Allen Iverson. . GOAT?
AI was a lights-out scorer never afraid to speak his mind. He was a polarizing figure even while he was pulverizing a defense. He was a handful for a coach, and no one got better results out of him than former Philadelphia 76ers frontman Larry Brown.
The two teamed up in Philly for six seasons, including the Sixers’ run to the 2001 NBA Finals.
With Iverson moving closer to his No. 3 jersey retirement at Saturday’s Sixers-Washington Wizards game, HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel caught up with Brown, now the coach at Southern Methodist University. Any discussion involving Brown and basketball will eventually include Iverson, and the coach shared a gem highlighting the scoring guard’s essence (transcribed by SI.com’s Ben Golliver):
Bryant Gumbel: “When’s the last time you talked to him?”
Larry Brown: “He was here about a month ago. He spoke to our team, Bryant, and it was the most unbelievable talk I’ve ever heard. Our kids were spellbound. And he was so open and honest with ‘em. He talked about the good things he did and the things he’d like to change, which weren’t a lot. But the one thing that stuck out in my mind, one of the kids said, ‘Who’s the best player to ever play?’ Who do you think he said?”
Brown: “Allen Iverson. And he said, ‘I’m not disrespecting Michael [Jordan] or Magic [Johnson] or Julius Erving or any of those guys.’ He said, ‘I couldn’t have done what I did at my size if I didn’t feel that way.’”
Of course someone would ask Iverson “The Question,” and of course he would supply “The Answer.” For young hoop dreamers curious about the game’s past, this anecdote might be just as effective in describing Iverson as would breaking out his game film.
Only 6’0″, 165 pounds, he found a way to dominate largely on the strength of his will and determination. Never a great shooter (career .425/.313/.780), he built the seventh-highest career scoring average in NBA history (26.7) with yo-yo handles, top-flight finishing skills at the basket and an unrelenting aggressiveness.
There was never another player like Iverson when he arrived, and we haven’t seen anything close to him since he left. He made 11 All-Star Games in his 14-year career and three All-NBA first teams, won four scoring titles and earned MVP honors of the 2000-01 season.
Yet one thing stands above the accolades, the press clippings and even the highlights—the heart. As LeBron James told ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard earlier this season, Iverson’s drive was a sight to behold:
“I don’t take anything from AI. Well, I do — his will. They say he was 6 feet, but AI was like 5-10½. Do we even want to say 160? 170 [pounds]? Do we even want to give him that much weight? And he played like a 6-8 2-guard. He was one of the greatest finishers we’ve ever seen. You could never question his heart. Ever. He gave it his all.”
That doesn’t make Iverson the best thing the NBA has ever seen, but his legacy may go unmatched in basketball lore.
While the “greatest ever” debates will likely never be settled, few would argue that Iverson carved himself a special place in the history books.