It's difficult for me to say, "Hall of Famer Allen Iverson."
Not because there is any shred of doubt that he belongs there, but because he was so brilliant, so unique, so sincere, so genuine, I'm certain that we'll never see quite another like him.
I miss that cat, not only tuning in to see him play, but just being struck by his raw emotion and sincerity. You never had to guess where Iverson was coming from. His thoughts, words, gestures and mannerisms were the same as his brave dashes toward the rim, overflowing with bravado, panache, hood sensibilities and a raw realness that one could not help but respect.
The game has had its fair share of diminutive marvels, but The Answer stands alone. There are certain individuals who became a part of my daily basketball fabric, players that I would carve out space for in my life. I made sure to reserve some time to appreciate their incandescence. I didn't know what it was about them at the time, but I felt like Pookie in New Jack, 'Yo, they just kept calling me."
(Photo Credit: USA Today)
In my formative childhood and adolescence, it was Dr. J, Bernard King, George Gervin, and Magic Johnson. Once I got over my petty childhood rivalries, I also fully appreciated the magnificence of Larry Bird.
In high school, college and through early adulthood, it was Michael Jordan, Isiah Thomas, Charles Barkley, Akeem Olajuwon, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, Tim Duncan, Scottie Pippen, Kenny Anderson, Derrick Coleman, Stephon Marbury, Penny Hardaway and a few others.
Those guys were later joined by the likes of Chris Paul, KD, John Wall, Russell Westbrook, Lebron and Steph Curry.
Within that continuum, Allen Iverson was at the apex for me, along with Jordan, Magic, Julius Erving, young Penny and Isiah, in terms of needing to see every shot, every move, every game, every magical moment.
Because I knew that if I'd missed a game that was being televised, that I was missing something that quite possibly opened up a new chamber in terms of what was possible on a basketball court.
I felt that way from the moment I saw Allen Iverson play as a freshman at Georgetown during the 1994-1995 season. I’d heard about him prior to him suiting up for the Hoyas, even before the bowling alley incident in Hampton, Virginia and his incarceration, before the Governor’s pardon and before he took the country by storm.
Within the elite high school and summer basketball apparatus, the whispers coming out of Hampton, Virginia seemed to be pure hyperbole.
Not only did we hear that he could score like the early '90s version of Michael Jordan, who was proceeding to take over the basketball universe like the Cash Money Brothers did The Carter, but we also heard that he was already, in high school, the quarterback equal of Florida State's Heisman Trophy winning QB Charlie Ward.
I’ll never forget the 21 points he dropped in the second half against Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace and that crazy North Carolina Tar Heel squad in the 1995 Sweet 16, especially when he slithered along the baseline and elevated to grab a missed shot bouncing off the rim. He cuffed it with one hand and flushed it with the ferociousness of a man twice his size.
If Allen Iverson’s teams were coming to New York back in the day, whether he was in college or playing with the Philadelphia 76'ers, I was coming to Madison Square Garden to watch him play.
If I wasn't within a subway ride and the game was televised, you knew where to find me. I'd be in the crib, acting like Wayne Selden's Uncle Anthony every time he did something phenomenal.
I’ll also always fondly think back to his 2000-2001 MVP year with the Sixers, when he averaged 31 points per game and dragged a subpar squad to the NBA Finals, or those last 10 games or so of his first year in Philly when he averaged about 40 points per game to put an exclamation point behind one of the most remarkable rookie seasons in league history.
He made no apologies for who he was, and played with an unbridled hunger, joy and emotion that were so refreshing. The athleticism and fearlessness that was wrapped up in his diminutive physical package was extraordinary.
His spontaneous creativity on the floor, every time you witnessed it, was awe-inspiring, like watching Don Cheadle's portrayal of Mouse in Devil In a Blue Dress for the very first time.
(Photo Credit: nicekicks.com)
His swag alone, which was stylistically beyond compare, belonged in the Hall of Fame in and of itself.
Iverson transcended basketball to become a counter-culture icon. His irresistible authenticity and hood sensibilities fused with perhaps the illest crossover ever to make him one of the most charismatic figures to ever cross the threshold of our national sporting consciousness.
He was barely 6-feet tall, but has gone down as one of the top shooting guards in NBA history. To accomplish what he did, at his size, averaging 27 points and six assists, four rebounds and two steals per game during a 15-year career is beyond remarkable.
People still joke about his infamous "Practice!" rant, but how many players could have bounced back from that and remain beloved? I remember a story of Reebok wanting to shoot a commercial, and Iverson declining by saying, "Man, I give ya'll a commercial every night!"
Indeed, he did treat us to something special every time he laced up those Reebok's. He also gave a voice to a population segment that, ironically enough, the NBA wanted to distance itself from.
The Answer was much more than one of the most prolific scorers in hoops history.
Simply put, he is often imitated but will never be duplicated. In a cosmetic world of deception and fraud, it didn't get any realer than Allen Iverson.