Ask the average 20-something basketball fan who their favorite player of all-time is, and you’ll get a pretty short list of responses.
Those choosing with their head probably will pick Michael Jordan. The undisputed greatest of all time reigned when many of us fans were just beginning to love the game.
But if you made your choice with your heart; wanted your favorite players to be more warrior than finesse; and identified with players who looked like the guys you played pickup with, there’s only one true “answer.”
That’s Allen Iverson.
And if you chose Iverson as your favorite, you’d be in good company. The current best basketball player on the planet, a fellow 20-something, would agree with you:
“Pound-for-pound, probably the greatest player who ever played,” James said of Iverson.
Wednesday, Iverson officially retired from the NBA. Statistically, his resume easily makes him one of the game’s best.
There was the Rookie of the Year award. There were the four scoring titles. There were the 11 All-Star selections. There was the iconic 2000-2001 season when Iverson powered an average Sixers team to the NBA Finals, winning league MVP in the process.
But it wasn’t the accolades that most fans will remember. It’s the way he got them.
Iverson was listed at 6 feet and 165 pounds. Realistically, he was smaller than most of the guys on your high school basketball team. But he played with the passion, fire, and will of an icon.
The way he played the game was electrifying, showing little regard for his body. He threw his frame into the lane like a pinball. He could score from anywhere, on anyone. Just ask Jordan.
He was the toughest player we ever saw, playing for the toughest city in the league. Naturally, Philadelphia embraced him. Iverson said he’d be a Sixer “until the day I die” and it makes sense. It’s hard to find a city and player that so naturally fit together.
We remember the player who made us jump around our living rooms, cheering for every impossible fallaway jumper and off-balance floater. We revere the man who played the game his way, and never changed who he was.
TheGrio | Final Answer: Iverson should retire (2009)
Iverson never worried about his “brand.” He never wanted to be a global icon. He had cornrows, was draped in tattoos, and wore big white T-shirts. He also gave it his all every single night. He was who he was, and could care less what the league, teams, executives, or anyone else thought about him.
He was a hero to us 20-somethings who grew up on hip-hop. He was the player we emulated on our playgrounds, trying to mimic his crossover just right. He didn’t make excuses, even if he was hurt, or when his teammates could offer no offensive help.
Off the court, he had his struggles. There were arrests. There were the reports of gambling and drinking problems. There’s the sad news that AI is bankrupt, having wasted the hundreds of millions he earned in the NBA.
Those issues will certainly be a part of his legacy. Unfortunately it seems the only time things went right for AI was the 48 minutes he spent on a basketball court.
Watch Iverson formally announce his retirement below:
But hopefully that’s not how he’ll ultimately be remembered. One of the greatest of all time, and future Hall of Famer, deserves better.
Remember how he used his Georgetown scholarship – the only basketball scholarship he would receive after being arrested in high school – to introduce himself to the basketball public, and become a fixture on SportsCenter highlights.
Remember the 48 points he dropped against the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2001 Finals, helping the Sixers become the only team to beat the Lakers in the playoffs that year.
Remember the feeling you got when AI started to heat up. Remember watching a player that small average 30 points a season five times. Remember the 29.7 career points per game playoff average.
Remember how he was the bridge that connected hip-hop and basketball for so many fans. Hell, even remember the rant.
But most of all, remember how he changed basketball. AI made young kids want to play the game; kids who came from the same troubled upbringing and looked up to him. They got salvation from hoops the same way he did.
Iverson might not be the best player of all time. That honor belongs to Jordan. But he’ll always be the favorite of millions of basketball fans.
And that’s how he’ll be remembered.
Follow Stefen Lovelace on Twitter @StefenLovelace