As I watched Allen Iverson get his number retired by the Philadelphia 76ers there were chills going up and down my spine. As a kid I grew up right when Allen Iverson was in is prime. A.I. was and remains to be one my favorite players of all time. There’s no question that when Iverson came into the game he pushed the envelope not only in terms of how he played the game but how he looked. Listed at six feet tall, 165 pounds, Iverson was quick, fearless, and able to score at will. He played as if he was as big as anybody. The NBA commentators and sports journalists at the time were skeptical of the braids, tattoos, and jewelry that Allen wore unabashedly, and often their prejudices prohibited them truly appreciating how great Allen was a player.
He embodied the unapologetic, me against the world hip-hop mentality that hit it mainstream America at the time. Allen’s brash attitude on top of what some people may deem to be an intimidating image overshadowed Iverson’s basketball talent; to many critics, opponents, and sports journalists Iverson was simply a thug. An entitled gifted athlete with no respect for the game who possessed no work ethic, or respect for authority. To the hip-hop community he was their representative. Someone who wasn’t afraid to be himself in front of corporate America. He refused to be beholden to the GMs and CEOs of corporate America and the Public Eye. In his mind it was their time to conform to him, and the hip-hop community was his army, his shield, his validation, for his mission to be himself. If anybody knows Allen Iverson’s history it’s not hard to see why he had such animus towards authority, and law. Refer to the bowling alley incident that happened in 1993 http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125870182, which unquestionably shaped his narrative of what is considered to be “justice”.
However, Iverson was not always the victim of unwarranted denigration: Iverson contributed to his own demise and frustration. No one will forget the “practice” rant that will always be tied to his legacy. He and legendary head coach Larry Brown often budded heads. He wasn’t known for having a great work ethic, not always being the best teammate, and perhaps being too reluctant to corporate with GMs and owners proved to be to his detriment: especially towards the end of his career where teams did not want to add him to the roster because he seemed to be too difficult to work with. Additionally, Iverson had a number of personal issues that were splashed all over the media. Towards the end of his career as he bounced around to Denver, Detroit, and Memphis, it was apparent that he wasn’t the same NBA player he used to be. The fierceness that he played with was gone and he just didn’t seem to be all the there mentally. It became clear at the time he was a fading basketball player that was caught in personal and professional purgatory. It was apparent that this basketball icon was a conflicted person struggling to find his place on and off the court.
At the time no one in the NBA was so examined, so scrutinized, so speculated about, and questioned more than Allen Iverson. As I watch his post NBA interviews it is obvious that Iverson has matured, reflected, and grown as a person. I argue that all Allen Iverson wanted to be was respected, accepted and appreciated for his talent and how he changed the game. Did he make some mistakes along the way, of course, but he’s acknowledged his flaws and mistakes. People might have questioned his work ethic, his morals, but what can’t be disputed is A.I.’s love for the game. Iverson gave everything he had on court, undoubtedly being one the most exciting and competitive players to ever play. Iverson is a MVP, 4x NBA scoring leader, 11x NBA all-star, 3x NBA steals leader, and the epic crossover he gave Michael Jordan (as Bulls fan that still hurts), among a plethora of NBA accomplishments. Influencing and inspiring players like LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Kobe Bryant, Iverson is a true basketball god. Allen Iverson saluted the 76ers crowd during his jersey retirement ceremony, but after all he’s given to them game I think it was about time the NBA saluted Allen Iverson, and accepted him flaws and all. He finally got the respect he so desperately wanted.