What is Allen Iverson's Legacy?

Rikki Grooms continues her Legacy Friday series with Allen Iverson. It will continue every other Friday through the entire 2010-11 season.

Allen Iverson is a misunderstood soul, or maybe he misunderstands his role in the game of basketball; either way there is a misunderstanding between AI and the game. He has been known for many things that the casual basketball fan who fails to look at the man, as opposed to just the basketball player, can’t understand. Iverson ushered in a new style of players and play into the NBA when he was drafted #1 in 1996 by the Philadelphia 76ers.

He introduced an urban culture of hip hop, cornrows, baggy clothing, and a streetwise attitude to the comparatively stiff and ridged NBA. This was quite a change for the league and the fans which caused many league rule changes to make its paying audience (middle-aged white males and their families) more comfortable. But this is what made Iverson so popular: urban youth could relate to him. He was one of them. He was misunderstood by those who had not grown up and experienced life as he had, and he wasn’t going to change for anyone. He dressed as he wanted, made hardcore gangster rap music, and he even hung out with his childhood friends from his old neighborhood. Allen Iverson was just another kid from the hood.

Iverson has probably done more to change the NBA than almost any other player in the league’s history. He was the face of the new era of streetwise, flashy players who would not compromise who they were for the league. This would have happened without him, as society was changing at the same time, but he was at the forefront. For all his loyalty to his past and his culture, this is part of Iverson’s lack of understanding. He glorified his background and chose to remain the same “knucklehead” from the streets instead of using his success to rise above his past. He remained loyal to a way of life that fails to produce productive citizens more often than not. For all his loyalty, there were major contradictions between his new life and his old one.

On the floor, Iverson was known for his crossover and his all out style of play (at least offensively). He put his body on the line every night and has the battle wounds to prove it. He battled against guys much bigger than himself (6-feet-0 and 165 pounds – both measurements were probably rounded up, as well) and usually came out victorious, even if his team didn’t. He won 4 scoring titles (1998-99, 2000-01, 2001-02, and 2004-05) and has a career average of 26.7 ppg due to his determination and heart. He never had much success in Philly as far as playoffs and championships are concerned, but he did have a lot of individual success.

Iverson spent much of his career in Philly, leading the 76ers to the NBA Finals in 2001. [Editor’s note: That Sixers’ squad outside of Iverson in no way resembled a Finals team, so their appearance against the Lakers is a major feather in his cap.] Before his career began its downward spiral, Iverson was an 11-time All-Star and a member of the 2004 Olympic Team. All his success and popularity in Philly couldn’t help him when his body and attitude began to fail him, though. He was shipped to the Denver Nuggets shortly into the 2006-07 season after almost 11 years in Philly. Iverson had the perfect opportunity to shoulder less of the offensive responsibility with the team as the Nuggets already had a star of their own in Carmelo Anthony, but he didn’t know how to play well with others. This teaming was short lived as he was sent to the Detroit Pistons after 3 seasons in Denver. His stop in Detroit was even shorter, only lasting several months before he was released from the team, basically for refusing to trade in his starting spot for a role off the bench. Rumors swirled about his time in Detroit that his love for casinos and alcohol was hurting his ability to play, leading to even more controversy surrounding Iverson that fueled his deviant image.

During the 2009-10 season, Iverson played in 3 games for the Memphis Grizzles before another refusal to come off the bench ended his days as with the team. Trying to revive his dying career, Iverson returned to Philly – the place he called home – in hopes of regaining his glory days. This too was short lived as Iverson appeared in 25 games before taking a leave of absence from the team and essentially ending his NBA career. Iverson has reported that he has had some interest from teams outside of the U.S., including ones located in China and Turkey, but no contracts have been signed yet.

If anything can be said about Iverson’s career, it is this: he played the game on his own terms –for better or worse. He changed the game but refused to change for it. He saw little need for practice but showed up for games in a big-time way (imagine the player he could have been had he possessed the work ethic of players like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, or LeBron James). Iverson gave basketball his body and his heart but could have had even more successful had he understood his importance to the game, his teams, and its fans, and gotten out of his own way.


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