Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Non-Conformist

"I don't want to be Michael Jordan. I don't want to be Magic. I don't want to be Bird or Isiah. I don't wanna be any of these guys. When I retire, I'm gonna look in the mirror and say 'I did it my way'" - Allen Iverson

Allen Iverson, otherwise known as Bubba Chuck, The Answer, and AI, will always be one of my all-time favorite players. I think he is one of, if not the most misunderstood athlete in any sport. Some call him the greatest ballhog in the history of the game. Others say he revolutionized the game. I thought this post would be the best way for me to explain what AI meant to me as a Sixers fan and as a basketball fan.

To me, AI is a few things. He's pound for pound the toughest player ever. He's the greatest little man ever, bar none. He had one of the great postseason playoff runs ever, carrying the 2001 Sixers to the NBA Finals all by himself. Elliot Kalb of "Who's Better, Who's Best in Basketball" wrote of Iverson during the magical 2001 Playoff Run:

"I saw Jordan up close in 1993. I saw Olajuwon up close in 1995. No one was ever more valuable to a team than Allen Iverson. If Jerry West or Rick Barry or Bob Pettit was any better in one year's playoffs - I just wouldn't believe it."

But most of all, the quote that starts this post epitomizes who Allen Iverson is, and why he is one of my all-time favorite players. A poster on a Sixers forum I frequent wrote something a few years ago during Iverson's last days here in Philly that I felt nailed how I and others in Philly viewed AI. It's written very Philly-ish, with due warning!

"whut people seam to not realize is that greatness is whut u feel it to be and while others may share ur views no 2 people r going to see things in the same light as u! i hope people take time to just enjoy whatever it is they feel without disrespecting whutever it is someone else feels that disagree with them! a good argument or debate can be had without disrespecting the opposing persons view or the players being debated!

the point i am trying to make is that i do not need AI to be better than jerry west or whoever else to know he is great to me. just like while jerry west is the logo he was not better than the big O or jordan,erving or whoever else but it does not take away from him being great or him being the LOGO OF THE NBA LOL! the problem is that if u want i or anyone 1 of u can discredit ANY PLAYER THAT EVER PLAYED IF WE WANT TO ESPICALLY IF U DO UR HOMEWORK!

I already feel ai is a legend! also i do agree he is underappreciated but not by the thousands of fans who support him more than any other player since jordan or the millions of kids who emulate the moves, the look, the way he wears his uniform! not by his peers who without a doubt universally think he is 1 of the baddest motherf###er to ever play! not by the global fan who acknowledges HIM not kobe, or shaq or any other current players this side of china as the most popular player since jordan!

it is the media who underappreciates him bc for better or worse he did not CONFORM and it is his DETRACTORS WHILE THEY MIGHT HAVE EVERY REASON NOT TO PERSONALLY LIKE HIS GAME THEY R THE ONES WHO DISRESPECT HIS IMPACT!!!!! and all i have to say to that is that i agree to DISAGREE!!!!!!!!! feel free to respond"

AI did not conform. I love that. The NBA even changed the rules related to the crossover dribble and the dress code just because of him. That's Chamberlain-esque, is it not? AI forced the league to conform to him, not the other way around. That's why the quote fits AI like a glove. A couple of years ago, Bill Simmons wrote a great article entitled "Don't Question The Answer" that explored AI's legacy. I wanted to share this excerpt from the article:

"There's another aspect to Iverson's brilliance, something the ESPN guys tried to describe last night: Quite simply, he's the most menacing player in the league. There's just something different about him, a darker edge that the other stars don't have. Once I was sitting midcourt at the Fleet Center when Iverson was whistled for a technical, yelped in disbelief, then followed the referee toward the scorer's table and screamed, "[Bleep] you!" at the top of his lungs. The official whirled around and pulled his whistle toward his mouth for a second technical.

And I swear on my daughter's life, the following moment happened: As the official started to blow the whistle, Iverson's eyes widened and he moved angrily toward the official, almost like someone getting written up for a parking ticket who decides it would just be easier to punch out the meter maid. For a split-second, there was real violence in the air. Of course, the rattled official lowered his whistle and never called the second T. By sheer force of personality, Iverson kept himself in the game.

Look, I'm not condoning what happened. It was a frightening moment. At the same time, I haven't seen a player bully a referee like that before or since. And that goes back to the "seeing him in person" thing. Iverson plays with a compelling, hostile, bloodthirsty energy that the other players just don't have. He's relentless in every sense of the word. He's a warrior. He's an alpha dog. He's a tornado. He's so fast and coordinated that it genuinely defies description. He's just crazy enough that officials actually cower in his presence. And none of this makes total sense unless you've seen him."

Iverson will easily be a first ballot Hall of Famer, no questions asked. Some say he is washed up and that he destroyed three franchises on his way out. I don't think so. Philadelphia is doing OK OK with young talent, although we have Brand's contract as an albatross right now. Denver is doing great. Detroit got him only for cap relief. So I disagree that he wrecked three franchises. I do think he is so unique a player that he needs a certain team around him.

To me, AI needed the 2001 Sixers just as much as they needed him. That's why I think Larry Brown and Charlotte would be a great fit for AI to bring a team to the playoffs and prove to everyone that he is one of the all time greats and one of the top 25 players who ever played the game. If AI gets Charlotte to the NBA Finals, I'll put him in the top 15 EASILY, just because anyone who can bring the 2001 Sixers and the 2010 Bobcats to the NBA Finals is one of the all time greats!

From this blog, I found some very interesting statistics about AI from the 2007-2008 season with Denver that I think show he still has a few years left in him. His days in Detroit were an abberation.

* This season (2007-2008), he is averaging more points than Kobe Bryant, more assists than Tony Parker and more steals than everyone except Chris Paul and Baron Davis.

* Iverson is shooting the highest FG% of his career (46.5%), a higher percentage than Kobe, Chris Bosh and Paul Pierce.

* If he keeps this pace, he will be the oldest player to average 25 points, 7 assists and 2 steals per game in a season – by 3 years (Larry Bird, 29).

* Iverson is 3rd all-time in PPG (27.8) and 5th in Steals (2.29 per game).

* If he plays 5 more seasons, at below career averages of 22 ppg, 6 apg, 1.5 spg and 70 games per season. He would finish 5th all time in points (29,413), 13th in assists (6,971) and 4th in steals (2,315). He would also join Oscar Robertson as the only players in the top 15 all-time in points and assists.

* Owns the top 8 seasons for PPG by a player under 6 feet tall.

* At 165 pounds, ranks 4th all-time in minutes per game (41.8) – behind Chamberlain, Russell and Robertson – and 5th all-time in Free-Throws per game (9.2).

In tribute of AI, here is video footage of his two most famous plays. In the first one, he was a rookie. In the second one, he was in his MVP season.

Iverson crosses Jordan (1997)

Iverson over Lue (2001 NBA Finals)

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