He hasn't played in the NBA in a few years, but on-the-court Iverson made a lasting difference.
Basketball fans clamored over what LeBron James did with a sub-par cast in Cleveland, but "The Answer" had to overcome even less.
His 2000-2001 season was arguably his most magical. Iverson won the NBA All-Star MVP as well as the NBA MVP. He took Philadelphia to the NBA Finals, eventually losing to the dynastic Los Angeles Lakers, who were led by Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant.
Who were Iverson's teammates that year? The rest of the starting lineup was Dikembe Mutombo (who was already in his 10th season and was traded the next year because they thought his game was declining), Tyrone Hill, Jumaine Jones, and Eric Snow.
Not exactly the caliber of team you see in the NBA Finals these days.
Iverson carried that team, and a lot of it had to do with his impeccable scoring ability. Over his 14-season career, he averaged 26.7 points per game. He averaged over 30 points per game for four seasons. He was the NBA scoring champion four times.
His accolades are numerous: Rookie of the Year, MVP, 11-time All-Star, four-time scoring champion, three-time steals leader, and three All-NBA First-Team selections. They don't tell the whole story, though. The reason why Iverson caught the attention of fans was because of how he played.
First of all, Iverson was one of the fastest and quickest players end-to-end. In 1996, Philadelphia Daily News writer Phil Jasner wrote an entire article about how fast Iverson was with the ball in his hands, with glowing comments from Doug Collins, Michael Cage and Johnny Davis (who called Iverson "ultra-lightning").
Fans could relate to him because of his size. His measurements varied slightly, but he was generally listed at 6-feet-tall. He was the smallest player to ever average 20 or more points in his career. He was the smallest player to win an MVP Award. Despite his small stature, however, he was fearless. It's hard not to remember Iverson playing without thinking of him driving through the lane and going up against the big men in the post. He took his hits, but he always got up and he came back through the lane, challenging the defense again the next time down the court.
His style captivated many young NBA fans, and it's hard not to see that he had an influence on today's players.
When Iverson came into the league, some of the top point guards were John Stockton, Jason Kidd and Gary Payton. All were great point guards -- two of the three are in the Hall of Fame, and Kidd should make it as well some day. They were the traditional point guards, though -- Stockton and Kidd were always pass-first floor generals, and Payton's claim to fame was his strong defense.
Iverson was a shooting guard trapped in a point guard's body. He needed to have the ball so he could make the plays. He was the scorer, not the table-setter. He set the tempo and his teammates would succeed off the attention paid to him.
It's the style you see guys like Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose play today. It's not that one style is better than the other, it's just that his game play has influenced some of the best players today.
Even James, the reigning MVP, admits that Iverson was his second-favorite player (behind Michael Jordan, of course). For an ESPN the Magazine piece, he told ESPN's Chris Broussard, "They say he was six feet, but AI was like 5-10 1/2". Do we even want to say 160? 170? Do we even want to give him that much weight? And he played like a 6-8 2-guard. He was one of the greatest finishers we've ever seen. You could never question his heart. Ever. He gave it his all. AI was like my second favorite player growing up, after MJ."
There were plenty of reasons to criticize his game. He spoke of his ambivalence to practice. He didn't get his teammates involved enough and shot way too much.
So be it.
He captivated so many basketball fans' imaginations and so many could identify with his competitive desire. His style can still be seen in the league today.
The Answer left his impact and it will not be forgotten.
Phil Shore lives in New Jersey and is the creator and editor of Shore Thing Sports blog. He's been published in The Boston Globe, Philly.com, FoxSoccer.com, LaxMagazine.com and New England Lacrosse Journal.
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