Though some may say it's a bit unfair, basketball is really a sport for tall guys, especially in a highly-competitive league such as the NBA. However, there are those who may have been short in height but could still tower over their rivals despite the mismatches. And whenever we talk about these guys, we always throw in the name Allen Iverson in the conversation.
An unconventional superstar
In the NBA, you must be exceptionally great if you managed to stand out and even dominate the game as a 6-footer. And that's what Iverson was during his prime years in the league.
His unique scoring arsenal, composed of an array of killer crossover moves, gave backcourts with a score-first mentality a new platform. It was as if he served as the comandante of a revolutionary movement with a battle cry that chanted height isn't always the key. And it was only fitting that he earned the moniker "The Answer."
Iverson's career apexed in 2001 when he led the Philadelphia 76ers to the NBA Finals without the help of another perennial All-Star. The phenomenal run made him the rightful MVP that season.
At that point, A.I. wasn't only an NBA superstar, as the fans' adulation did not end on the court. Many viewed Iverson as a cultural icon and in many ways, a trendsetter: compliments that he never intended to earn because, as far as A.I. was concerned, he was just being real. But of course, not everyone was pleased with the unconventional superstar athlete persona, including the NBA itself.
"I was the first one do all that stuff, and I took an ass-whooping for it," Iverson told Bleacher Report in 2015. "Tattoos, cornrows, headbands, hip-hop. I never meant to start any trends. I got my butt kicked, but if that meant that the guys who came after me could be themselves, then it was worth it."
A human being
Over time, the name Iverson had a strong connotation which generally implies that a tattooed, cornrowed, ghettoish hooper has taken over the league. Stereotyped, criticized, discriminated, whatever you want to call it, for Iverson, he was misunderstood, and most of the things he had said and done were taken out of context. Among the most notable ones was his infamous “Practice” rant.
Having lived by the quote tattooed on his shoulders, “Only The Strong Survive,” A.I. managed to endure the pain. However, like any other human being, “The Answer” was also hurt. But somehow, he was able to cope with it by “blocking everything out.”
"I used to be like, 'Nothing bothers me,'" the four-time NBA scoring champ admitted. "But that's not true. When I read something negative, it hurts. Look, I'm a human being...I'm a real person. I'm human, man. My feelings can be hurt, too. I'm tired of being hurt… I'm not sitting on the Internet looking for good stories about me. I can't be happy with the good ones if I'm going to be upset with the bad ones. Oh, they wrote a good story about me? Well, isn't that great. But OK, then what about the f----d-up one they just wrote? You can't win, so I just block everything out."
Evidently, the media played a massive role in Iverson’s ups and certainly in his downs as well. Famous sports analyst Stephen A. Smith likes to believe that he was one of the culprits of Iverson’s defamation.
Just recently, Smith admitted that without Iverson and the things he did, there’s no Stephen A. And it was bittersweet to have found success in his line of work at the expense of A.I., a player he loves.
"It's hard to admit this as an objective observer but I love Allen Iverson,” Smith said on a recent episode of “The Old Man & The Three” podcast. “I don't believe I'm sitting here in this position today if it were not for Allen Iverson.”
“When he was a star in this league, the only person more popular than him one could easily argue was Michael Jordan,” he continued. “He didn't always do the right things, and sometimes that stuff was hard to write, and a whole bunch of stuff I didn't say, and I didn't write, but sometimes he left you no choice."
With just one look, we can already tell that there’s a wide array of current NBA players who are influenced by Iverson. But we can’t blame them because who wouldn’t want to be likened to an MVP, 11-time All-Star, and NBA Hall of Famer? And for sure, more and more Iverson-infused players will enter the league, and some of them might even reach the heights the same way the real A.I. did at one point. However, there’s no substitute for the real, and there will always be only one Allen Iverson.