Allen Iverson’s impact on the game of basketball cannot be overstated. The undersized guard is not only widely regarded as one of the most prolific scorers in NBA history, but he also helped modernize the NBA to become what it is now. Iverson introduced a plethora of new fancy dribble moves, flashy passes, and absurd finishes at the rim that showed the world that he would find ways to win games for his team despite his size.
Iverson also became a popular figure in the media for his off-the-court lifestyle. Whether it was the way he dressed or the famous “practice!?” tirade he went on in a press conference one time, Iverson was one of the most prominent figures in the NBA during the height of his career.
Many have wondered whether “A.I.” was putting on an act to help him increase his popularity, but he claims that’s not the case. Iverson wanted to be himself in a league where, at the time, many players wanted to focus solely on winning basketball games. That wasn’t going to cut it for Iverson:
“It wasn’t me trying to create a certain image. It was me being me. There was kind of a certain way guys were coming into the league then. Everybody was doing the same thing. Not that it was a bad thing. Everybody was wearing suits and they were following suit because of the guys before them. And my whole thing was, I never wore no suit to the gym, to the courts. I was just wearing stuff to the place I was going after the game, you know what I mean? I think a lot of other guys always wanted to do that. I don’t know if it was fear or whatever that they didn’t. When I did it, it wasn’t a big deal to me. Like my tattoos. I would’ve gotten more tattoos before I got into the NBA, but I couldn’t afford ’em.” Allen Iverson, NBA.com
Iverson stood out on and off the court throughout his career
Iverson wasn’t ever going to be afraid to stand out during his time in the NBA, and people took notice. It wasn’t long before other players started following Iverson’s path and adopting some of the things he did that nobody else had ever done.
On the court, Iverson was in a league of his own. Despite being just six feet tall, Iverson would always find unique ways to get to the hoop against opposing big men who were sometimes a whole foot taller than him. He used dribble combos no one else in the league could do to get by his defender, making it tough to defend him throughout his career.
Off the court, Iverson was the same way. He didn’t believe in the formality of the NBA, and he rarely wore suits or formal attire to anything he did. Nowadays, it’s common for players to have almost a runway of sorts as they enter games, with team employees snapping pictures of them and their attire as they enter the stadium. Iverson also loved his tattoos, which weren’t common in the NBA at the time. But, again, that’s pretty much the norm nowadays.
Iverson opened doors for many players
As mentioned before, Iverson’s impact on the game was massive. It’s gotten to the point where some believe he had a bigger impact on the game than Michael Jordan, the universally accepted GOAT of basketball. He opened doors for several players to forge their path to the league. He showed that the common stereotypes surrounding undersized players who didn’t care what anybody thought about them weren’t necessarily true. Iverson was still going out and leading the league in scoring, so clearly, he was doing something right.
Without Iverson, do dribble-gods like Kyrie Irving and Steph Curry, the only two players Iverson believes had better handles than he did, have the confidence to own their game before they made it to the NBA? Or would undersized guards like Nate Robinson and Isaiah Thomas even make it into the league in the first place? Even things like crossing someone up with your dribble or firing a crazy pass to an open teammate are things Iverson helped popularize during his time in the league.
And through it all, Iverson stayed true to himself. He was always going to do things his way, and he was the first guy that was so good that nobody was bothered by it. And in the process, Iverson helped revolutionize the NBA and help craft it into the game that we are currently watching now.