The Philadelphia Daily News recently poised the question of; which Philadelphia athlete should get a statue next?
The responses were highly varied, but there were few names as abundant as Allen Iverson.
Iverson had a bond with the city, that few athletes have ever had with Philly and beyond. Iverson was a special basketball player and a Philadelphia icon.
But I’m not ready to give him a statue.
Philadelphia didn’t get all of Allen Iverson.
I’m an Iverson fan. Always was,always will be.
My earliest memory as a Sixers fan was in 2004 when Iverson stole an inbounds pass against the Wizards with about three seconds left and hit the game winning layup with just a few tenths of a second left.
Allen Iverson was an assassin. He was the smallest guy on the court about 99% of the time, that meant absolutely nothing. He had the ball handling ability of a Globetrotter, lightning quick. His crossover claimed more victims than the Tijuana Drug Cartel. He could score from anywhere, rarely was AI contained on offense. Iverson was a stingy defender who flew all over the floor.
The real reason AI was such a threat was his mental edge. Iverson backed down from no one. He was full throttle. He would attack the basket relentlessly, no matter how many times he was knocked down. He was the little guy doing dirty work amongst the giants that stood in his way. Nobody competed harder than Allen Iverson.
In 2001 the Sixers met up with the Lakers in the NBA Finals. A playoff run would have been impossible without AI. In Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals Iverson dropped 44 points and had 7 assists. In Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals he had 54 points and he had 52 points in Game 5. In the Sixers lone win during the NBA Finals he had 48 points.
He put the team on his back. He made an okay team great. Iverson was the NBA MVP, Dikembe Mutombo was Defensive Player of the Year, and Aaron McKie was Sixth Man of the Year. Apart from those guys, the team was painstakingly average.
My issue with Iverson isn’t what he did on the court. It’s off it.
Iverson didn’t exactly get the point of practice. I’m not specifically referencing his legendary practice rant. He never took practice seriously. He never put the extra work in. He got suspended for missing practice in the 2003-04 season. He got insulted when he was asked to come off the bench while recovering from an injury and refused to play that night for coach Chris Ford. And of course there are all of the conflicts with Larry Brown that led to an interesting relationship.
He never made the necessary sacrifices.
I could start listing the accounts of him blowing thousands of dollars at strip clubs, getting belligerently drunk in Atlantic City casinos, “reportedly” going broke, or even his messy divorce where his wife asked for custody of their children. But that’s personal business and I’m talking only about basketball.
Iverson had zero work ethic.
He was born great. He had an unfathomable about of natural talent. Allen Iverson was blessed with a gift, and never felt the need to take the extra step.
LeBron James was gifted, but his game was crafted by lots of work. His jump shot earlier in his career was nothing like it is today. Kobe Bryant had a religious determination to become the best basketball player he could. Even Steph Curry worked night and day to become what he is. Forget his father playing in the league, Curry is a self made man. When he was a teenager, people made fun of him for being so bad at basketball, while he was changing his shooting form from his chest to the impeccable shot that defines him today.
None of those players had the natural gift AI did. Iverson rolled out of bed every morning and was great. I can’t think of a player with more God-given ability. He’s a guaranteed Hall of Famer that could have been better. Legends are built from hard work and Iverson is an exception.
Can you imagine if he put a little more time into fine-tuning his game ? He was phenomenal, but not perfect.
What if he spent a few extra nights a week shooting around ? What if he put on ten pounds of muscle during the offseason ? What if he spent a little less time butting-heads with his coaches and more time watching film ? The list goes on and on.
The landscape of professional sports in Philadelphia could have been wildly different.
Allen Iverson was practically mayor of Philadelphia. He had the charisma and the personality that endeared him to the city. His performances on the court will go down into the annals of basketball history.
There isn’t a single Sixers fan out there that wouldn’t thank AI for what he did as a player. He was a superstar.
I just couldn’t see an Iverson statue other than a big bronze reminder of… what if ?