Every young player coming up in the 80s and 90s had the privilege of watching Michael Jordan rise in the NBA and become an icon of the game. MJ’s influence on every basketball player at that time is so unmatched that most of the kids playing basketball even today know about Jordan and his legacy.
Players coming into the NBA at that time had to overcome being starstruck and perform, but it was far from easy, as even some of the greatest players ever found it challenging to put aside their admiration and bring their A-game. One of them is Allen Iverson. “The Answer” is one of the most iconic, flashiest, and beloved players in the history of the NBA, as his flashiness on and off the court won the hearts of many fans.
But way before he became a Sixers legend, AI had to pave his way in the NBA. Coming into the NBA in 1996 while MJ was in the midst of his second three-peat wasn’t an easy task, as Iverson’s slight frame made him an easy target to pick on. MJ was never shy about trash-talking his opponents, as even the young Iverson got his serving. Iverson talked with Al Harrington and Shannon Sharpe on the “Club Shay Shay” podcast and shared his view of Jordan and the Bulls in the ’90s.
“He called me a little b***h…I was a Bulls fan coming up, but while he was in the league, man, I hated the Bulls more than any team in that league. I hated the Bulls. Once I got into the league and heard the way they talk to us, they knew they was at the top of the mountain.”Allen Iverson, Club Shay Shay
But even though he was far from the biggest guy on the court, no one could match Iverson’s fire and skill. So when he saw Jordan for the first time on the court, AI would acknowledge his presence, admire him and shake it off as soon as the game started:
“I’ll never forget my first time…he didn’t look real to me. I know I was starstruck…I looked at that man, and he didn’t look human to me. Damn he got on the Jordans; he don’t even have on the NBA socks. I’m looking at his knee brace on his shin. And I was like, man, it’s him. They teased me before the game because they were like, you not gonna play your game because Mike on the floor, your idol gonna be on the floor…I was starstruck. But when that ball went up, and somebody’s hand touched it, it just went away. It was showtime—time to dance.”Allen Iverson, Club Shay Shay
Even though Iverson was in disbelief of seeing MJ in uniform ready to do damage firsthand when that ball went up, the competitive spirit kicked in, and everything was forgotten. “The Answer” was prepared to ball from the jump, and you know he is telling the truth because one of the most iconic crossovers of all time came in his rookie season against none other than Black Jesus.
Even though all the tattoos, accessories, flashy clothes, and jewelry came later in his career, Iverson was a baller way before that. Already as a rookie, AI had the swagger and courage to go at the GOAT and get the better of him. Something not many players can brag about, but Iverson can, as that is precisely why he is loved globally in the NBA community to this day.