Photo: My ETSF Brothers
Looking back, Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals was just that, one game. A chink in the Los Angeles Lakers armor that was the 2001 postseason in which they won a ridiculous 16 out of 17 games en route to their second consecutive championship. Shaq was in his prime while then-22-year-old Kobe Bryant made the jump from prodigy to superstar (his points per game average skyrocketed from 22.5 to 28.5). And Phil Jackson and Tex Winter’s triangle wizardry was proving it could cross time zones and superstars.
Ten years ago today, however, the above picture happened. And when it did, believe you me, nothing else mattered until Game 2 tipped off. Many of my high school classmates celebrated as if we they were the only ones on Earth to know a Black President would be elected seven years later. And talk about being prisoners of the moment, but whispers of the impossible (beating L.A. four times) happening even took place. Ultimately, and as we look at his career now, Iverson will be remembered for a hot plate of memories: from his “f*ck you” attitude, to the iconic “practice” press conference, to the off the court controversies, to his much documented exit from the NBA and to his legendary crossovers.
Yet ask a person to name one basketball image that comes to mind when his name is mentioned, chances are that picture will be near the apex.
It was Allen in his most paradigmatic form. The entire 215 was on his back for 52 minutes and although it took 41 shots to secure those 48 points, Bubba Chuck had created yet another peerless moment for himself. Stepping over Tyronn Lue after nailing a step back jumper in overtime was more disrespectful than any middle finger. He gave a slight glance to the Lakers bench as if to say “shut the f*ck up when grown folks are talking.” And you know what Mark Madsen, J.R. Rider and Horace Grant did? They shut up. The game mimicked an old Western shootout. Often forgotten is Shaq actually had 44 points and 20 rebounds in Game 1, but that particular sequence described Iverson in a nutshell. It was him against the world and on some occasions he won out. Essentially, it was why people f*cked with him. Because, in turn, he didn’t give one. Mark my words, had the 76ers somehow won this series, it would have trumped Jay-Z’s Summer Jam antics as the biggest “did-you-see-that” moment of summer ’01. It just wasn’t meant to be though.
The fact of the matter is Philly was horribly undermanned. Granted, they boasted the MVP, Coach, Sixth Man and Defensive Player Of The Year, but L.A. had two of the best three players on the floor. Numbers don’t lie and as valiantly as Iverson threw shots up like tomorrow didn’t exist, Kobe and Shaq dominated the next four games. The same formula it had always been for Philadelphia that season is what it was when it mattered most: A.I. or bust. Before we all knew it, the series was over and time moved forward. Iverson never again returned to the Finals. Just another chapter in the beautiful tragedy that was his career.
Bonus: Since we’re in the business of celebrating anniversaries around here today, this happened 20 years ago yesterday.