Even before he made it to the NBA, Allen Iverson was one of the most popular and intriguing young athletes of his time. Both fans and experts wondered if he could make it in the league because he lacked height and muscle. However, Iverson proved everybody they were wrong and won the Rookie of the Year award that season showing immense talent and passion for the game.
Iverson was a matchup nightmare for most of the NBA teams at that time, and his averages of 23 points and 7 assists per game prove it. Apart from being crafty on offense, he was a competent defender, and he used his lightning quickness to intercept passes and disrupt other teams’ offensive schemes.
In an interview for The Players Tribune, Iverson shared the moment from his early days in the NBA about the first time he realized he entered the big boys league. Out of all the NBA stars from the mid-’90s, Iverson mentions Kevin Johnson as the player who gave him the business one game, while dropping 39 points, dished 9 assists, and grabbed 9 rebounds. It was a game that left Iverson utterly helpless for the first time since he started playing basketball.
Despite having a lousy game against KJ, Iverson learned a lot from this experience. That experience encouraged him to become a better player and essentially one of the most exciting NBA players for almost a decade.
I remember I was a rookie, and I never had anybody bust my ass before. For real, in my life. We played the Phoenix Suns, and KJ gave me 39, 9, and 9. And it was not off athletic ability or something like that. He was so much smarter than me, he just knew how to play the game. I was just a puppy. I remember after the game Mo Cheeks telling me like one day AI you will give somebody 39, 9, and 9. And I was actually crying in my locker room. I never got destroyed like that. That is something I will always remember, but it helped me in my development on who I am and who I became.Allen Iverson, via Knuckleheads Podcast
To this day, Kevin Johnson remains one of the most underappreciated guards from the ’90s, and most of the younger fans never watched him play. However, KJ was an absolute beast and a capable point guard capable of putting 20 points and 10 assists against any team in the league back in the day. Even though it might sound surprising to some, he mentioned KJ as the first player to give him problems on the court; if you watched him play, you would understand why that isn’t so surprising because KJ was a legitimate hooper.