Allen Iverson‘s legacy is a complicated one, especially considering that a new biography, Not A Game, paints a particularly unbecoming image of him as an individual embroiled in legal troubles, marital problems, substance abuse issues and more. Regardless, he’ll always be remembered as one of the game’s fiercest competitors, especially when you take into account his smaller stature. That, and unapologetically confronting white America with black culture.
That’s at least partially why the NBA Players’ Association decided to honor him as a “Game Changer” Sunday night at the first annual Players’ Choice awards in Las Vegas. Iverson has always worn his heart on his sleeve, on and off the court, and he lived up to that reputation with a moving acceptance speech.
It was a speech that began with a tribute to the player he grew up idolizing (and the target of arguably the greatest highlight of his playing career): Michael Jordan.
“Growing up wanting to be like Mike…that’s what’s up, ain’t it? If it wasn’t for him, you know what I mean, I wouldn’t be on this stage. I wouldn’t have had the vision to be a basketball player. So I love him for that, and I honor him for that.”
He then went onto acknowledge some of today’s greatest players – several of whom he played with and against – for bringing out the best in him, such as LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry. But by far the most moving part of the speech was when he acknowledged the personal and professional trials he’s faced in life.
“When I leave out of the crib every day, people always ask me, say to me, ‘What’s up, A.I.?’ And I tell them the same thing 99.9 percent of the time. I tell them, ‘the same fight, different round.’ And that’s what it is, you know? This world is a world title fight, you know what I mean? And some rounds, the rounds are days. Some days, you’re gonna get knocked down. Some rounds are gonna be good, some gonna be bad. But the only thing that matters is getting back up and fighting again.”
Nobody knows what’s next for Iverson, although he’s alluded to the idea of a front office job somewhere around the league. For now, at least, it appears he’s patched things up with Tawanna – the ex-wife who won sole custody of their children in divorce proceedings – who was there in attendance with him. Despite it all, there’s still a part of him that believes he can still play, or at least yearns so badly to do so.
“I had a conversation with God, and I asked him to let me come back as A.I. and sprinkle a little M.J. on me, a little LeBron, mixed with some Melo, some Kevin Durant, with Steph Curry’s jump shot and handle, and Chris Paul’s toughness.”
No matter how far behind him those days are, it’s hard to imagine Iverson ever letting it go.