Iverson: The Uncomfortable Answer

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HANG TIME, Texas – He stood there at mid-court cradling the Most Valuable Player trophy and the transformation was complete.

Not quite a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, because Allen Iverson never would be described as something so light and delicate. But just as dramatic and, maybe, just as natural.

It was as jarring a sight that night at the 2001 NBA All-Star Game in Washington, D.C., perhaps, as seeing Mike Tyson in a set of tights with the Bolshoi Ballet or having the chiseled visage of Richard Nixon join the great ones high up on Mt. Rushmore.

Yet this was the way it had to be if his game, his league, his sport was to have continued hope to grow and flourish. For 14 seasons, people said Iverson was the changing face of the league — and that was not always meant in a good way.

But tattoos are only skin deep. Hairstyles change and grow, just like people.

The recent news that Iverson planned to announce his official retirement brought back a sudden rush of so many memories of the will-o’-the-wisp guard who broke ankles, broke protocol and broke the mold of what a little man could do.

He was Rookie of the Year (1997), MVP (2001), a four-time scoring champion, three-time steals leader, three-time All-NBA First Team member and twice was given the top prize at the All-Star Game. The first time, the award came for his performance in the nation’s capital when Iverson showed that behind the hip-hop persona of a modern player was an old-fashioned pro who simply lived and loved to compete.

The player whose reputation would a year later become eternally stamped by a rant about “Practice!?” was the ultimate gamer who brought the Eastern Conference from 21 points down in the fourth quarter of an exhibition game because, well, if you’re gonna play, you might as well try to win.

Iverson’s style was always far less an artistic display and much more a competitive exercise, as if there was something to prove. And there was. The guy who had been called “Me-Myself-and-Iverson” spent much of his career, as he’s spent most of his troubled life, listening to people doubt not only his motives, but what’s inside his heart.

He came into the league wearing tattoos and cornrows and bandanas and traveling with his posse. He put himself into the center of a storm with his caught-on-national-TV microphones slur about sexual preference to a heckling fan in Indiana.

Iverson was as far removed image-wise as one could get and still live on the same planet as two of the three players who preceded him in winning his first All-Star MVP trophy — the quietly purposeful Tim Duncan and the regal Michael Jordan.

He was the foam on the front of the new wave.

“I’m one of them,” Iverson said, “but I’m also me.”

For just over a decade that’s who the demanding, discriminating Philadelphia fans got to see: the fearless competitor, the tough nut that wouldn’t crack, the lump of coal that used the intense pressure to transform himself into a diamond.

A few months later, Iverson would willfully, sometimes it seemed singlehandedly, drag the Sixers to the NBA Finals and earn his due respect from the public at large. However, it was that game amid other All-Stars when he demonstrated to the masses what, behind the perception, was his reality.

In those flashing, brilliant final minutes when Iverson was everywhere on the floor, making steals, setting up fast breaks, scoring on twisting, jack-knifing drives, he could have been a player from any era, no different from Bob Cousy, Bob Pettit, Julius Erving, Willis Reed, Walt Frazier and the other greats who had been introduced to the crowd at halftime.

He looked and acted different, this new kid, like new kids always have. They make us uncomfortable, force us to look at things from a different perspective. But what it was about that day was showing that many things never change on the inside, no matter how they’re packaged. Competitors compete.

Sometimes the torch is passed and sometimes it is a wild spark that burns down the forest to make room for new growth.

He was never going to be Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell. You were asking too much to replace that. They laid the foundation, established the game in the consciousness of a worldwide audience. They made it possible for the next generation to follow in their footsteps even if it meant never wearing their shoes.

The question, of course, is always: What comes next?

Allen Iverson was always The Answer, even when we didn’t know it yet.

42 Comments

  1. #1KobeH8R says:

    Could the likes of Rondo had won a championship with these guys?????

  2. #1KobeH8R says:

    From ’00-’05 Iverson’s Philly teammates included:
    Matt Geiger Tony Kukoc George Lynch Vernon Mad Maxwell
    Aaron McKie Dikembe Mutombo Theo Ratliff Matt Harpring Eric Snow
    Derrick Coleman Keith “The Truth” Van Horn Kyle Korver and “Big Dog” Glen Robinson

  3. tomtom607 says:

    Allen Iverson is…….was the most entertaining force i’d ever seen. When I was In middle school you has to have his shoes. His Corn Rows and his swag. What people dont realize is that athletisism is a gift, to be that small and school everyone he came across was mind boggling. AI, The Answer whatever you call him he was the truth before pierce. So I’m going to be a son of a bitch and start another debate. Who in there prime was better, AI or Kobe?? Its easy to say kobe with 5 rings….but kobe had Shaq, Bynum, and Gasol!! and lets not forget Phil Jackson. Look at kobe in his years without Phil, including this past season, what has kobe done except for being a ball hogging liability. AI took a talentless Philly team to the finals BY HIMSELF. Could kobe had done the same thing??? NO, now in the history books of course kobe is going to be put above IVO. But its a valid question to bring up. Pound for Pound talent wise in there prime who was better??

