Allen Iverson never cared about the system. In an illustrious career that spanned 14 seasons, the man they called "The Answer" was always about doing things his own way. From the perceived selfish nature that he played basketball to the constant tardinesses in games and practices, he rubbed a lot of people off the wrong way. Yes, practice. But for others, check that, for a generation of basketball players all over the world, Allen Iverson was more than just a basketball player. He was a lightning rod and a cultural icon all rolled into one. He was what we all aspired to be and he was what we all saw in ourselves, even if we don’t want to admit it.
Forget the stats for a second. We all know what he did in the NBA. Four-time scoring champion, one-time MVP, 11-time All-Star. But more than the gaudy numbers and the fearlessness by which he played the game, Iverson’s legacy is one that’s bigger than the game of basketball. In a time when the NBA was reeling from the retirement of Michael Jordan, it was Iverson who grabbed the proverbial brass ring and showcased it for all the world to see. He spearheaded a cultural movement the remnants of which we still see in today’s game. For better or worse, he became the face of the NBA on and off the court. More than Shaquille O’Neal’s or Tim Duncan’s sustained excellence or Kobe Bryant’s Jordan comparisons, none of them had as much of an effect as AI did in giving the game an identity that players like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant, and so many other current stars still carry with them today.
Was it ever easy for Iverson? Hell no. Was he a flawed basketball player. Hell yes. He was scorned for being selfish and criticized for shunning the corporate side of the NBA. Don’t even get started on all the malevolent behavior and the numerous personal demons he dealt with. Allen Iverson was the furthest thing from a “role model” in the most ideal way that phrase is interpreted. But there’s something to be said for a basketball player, a man, who embraced his identity even if it ran counter to what others wanted him to be. He’ll never apologize for his upbringing and the way he conducted himself. He’ll never admit to regretting his lifestyle and how he chose to talk, dress, or act.
He was, is, and will forever be Allen Iverson. Take it or leave it.
In a lot of ways, the historical cycle of the NBA dictates that future stars will arrive and eventually draw comparisons to the past. People thought we’d never see another Wilt Chamberlain. Then came Shaq. People said we’d never see another Michael Jordan. Then came Kobe. People said we’d never see another Magic Johnson. Then came LeBron James. The evolution of basketball players is as unpredictable as it is exciting and that’s a big reason why the game today is loaded with some of the best basketball players we’ve ever seen.
But ask yourself this: Has there ever been another Allen Iverson? More importantly, will there ever be another Allen Iverson? The short answer is no, and that speaks less about his tremendous accomplishments as a basketball player and more about his overpowering personality that made us embrace him for he was, not for what we wanted him to be.
Allen Iverson’s place in the Hall of Fame is well-deserved. He was, pound-for-pound, one of the greatest players to play this game. But more than that, he’s in the Hall of Fame because his accomplishments in elevating the game of basketball stretched far beyond the basketball court.
His influence on the game is us. All of us.