If you look at his accolades alone, Allen Iverson is one of the greatest players of his generation.
For starters, he was named Rookie of the Year after being drafted number one overall by the76ers in 1996. Then, during the 2000-01 season, A.I. averaged 31 points per game en route to his second of four scoring titles, notched the league MVP award and almost singlehandedly took his team to the Finals. What’s more, his resume also includes 10 all-star selections – two of which concluded in MVP honors – and three All-NBA first team tallies.
Pound for pound, Iverson may be the most successful scorer in NBA history (his 24,020 career points are good for 17th all-time), and while it’s impossible to tangibly measure heart and desire, it’s also impossible to question whether or not those of the Answer are up there with the best of them.
But as much admiration and respect as I have for Iverson and his “Leave it all out on the court” mentality, A.I. deserves to be in the “Greatest Players of His Generation” discussion as much as George W. Bush deserves to be in the “Greatest U.S. Presidents in the Last Century” debate.
In basketball you’re primarily judged by the number of rings on your fingers, not the number of individual awards hanging on your wall or in your trophy case. Either Iverson never got that memo, or his legacy means about as much to him as physical abuse prevention means to Rihanna.
You see, Iverson has always had the talent it takes to win a ring – or three – but it’s his me-first, team-last attitude that has been his biggest burden throughout his 14-year career. That, and his unwillingness to adapt to the team’s needs, embrace its philosophy, make personal sacrifices and do everything else that characterizes an NBA champion, let alone a champion in any team-oriented sport.
Everywhere Iverson has played – Philadelphia, Denver, Detroit and most recently in Memphis – he has never bought into the team concept, which the sport of basketball is basically all about. Unlike football and baseball, you have a small number of players who play both offense and defense. And everyone has a defined role: the go-to guy (or girl), the lockdown defender, the beast on the boards, floor general, the shot-blocker, the spot-up shooter, the low-post threat – you get the point.
Championship-caliber teams have players who are both willing and able to adapt to the team’s needs, embrace its philosophy and make personal sacrifices. For instance, on the Lakers, everyone and their neighbor knows that Kobe is the go-to guy – including Ron Artest, who played that role on the Kings and Rockets (at least when Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady were both sidelined). Accordingly, Artest has become Los Angeles’ lockdown defender, allowing Kobe to save more energy for the offensive end – and as a result, the Lakers are an even better team now than they were a year ago. (Scary, I know.)
On the 76ers, there was never a shadow of a doubt that Iverson was the go-to guy. That was what the team’s needs called for and that was what the role in which he excelled. But when Iverson was traded to Denver three years ago, head coach George Karl needed him to be the floor general (AKA a pass-first, shoot-second point guard) since Carmelo Anthony already was the designated go-to guy. Iverson was incapable of meeting Karl’s needs, the Nuggets never reached their full potential and the Answer’s career from there on out was questionable at best.
Yesterday it was reported that Iverson plans to announce his retirement from the NBA – this coming after he signed a one-year deal with the Grizzlies, which resulted in a three-game stint and subsequent mutual termination of his contract. After being left unclaimed on waivers, the Knicks were rumored to have interest in signing Iverson as a free agent, but less than a week later word out of New York was that he isn’t the answer to any of the Knicks’ many problems (pun intended).
Allen Iverson used to be an all but guaranteed future Hall of Famer. Now, the Answer’s once-rightful place in Springfield, Mass. is in serious question.
Josh Hoffman is a college junior working to become a sports journalist. You can contact him at email@example.com.
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Written by Josh Hoffman