  4. CMeezy says:

    AI was better than afro Kobe but not better than Black Mamba Kobe

  5. vivverine says:

    Hey hey hey, you seem to be forgetting AI’s show in Memphis! NBA is changing. All teams play/aspire to play defence. Team defence. And you need strong TEAM attack now. Can’t do it on your own anymore. That’s what AI couldn’t get around.
    So stop dreaming!

  6. vivverine says:

    Hey hey hey, you seem to be forgetting AI’s show in Memphis! NBA is changing. All teams play/aspire to play defence. Team defence. And you need strong TEAM attack now. Can’t do it on your own anymore. That’s what AI couldn’t get around.
    So stop dreaming!

  7. QI313 says:

    Iverson should have NEVER switched to the 2 guard. I thought that was insane and I’ve always felt that way. First of all, he was WAY too small and if he hadn’t been so selfish, him and Stackhouse could have been one of the great backcourts of ALL-TIME. But not only that, he had Larry Hughes and Theo Ratliff at one point. But instead, he wanted Eric Snow and Matt Geiger. Which I thought was TERRIBLE for Pat Croce to allow happen. (Talk about terrible GM-ing) He made up for it by acquiring Mutumbo. But even that was short lived. Iverson was one of my favorite players. But his attitude cost him to have the kind of help that would have possibly delivered a championship. Greatest little man, but way too much ego. #stillgotmadloveforAI

  8. lol says:

    Iverson >> Kobe, if Iverson was playing for the Lakers with Shaq they woulda been so scary… and if Kobe was playing in Iversons sixers they wouldnt even make the playoffs back then…But i still think that Lebron is the best of them by far cause of his all around skills and physical advantage, Lebron’s all around game makes any team a contender.

    • Lakers-Warriors-Suns says:

      Your comment matches with your name. It’s just a joke.

      • Ballerr says:

        I agree, I’m a heat fan & LBJ fan but I don’t get why people keep bringing up different players names in articles that have nothing to do with them

        If there was an article about Hadaddi I bet eventually in the comments someone would bring up hurr durrr Kobe/Lebron/MJ

        This article is about Iverson, why bring lebron and Kobe into it

      • lol says:

        and ur a Butthurt Kobefan

  9. san diego fan says:

    Allen Iverson, easily one of the best competitors and players of all time!
    This was an engaging, well written, and very fitting story.
    Thank you for outlining an expose on The Answer so well

  10. Lord KGM says:

    Just imagine if the Lakers would’ve traded Kobe for Iverson in 2003 like rumors said would happen…the Lakers would’ve dominated the league

  11. Lord KGM says:

    Iverson and Kobe could never exist on the court. Iverson called Kobe and 80% of the league “corny” on Stephen A. Smiths former show quite frankly. Kobes not the type to let bygones be bygones either. Good idea, wrong team, try the Heat.

  12. denzel says:

    Iverson will never be forgotten. I think he should have played a couple more seasons. I would have really liked to see him play against kyrie Irving I’m sure that they would have put on a show that no one would ever forget

  13. edward says:

    I agree AI and TMAC should finish their last season in LAKERNATION!!! ONE MORE SEASON PLEASE!!!!!! AI could work well with NASH and GASOL when KOBE is still out, perhaps I would predict NASH would get injured again after 20 games

  14. drew says:

    One of if not the Greatest Of All Time. Nobody else has or will ever be able to carry a team to the finals with that awful sixers squad.

  15. Andre says:

    First ballot hall of famer!

  16. juggah says:

    in my book.

    AI > Kobe

    AI > Lebron

    Thats how good he is!!! carried his team to the NBA finals with just a bunch of D-League quality players…

  17. Unkle Daddy says:

    We talkin’ bout practice!? We has a warrior and really didn’t have any real help, no Scottie Pippens, James Worthys, Kevin McHales, etc…

  18. Jammy says:

    AI did not have cornrows and tattoos when he came into the league. This is lazy reporting. Deceitful and misleading.

    • Whyyyyyyyyy? says:

      It’s funny how people find the need to post something that someone else posted already…

      • Bigmatta23 says:

        most people dont feel the need to want to read all the dribble about Iverson being better than Kobe, Kobe being the greatest, lebron being better and Jordan being better than all of them. They instead just go to the “Leave a comment” section and state what they think at the time.

  19. Enlighten One says:

    Go help Kobe, get a ring.. Then help Melo, then retire the following year..
    🏀👍👌🙌⚡⭐😈

  20. james says:

    Please bring back allen iverson for one more season before he retire

  21. Kendrick says:

    that’s my boy but, Im a heat fan and ai was always my #1 nba player

  22. Mark says:

    What Bear said…AI had no tattoos or cornrows at first…

  23. Slim says:

    Bear is correct, Fran. This was a poorly written article. You were really reaching to make this sound poignant and instead, it became a jumbled mess. You can do better than this.

  24. Bear says:

    He didnt come into the league with cornrows and heavily tattooed … Smh

  25. Victor says:

    My all favorite player that exploited his quickness advantage is Gus Williams.

  26. Fadee says:

    Best NBA Legend pound for pound

  27. matthew mathis says:

    ai, and tracy should finsh there career in LAKERNATION. ONE MORE SEASON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  28. KupZoo says:

    it would be nice to see him on the NBA court again…