The past several years of Allen Iverson’s career have been, shall we say, inauspicious. The journeying and lackluster dramas of the end of his career have been a counterpoint to the exciting phenomena of his first years in the NBA.
The number one draft pick of the Sixers in 1996, Iverson built an impressive resume in the NBA, winning rookie of the year honors, numerous scoring titles, and eleven elections to the All-Star game.
Lightning quick and always crashing to the rim, Allen Iverson epitomized the heart of the sport of basketball and consistently proved his critics wrong. However, in the last few seasons, he has done more to prove them right.
The consistent factor in Iverson’s career is the presence of critics around the league. Over a fourteen year span, “the Answer” was booed in the press as much as he was cheered. People loved to hate him. But people also loved to watch him play, myself included (a former Philly resident).
For a few years Allen Iverson was a lock to score thirty points per game, which cannot be said for anyone playing right now. He was a playmaker and he was always on the court; never tired. Yet, as his critics would point out, there were certain contradictions exhibited in the game of this Georgetown alum.
The “can do” attitude that led Iverson to become the physically smallest MVP in NBA history (165 lbs/6 ft.), was the same attitude that lead him to be condemned as a selfish player. He “shot first and passed second”, as some people said, when his team needed scoring. This was inevitable on a defensively-minded team like the Sixers (2000-2005 era) who lacked shooters. He carried his team, but, according to critics, he also dragged it down.
(How a “selfish” player could spend an entire career averaging over six assists per game has always been hard to fathom, yet the critics remain…and they are many.)
He was small for a shooting guard, which lead Iverson to be positioned at point guard for long stretches of his career. As we saw in his years in Denver, playing point guard did not lead to significant playoff success for Iverson’s teams. It was when he played some of the game off the ball as a shooting guard that Iverson had his greatest success, as in Philadelphia with Eric Snow. That team, which also featured Dikembe Mutumbo, managed to ride Iverson’s scoring ability and his will-power all the way to the NBA Finals (2001).
Allen Iverson was tops in the league in scoring and in steals that year, as well as minutes per game. It wasn’t the only time “the Answer” would lead the league in scoring.
As a rookie Iverson averaged 23.5 points per game, a statistic he would ramp up until he led the league in scoring for the first time in his third season. All tolled, Iverson scored more points per game than anyone else in the NBA four times.
Eventually, Iverson broke into the top twenty of most points scored in league history, which is no small feat in a league that has been around for fifty years.
An eleven time All-Star, Iverson was once the rookie of the year, once the NBA MVP, and twice the All-Star game MVP.
That is quite a resume.
He made his home and established a legacy in Philadelphia with the Sixers, where he was a fan favorite for nine years. The championship didn’t come to Philly though, and neither did the supplemental talent needed for a chance to win – according to Iverson.
He asked to be traded. The trade sent “the Answer” to Denver, where the bar was set fairly high. Anything short of a conference championship would spell failure for the Nuggets.
The experiment in Denver didn’t live up to those high expectations.
Coupled with the talent of Carmelo Anthony in Denver, the Allen Iverson Nuggets were exciting to watch but could not make it past the first round of the playoffs. Iverson played a good deal of point guard on that squad, a position that has always led to the same mediocre outcome for the scoring guard and his teams.
After a few seasons in Denver with the same first round exit from the playoffs, the Nuggets decided to re-tool and sent Iverson to Detroit. Any hopes that Allen Iverson would be the answer to Detroit’s problems were quickly defused.
General Manager Joe Dumars said the Pistons needed help getting to the foul line. It was a coach-style decision made from the front office and it just didn’t work. There were numerous injuries to that Piston’s squad and the challenge of winning games overwhelmed the entire team before season was over.
That was the end of the Detroit era for Allen Iverson.
He began the off-season of 2009 as a free agent, crossing his fingers that a good fit could be found for his talents and his continued ambition to win a championship before retiring.
The fit he had in mind did not materialize. The Memphis Grizzlies took a chance on Iverson as a back up guard and Iverson couldn’t help but chafe at the role of a bench player. He still had gas in the tank.
His skill was still there. Iverson was scoring with greater efficiency in Memphis than he had with Detroit or Denver. But he wasn’t getting the playing time he felt he deserved. The team let him go and Iverson headed back to Philly for a last hurrah.
Family troubles cut short the homecoming. Iverson was off the court more than he was on in it in Philadelphia and ultimately had to remove himself from the team. The personal troubles that ended his season may have also served to end his career.
Iverson entered the 2010 off-season again as a free agent, but nearing the end of the summer was yet to find a team. It is possible that the veteran shooting guard from Georgetown will land on a team later, as the season unfolds and roster needs become obvious. It is possible that Allen Iverson will be picked up early in the season and play in another All-Star game. It is even possible that he will find his way to that elusive championship before all is said and done.
But it is more likely that the career of Allen Iverson, which began so auspiciously, will end with a whisper instead of a bang. It may, already, be over.
It was a wild and fun ride while it lasted.