“Some have the skill, some have the heart, some are blessed with both. That is the seed for greatness, it is what makes a Most Valuable Player. The reality of Allen Iverson‘s size points to the enormity of his accomplishments, it is how his team plays the game, reveling in the odds, mocking adversity. And so that is how the MVP of his Sixers continue the unyielding chase. Acknowledging the misfortune, that struggle, are merely preconditions for success. Tonight, another point in time, that will demand the skill, the heart, of a winner.”
Those were the words of longtime Philadelphia 76ers play-by-play announcer Marc Zumoff, on the Comcast Sportsnet pregame montage to Game 5 of the 2001 Eastern Conference Semifinals, as pictures of NBA greats like Bird, Magic, Michael and others graced the screen. It was also the game in which Iverson received his MVP award.
The Answer walked on to the court that day rocking his iconic Answer IVs, which were recently re-released in their black and white colorway, and come back again today in the infamous white/red. Iverson indeed showed the heart and the skill of a winner on that night, dropping 52 points on the Toronto Raptors, giving his team a 3-2 series lead and setting a Sixers’ postseason record, knocking down eight three-pointers along the way. Only three games prior, in Game 2 of the same series, sporting the Answer IVs in today’s red, white and grey colorway, Iverson dropped 54, breaking the then Billy Cunningham record for points scored in a playoff game by a Sixer. Allen would later break his own record when he dropped 55 on the Hornets two years later. Did I mention he is only 6-0 tall?
He is the shortest No. 1 pick in NBA history, the shortest player to ever lead a league, traditionally dominated by giants, in scoring. He did so four times. He is also the shortest MVP ever, but you could never measure Allen Iverson in stature.
Outside of the Wells Fargo Center there is a statue of Sixers great Wilt Chamberlain. On that statue, chiseled in bronze, it reads:
“The true measure of a man is the size of his heart.”
There isn’t a statement that I can come up with that better describes Allen Iverson. As he will tell you, he played every game like it was his last. He played with a demeanor that was only seen prior by Michael Jordan, the only player in NBA history with a higher playoff scoring average. The Answer was a menace on the basketball court, and was the most respected basketball player of his era.
Allen Iverson never gave up. He inspired and brought together a team of players who had no business making it to the NBA Finals. In Game 1 of those Finals, NBC showed an image of Iverson. On it, were nodes pointing to his body, with a sidebar naming the laundry list of injuries he endured during his MVP season, in which he played 71 of 82 regular season games. Ironically, current Sixers head coach Doug Collins was the one to point out that when your team’s best player has this many injuries and doesn’t miss games, neither does anyone else. In sports, few statements are more true. I possess a genuine fear that sometime over the course of my lifetime, statisticians and old-school columnists will state that Allen shot too much, that he was a coach killer, that he tore his teams apart; that graph told me the opposite. It told me he brought them together.
With the re-release of the Answer IV, countless Iverson fans get to, in a way, relive what was Allen’s greatest individual season, and the greatest Sixers season in most of their lifetimes. I first owned the Answer IVs when I was 13 years old. Like others, I recall being at basketball practice or on the playground imitating Iverson in his kicks. They are still one of the greatest basketball sneakers ever. They were the sneaker Iverson wore when even the most casual hoops fan saw what he was capable of.
The sneaker was even seen on an NBA floor last week, when Boston Celtics’ guard Jason Terry wore them in a win over the Thunder, which is comedy in itself when you factor in that Tyronn Lue is an assistant coach with the Celtics. Lue was the player Iverson famously stepped over after hitting the dagger in Game 1 of the ’01 Finals versus the Lakers.
The kicks, like Allen, are one of a kind. I’ve never seen a shoe like them prior, and I don’t expect to see one again, much like Iverson, who was a once-in-a-lifetime superstar.
He was a featherweight who carried himself like a heavyweight. He never cared to appeal to the general public, but we all loved him because of it.
[RELATED: The Night Allen Iverson Became A NBA Icon]
On the day Iverson received his MVP trophy, his advisors suggested an outfit for him. It was urban, yet classy. Iverson said he’d wear that outfit, just not on this day. He went on to pull out a black shirt. The shirt read, “Bad News Hood Check.” The back of the shirt donned a series of street corners – the roughest parts of Newport News, Virginia, Iverson’s hometown. He stated that he wanted his hometown to see this.
He’s always been a man of loyalty. Loyalty to his hometown, to his family, and yeah, even to his teammates. I have no doubt in my mind that Allen Iverson’s career will be looked down upon. They will call him selfish, when he averaged 6.2 assists per game over the course of his career – more than Tony Parker, Jason Williams, Pete Maravich, MJ or Pippen. Even Larry Bird averaged less than a quarter more assists per game more than AI. I’ve hardly heard (if ever) anyone call any of those guys selfish, and rightfully so. They weren’t. Neither was Iverson. They’ll say he shot too much. They’ll say he should’ve developed his game to extend his career. They’ll blow his “practice” presser way out of proportion, like they have already.
They’ll forget that for at least one season (and in this writer’s opinion, at least two others), the best player in the NBA wasn’t taller than your average co-worker. They’ll fail to mention that he gave his all on every given night. He made an obscene number of layups and floaters in the lane, while taking angles that seemed impossible as they developed, even if you spent years watching him play.
He was, without a doubt, the most enticing, exciting, mesmerizing athlete in my lifetime. He played the game the way we all say we would play it if we were talented enough to make it to that level. And we connected with him because he was us. He was short, diverse and maybe most importantly, we got the sense that he cared as much as we did as fans.
So you can say what you want about Allen Iverson. We’re all entitled to our own opinions. Sure, he was part hustle, part lazy. Part in your face, part humble. Part Sixer, part Nugget, Piston and Grizzly. But he was always 100 percent heart, and that after all is the true measure of a man.
Will you be getting the new Answer IV sneakers today?
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