Judge Allen Iverson by on-court skills
Allen Iverson, legendary NBA point guard best known for his 10-year career with the Philadelphia 76ers, was enshrined into basketball immortality on Saturday, joining centers Shaquille O’Neal and Yao Ming, and coach Tom Izzo in the 2016 class of Hall of Fame inductees. Iverson’s career was characterized by electrifying crossovers, jaw-dropping slam dunks and daily exhibitions of what it means to be competitive to one’s core.
By the time he threw in the towel, Iverson had made eleven All-Star Game appearances, winning two All-Star Most Valuable Player awards, won Rookie of the Year and secured the 2001 NBA MVP award. Though he retired without capturing the elusive Larry O’Brien championship trophy, Iverson left an indelible mark on the city of Philadelphia, professional basketball and pop culture. While Iverson may be remembered by the off-court antics that sometimes overshadowed his generational talent, his Hall of Fame induction should make clear that his unprecedented skill should serve as his legacy.
Iverson’s career was nearly derailed by an infamous incident that took place in his hometown of Hampton, Virginia. Following a bowling alley altercation and subsequent investigation, Iverson was arrested, charged with assault and sentenced to a 15-year prison sentence just before the beginning of his senior year in high school. Fortunately for Iverson, he was granted clemency by the governor of Virginia, and his conviction was overturned on account of insufficient evidence. Though Iverson was blessed with a shot at redemption with the Georgetown Hoyas, his arrest and conviction created a “thuggish” persona that would follow the young star until his retirement from the NBA.
Iverson may also be remembered by one of the most memorable press conferences in sports history, in which the then-76ers star responded to questions about his being absent from practice during the playoffs with an epic rant that included the use of the word “practice” fourteen times. The press conference made national headlines, further marring Iverson’s reputation and creating doubts about his devotion to the team.
These are just two of many instances that made Iverson one of the most polarizing figures in professional sports. Although criticism is warranted, it would be a disservice to Iverson’s career if he were remembered only for his mistakes. The Virginia native did more to change professional basketball than almost anyone who came before him, injecting unprecedented swagger into the league. What’s more, Iverson’s on-court dominance made him one of the most mesmerizing players in the NBA, as he led the 76ers with a grit normally uncharacteristic of a point guard standing a mere six feet tall.
To gain insight into just how dominant a force Iverson was, one need not look further than his career statistics. Iverson retired with career averages of 26.7 points per game, 6.2 assists and 2.2 steals. Iverson averaged an eye-popping 33.0 points per game during the 2005-06 season, one of five times he averaged more than 30.0 points per-game in a season. What may be even more impressive is that Iverson held career playoff averages of 29.7 points, 6.0 assists and 2.1 steals per-game.
Unfortunately, his induction does not guarantee that the legacy he leaves behind is one that highlights his career accomplishments. Despite his mistakes, the guard deserves to be remembered for the way he dominated professional basketball.