The 76ers fans still vividly remembered the championship glory of the 1983 team led by Julius Erving and Moses Malone, the invincibility of the early 1990s team led by superstar Charles Barkley. After five years of playoff drought, they expected the #1 overall pick in the 1996 NBA draft, 6’0″ point guard Allen Iverson to immediately jump into the shoes of the team-leader and take the 76ers to the ‘promised land.’
“I was a point guard, but I’ve always been a ‘killer.’ So, I was a scorer. Not being traditional, they were hard on me. Then, I came from Georgetown. Villanova. So, you had those fans; I would say kind of not giving me a chance to develop. They wanted it NOW. 21-years old, they wanted me to take a team to a championship.”Allen Iverson, All The Smoke
Iverson’s response came on the court. No, he didn’t take the 76ers to the promised land, an unrealistic demand for a first-year point guard. Still, back in those days, when social media yet haven’t been around, his plays quickly attracted worldwide attention. The kids worldwide were rewinding the videotapes with 76ers rookie crossover dribble on 1-on-1 isolation with NBA’s best – Michael Jordan.
Together with electrifying 2nd year shooting guard Jerry Stackhouse, AI helped form one of the most exciting starting guard combos in the entire league. The team finished the season with a dismal 22-60 record, which was enough for 6th place in Atlantic Division. But Iverson memorably finished his rookie campaign, pilling up FIVE 40+ points games and setting a new NBA rookie record, which was by that point held by the legendary Wilt Chamberlain.
The things for 1997 NBA Rookie of the Year improved in his second year when Larry Brown took over the 76ers coaching helm. Brown immediately shifted Iverson to play at a more natural, shooting guard position alongside point guard Eric Snow. Over the following seasons, the team kept improving, finally reaching its pinnacle by making to the 2001 NBA finals, which they lost to the Lakers by 1-4.
Despite being undersized for the shooting guard position, which featured players such as Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Reggie Miller, and Ray Allen, Iverson used his 6’0″ long-armed frame to maximize his potential. He proved wrong a numerous critics and thus became the undisputed Philadelphia 76ers team-leader the team was looking for in the begging.
Being undersized, every team’s scouting report on AI had “play him physical” on it. If you can make him reluctant to go in the paint, you take away one of Iverson’s best qualities and make him more predictable. Shaq famously shared that he told his guards to let AI pass them so Shaq could “touch him up.” Despite the punishment, AI kept attacking the rim. He would feel it the next day.
The only m****rf*****s that know for real is m****rf*****s like him. They played with me. Tawanna Iverson could sit up and watch me go to the bathroom in the morning and be like: ‘Ain’t no way in the hell he is playing today.‘ Man, I get there, see the m****rf*****n fans, look in their eyes. They’re like: ‘Man, what?!?‘ I’m like: ‘I’m playin’! I don’t give a f**k if the shit is hanging off. Just for my guys, and them f****n Philadelphia fans, man.‘”Allen Iverson, All The Smoke
Iverson’s tenure in Philadelphia lasted precisely one decade. On December 19th,2006, he was traded to the Denver Nuggets. Still, he remains one of the most memorable Philadelphia 76ers players ever, a sparkling star that was also a great ambassador and promotor worldwide.