The Amazing Allen IversonOn October 30, Allen Iverson officially retired as an NBA player. Iverson previously had a short-lived 2009 retirement before playing 28 games in the 2009-10 season but this retirement has an air of finality to it: he has not played in the league for three years and it is unlikely that there is much of a market for a 38 year old, 6-0 shooting guard even if Iverson decided that he did want to come back. I discussed Iverson's legacy right after his first retirement but it is worth reiterating--and updating--his incredible career numbers and his high ranking on the NBA/ABA regular season lists in several important categories, including fourth in mpg (41.1), sixth in ppg (26.7), ninth in spg (2.17), 12th in free throws made (6375) and 24th in points (24,368). Iverson also left a firm imprint on the NBA/ABA career playoff leaderboard, ranking second in ppg (29.7), third in mpg (45.1) and seventh in spg (2.07).
Allen Iverson is the most amazing athlete who I have seen in person--he is not the greatest athlete who I have seen or even just the greatest basketball player who I have seen but he is the most amazing athlete because of what he accomplished over a long period of time despite being just 6-0 tall (if that) and weighing less than 180 pounds. Iverson is a normal-sized man who could do abnormal things on a basketball court, things that few if any people his size could do.
One firsthand impression of Iverson particularly stands out; on December 15, 2001, I sat in the stands at Gund Arena and watched Iverson drop 40 points on 18-29 field goal shooting in 46 minutes as his Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 94-91. Iverson also had nine assists, six rebounds and three steals. He survived what I would call the "bump and run" defense of the rugged and savvy Andre Miller; despite being grabbed, held and pushed by the bigger and stronger Miller, Iverson raced around the court, scoring at will. Iverson played with that same relentless attitude--and endured a similar pounding--for 914 regular season games plus 71 playoff games. He led the league in mpg an astonishing seven times (trailing only Wilt Chamberlain, who topped the NBA in that category nine times) and he averaged at least 40 mpg in 11 of his 14 seasons. Iverson's durability and his insatiable competitive desire are two underrated aspects of his greatness.
The "stat gurus" will never like Iverson's game and many fans will always resent Iverson's style, appearance and attitude--but the man deserves to be respected for his toughness, his determination, and the way that he established himself as arguably the greatest 6-0 and under player in the history of professional basketball. Few "little" men have been the best player on a legitimate championship contender but in 2001 Iverson won the regular season MVP before carrying the Philadelphia 76ers to the NBA Finals. Iverson averaged a series-high 35.6 ppg while playing a series-high 47.4 mpg in the 2001 NBA Finals but even his brilliant play could only net one victory for the 76ers--though it is worth emphasizing that this was one more victory than the rest of the playoff field combined achieved against a dominant L.A. Lakers squad led by Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, two superstars who are much bigger and stronger than Iverson.
So many people have said and written so many things about Iverson, so the man deserves the last word. Here is a portion of the retirement speech that he gave on October 30:
You know, I thought once this day came it would be basically a tragic day. I never imagined the day coming, but I knew it would come. I feel proud and happy to say that I’m happy with my decision and I feel great. I’m in a great mindset making a decision...
I always had the physical talent, I always had the physical ability, I could run with the best of them, I could jump with the best of them, but I just didn’t know the game. Earlier in my career, I didn’t take criticism the right way. But it was always constructive criticism coming from coach (Larry) Brown, it was always love that he had for me and I had to mature and understand that he was there, trying to [help me] become the player I ultimately ended up being. Once I took hold to everything he had to share with me, as far as the mental aspect of the game, that’s when it took me from here to here [raises hand] and took me to MVP status...
I gave everything I had to basketball and the passion is still there, the desire to play is just not. I just feel good that I’m happy with the decision I’m making. It was a great ride.
posted by David Friedman @ 2:08 PM