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Opinion: Allen Iverson’s impact on basketball remains clear today

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Former 76ers' Allen Iverson holds the game ball before Philadelphia played the Boston Celtics in Game 6 of the NBA Eastern Conference semifinals on Wednesday, May 23, 2012, at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Credit: Courtesy of MCT

Former 76ers guard Allen Iverson holds the game ball before Philadelphia played the Boston Celtics in Game 6 of the NBA Eastern Conference semifinals on Wednesday, May 23, 2012, at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Credit: Courtesy of MCT

“We talkin’ about practice…not a game… not the game I go out there and die for. But practice.”

This was Allen Iverson’s most memorable moment to the masses. In this classic rant, he successfully said the word “practice” 22 times in a press conference. In a nutshell, this moment with the media summed up his entire career.

The incident was exciting, riveting and defiant, which was exactly who Allen Iverson was. Basketball fans who watched Iverson play know he stood for so much more than a simple rant in an interview. The innovative Iverson will go down in history as one of the most beloved and popular players of the early 2000s era of the NBA for three reasons: his superior toughness, quickness and exciting brand of basketball.

Iverson, who last played in the NBA in 2010, has been back in the news recently after a Showtime documentary titled Iverson was released on May 16. The film captures the life of one of the most influential and beloved athletes our generation has ever seen. In the documentary, filmmaker Zatella Beatty tells the story of one of the more intricate individuals we’ve seen in any sport. The story of Allen Iverson touches on his triumph from the depths of poverty-stricken Hampton, Va., into a NBA legend.

Iverson, standing at only 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, was the ultimate warrior on the court and feared no one. Not even the likes of 7-foot giants such as Shaquille O’Neal who occupied the painted area could stop the lightning-quick Iverson from slashing for a layup.

His uncanny ability to take brutal punishment from players twice his size and always rise to his feet afterward marks the true definition of a warrior. Iverson was relentless and always gave it his all; no one ever questioned Iverson’s effort or determination on the court. Iverson might have always been the smallest in terms of stature on the court, but what he lacked in height he certainly made up with the size of his heart and determination

Iverson wore his emotions on his sleeve and was the beating heart and soul of the 76ers organization for a decade. Behind his remarkable MVP season when he averaged 31 points, 5.5 assists, 4.5 rebounds and three steals, the future Hall of Famer carried a lackluster supporting cast in 2001 to the NBA Finals (which stands today as one of the greatest one-man feats ever) against the heavily favored and nearly unstoppable Kobe Bryant- and Shaq-led Lakers.

During the Lakers’ run in the 2001 playoffs, they went undefeated, sweeping every opponent they faced until Game 1 of the Finals. Behind Iverson’s amazing 48-point (the next-highest scoring output was Eric Snow’s 13 points), six-assist, five-rebound and five-steal performance, the Sixers defeated the unstoppable Lakers in overtime. The Sixers would go on to lose in five games; however, it was no fault of Iverson’s, who averaged a ridiculous 35 points throughout the series.

The Answer’s most formidable of moves on the court were unequivocally his quickness and his killer crossover. Even the greatness of Michael Jordan was no match for a rookie Iverson who found himself in a one-on-one matchup that left His Airness baffled and befuddled.

In a one-on-one matchup, Iverson was impossible to guard. His quickness left defenders on their heels and off balance. If the defender would back off too far, he would rise up for the pull-up jumper, whereas if the defender tried to play him close, he’d blow right by him with his electric speed for an acrobatic layup.

Iverson loved to play in big moments and relished the opportunity of taking the opposing team’s best player one-on-one and making him look foolish. Because of this style of play, Iverson was often referred to as selfish and narcissistic, but the quality of teammates (or the lack thereof) forced Iverson into attack mode every night, knowing he was his team’s only option to win.

Every single time Allen Iverson took a step onto a basketball court, you held your breath. He brought pure excitement and thrill with his brand of basketball that left even the most casual of fans impressed with his all-out efforts. During this time period, “street ball” was extremely popular but viewed as taboo in the professional ranks of the NBA. Iverson changed this mentality with his flair and exuberance that was both rewarding and entertaining.

The Answer was a true superstar who seemed to have a special aura about him. The way he carried himself on the court was so infectious and impressionable, with his persona of tattoos, hairstyle and accessories on the floor. As a child growing up, I specifically remember getting my hair braided solely because of Allen Iverson.

When one watches a basketball game today, it is impossible to not find at least one player on the court without a shooting sleeve on. Allen Iverson started this phenomenon initially because of a medical issue with his elbow that future players took and turned into a fashion statement. It’s even evident in other sports such as football and baseball today, where players wear a single sleeve on their right arm just like A.I. did. Ultimately, Iverson was cool, fierce and edgy, and that’s why he was so loved.

Iverson was an 11-time All-Star, four-time scoring champion, two-time All-Star Game MVP and the 2001 Most Valuable Player. Most of all, he was an icon to a generation.

The Showtime documentary details a man’s life story that so many could either relate to or really marvel at. His struggle from poverty and trouble-filled youth to becoming one of the greatest players ever is truly a feat captured well in the documentary.

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