rookie, AI had three alongside. The day he was drafted, Derrick Coleman’s career average was 19.7, Jerry Stackhouse’s was 19.2, and Clarence Weatherspoon’s was 17.2; within two years, and after very few wins, all three were gone.
Throughout AI’s decade in Philly, he played fleeting periods with the likes of Larry Hughes, Toni Kukoc, Keith Van Horn, Glenn Robinson, and Chris Webber. Want to know something? Only DC coexisted for more than two seasons with Iverson, which leads us to…
Myth: Iverson plays better when playing with better players.
Truth: When you look at the team success AI had as a Sixer, it came with Eric Snow, Aaron McKie, Lynch, Ty Hill, and Ratliff/Mutombo – not an offensive (or particularly talented) threat in the bunch. But those guys were perfect for him. Iverson history tells us that he thrives alongside guys who don’t need shots, who look to defer, and who fill in gaps. It may not be the ideal ingredient for a title team, but it’s been one of the eccentricities of the Iverson package for over a decade.
More proof came last season, when it became clear Anthony Carter (Anthony Carter?) was the key to Iverson’s season. When AI was forced to run the point in November, his shot struggled, his points were down, and he wasn’t himself. In December, when Carter returned and relieved AI of his ball-handling duties, Iverson’s points went up (from 23.6 to 29.8), his shooting went up (43% to 48%) and his average nights sleep went from 8 minutes to 14. In that stretch, Iverson easily played his most effective ball since becoming a Nugget – give him an unsung guy any day of the week.
Myth: Iverson stands six-feet tall.
Myth: Iverson was on life-support throughout the 2001 Playoffs.
Truth: Well, not quite, but he was operating on fumes. Just so you know, AI peaked over a 55-day period during the ’01 Playoffs, putting up 33-5-6 for a gutsy Philly team that survived two Game 7’s before landing in the Finals. We all know about his dueling 50-point games with VC in the semis, his 44 in Game 7 to knock off Milwaukee in the East Finals, and the 48-point stunner he dropped in the Sixers’ Game 1 victory over LA in the Finals. But do you have any idea what condition AI was in?
Thankfully, the graphics folks at NBC did, and decided to inform the world of it during the opening game of the Finals, putting together an elaborate chart of Iverson injuries. It included: Contusions on four parts of his body, three sprains, an inflamed right toe, elbow bursitis, a right shoulder dislocation, and a left hip pointer – 11 ailments in all. Oh, and his heart was just fine, thanks.
For all the critique (both good and bad) of Iverson, I’m not sure there’s an adequate way we can acknowledge him for the warrior he is. His 2001 playoffs is the gold standard for playing in pain.
Myth: NBA MVP speeches are forgotten once spoken.
Truth: For as glamorous as winning the MVP is, the actual presentation is usually a blasé moment. It’s certainly not the most memorable of occasions. Any idea what Kobe said last year? Dirk the year before? Nash? Player X usually thanks his coaches, teammates and family, the crowd goes crazy, the game is played, and then we get on with life.
There’s only one, however, that I remember.
Iverson’s presentation of the 2001 MVP was equal parts exciting and insightful. He received the trophy from David Stern, who probably never imagined in his wildest, power-driven dreams that this kid would be taking home this hardware. AI thanked the usual suspects – God, his mother, his teammates, and Larry Brown – and then gave us all a glimpse of the real Iverson.
“Every time I come in this gym,” AI began, “I hear my favorite song: Y’alls voices. So it’s time for y’all to play that song, let’s make this noise, and get this party jumpin’…”
The Philly fans went absolutely nuts. In a moment that probably required the most generic of words, Iverson did it his way. Did he say anything earth-shattering? No. But can you imagine any other elite player saying the same? Like everything else Iverson has done in his career, his MVP speech, of all things, showed just how determined he was to be himself, and not succumb to what he “should have” been. That moment is a microcosm of his brilliant career.
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