Allen Iverson was an architect of the NBA’s cultural revolution. He’s said it himself, he had to take a lot of ass-whooping for guys to be who they really are. A.I. was the NBA’s biggest influencer and his impact on the NBA world continues to this day. But players’ expressive freedom isn’t the only thing The Answer has his footprint on.
It’s no lie that the NBA didn’t prefer Allen Iverson being the face of the league. He wasn’t your typical basketball persona to represent a globally-oriented association such as the NBA, at least that was the league’s stance on it. That’s why the NBA went out of its way to subtly steer the conversation to another of basketball’s finest.
A quick reminder of NBA.com conducting a poll on who was the best player in the ’00s. It was created as a multiple-choice question, with Allen Iverson not being the choice. Now tell me, how does a guy who was the league’s MVP, 10x All-Star, 2x All-Star Game MVP, 4x scoring champ, and 3x steals leader not make a cut, and a guy like LeBron James does? And this isn’t me hating on LeBron, but the guy was in the league for only six seasons. His resume of winning the league’s MVP, having 5 All-Star selections, and becoming All-Star MVP twice is impressive, but it sure wasn’t better than Iverson’s.
This is just a drop in the ocean of the NBA diverting attention from The Answer. You need more? How about David Stern confining A.I.’s creative expression with the implementation of the NBA dress code? Or how about one of the most misleading media hit jobs on his famous “practice rant”? It’s simple, Iverson was loved by the people and disrespected by the NBA and the whole media machinery behind it. He was a trendsetter, and David Stern didn’t like the trends he had set.
With seemingly the whole NBA hierarchy stacked against him, Iverson still reached iconic status, both on and off the court. Looking back on it, he may have had the toughest road in doing so. A.I. did it by staying true to himself while focusing on controlling the controllables.
Aside from changing basketball fashion from conformity to individualism, there’s another way how The Answer influenced the future generation of NBA superstardom, and it’s of psychological nature. It’s the pattern he’d set on how to deal with the constant hate and still be able to thrive. Many have given him credit for it, with James Harden being the last to do so.
It’s a lot of dudes that played before me, and it’s only a handful that I can gravitate towards. Obviously, being from LA, I got Kobe, but then I got you. I feel like everything that I’m going through right now is what you went through—just a newer version. Criticism, negative energy, negativity, why does he do this, why does he do that. Like nobody understands, and I’m cool with that. I’m not here to explain myself, or to try to get people to understand where I come from or what I do and why I do it. I just know I’m a killer and I work my ass off, and y’all gon’ figure out, maybe when I’m done, maybe when I’m gone y’all understand it, and it’ll catch up to y’all. I wanted just say I appreciate you, bro, for paving that way, leading that example and giving MF’s like me to follow it, and try to be even better at being themselves cause that’s all I can be. So, I appreciate you, Big Dawg.James Harden , Reebok
Harden isn’t dealing with such institutional pushback from the Association. If anything, it seems like he has the NBA in his corner. Just from that standpoint, you can’t really compare him to Iverson. However, where the two are comparable is through the amount of hate directed to them by NBA fans.
Now just to be clear, Harden’s playstyle doesn’t sit well with me. The way he’s manipulating the refs and the way he’s getting away with traveling on a quarter-to-quarter basis – I simply don’t like it. But when I look at his numbers, I have to respect them. Maybe not how he’s doing it, but what is he doing. Because, whatever you say about the guy, he’s having a historic run on the individual level.
So what’s with all the hate about the guy? Well, for starters, it’s his play style. I may not like it, but some despise it, feeling like he’s cheating the game. The other thing is the curse of being in a social media environment. Everyone is just a few clicks away from having a platform where they can voice their opinion. And most of them aren’t constructive. Most of them aren’t even well-meaning. It’s just hate. That’s the internet for you, and it’s something to get used to in today’s DNA.
What Harden is doing is staying off social media, blocking the noise from the people whose opinions he doesn’t care about. This isn’t something Iverson has taught him. It’s something he’s figured out by himself, just like many other NBA superstars. What Iverson did teach him is not the be bothered with the stuff he can’t control, and to continue being true to himself. People will learn to appreciate it – it’s only a matter of time.