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GREAT NBA STORIES: Allen Iverson
It was overtime, Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, 76ers and the Lakers. Allen Iverson splits the defense only to find himself matched up with the only Laker small and quick enough to contend with him, and that's Tyronn Lue. Iverson stutter-steps, waits, and then moves right but NO!!!! Fakes back left with an incredible crossover, stops again, leaps, shoots, BOOOOMMM!!!! Iverson scores his 47th and 48th point of the night, and Lue is on the floor, still from when Iverson's dribble made him trip and fall. As he walks back off, Iverson realizes he's first got to step over Tyronn Lue, for the carcass of another overmatched, beaten zebra stands in the way of the crocodile. As the Philadelphia bench in their dark burgundy and black pull-offs clapped and threw jubiliant fists, the Staples Center crowd made their way hastily for the rear doors, for there was even more frustrating and dramatic tension to be had as 8,000,000 people tried to make it home at once on a single strip of highway. And after several hours of waiting on said highway, they would achieve a grand total of four feet to manuever forward -- much like Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher. And when they were about to claim those four feet, they would be cut off by a small, quick motorcyclist, zinging his way through the narrow aisle of trapped vehicles, filling every open crease he was being given. And then he crashed...nicked against the hip by a side-view mirror. Luckily as the cyclist dropped, he knew how to fall. This was the way it was, night in and night out for this young jet-propelled performer. A feat that would tear the face off a normal man. And the guy hadn't worn a helmet while doing it...literally...since high school.
Everything about Allen Iverson's game involved the physics of being hit, and handling its' effects. Shaquille O' Neal was asked who the best player in the NBA was in 2002. Shaq didn't even hesitate -- it's AI. Why? Because "he gets injured all the time, and never complains about it."
Shaq was right. As we all know from the program "Jackass" which we'll talk about later, some guys are Ryan Dunn. They complain and whine and cry everytime they get an injury, and then everyone, EVERYONE knows their vulnerability point. You should never ever ever bet on professional sports because the players you rely on to get you your money will go out and there and play in pain, play in a way that will completely affect their game, the only difference is that the opponents will hack them on the arm that's NOT ailing thinking that's the one that's ailing. Allen Iverson, Shaq got at that day, is NBA championship material because the smallest, littlest guy on the court...is the toughest to take down in a test of men.
Unfortunately the Lakers would tear apart the 76ers following that astounding comeback and overtime win by Philly in Game 1. Dikembe Mutombo would time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time again get elbowed directly in the nose by Shaq as he went up for hookshot attempts which were NOTHING but attempts to get a whistle.
After the series, the 76ers would try again in 2002, but they would lose to the Celtics in Round 2. And Iverson would get in trouble for throwing his girlfriend naked out of his house. It's none of our business, no, but it would lead to Iverson's downfall in Philly...which IS our rightful business...
"PRACTICE?!!! WE GONNA TALK ABOUT PRACTICE?!" Iverson smiles in front of a worldwide audience.
"How is my relationship with Allen?" Brown says soberly. "I don't know, you tell me how a relationship would go with one of your workers who comes in late if at all, does what he wants, ignores his coach's instructions."
Larry Brown would leave the 76ers after the 2003 season, and replace Rick Carlisle as Detroit Pistons coach in one of the most controversial moves ever since Tampa Bay coach Tony Dungy, the man who taught the Buccaneers self-respect and nutured them to the brink of glory, was replaced by Jon Gruden for the VERY FINAL PHASE of the championship quest. Carlisle had done nothing wrong in Detroit but be a good coach. People were like -- how is it Carlisle's fault that Chauncey Billups can't take Jason Kidd? But Larry Brown knew -- Billups was a practice player. And he knew a few things from recent developments in NBA history. Jason Williams of the Sacramento Kings was traded to Memphis for Mike Bibby, and within a single season, the Kings were a Doug Christie three from the NBA Finals. This was in 2002. Then in 2003, as the Pistons played the Nets, probably the guy who looked every bit as stupid as Allen Iverson looked awesome was Chauncey Billups.
Six years later, a struggling Denver Nuggets team would trade their star -- an aging veteran named Allen Iverson...to the Pistons in exchange for Billups. And the Denver Nuggets would reach the Western Conference Finals for the first time in their history, and are today the only team in the West with a shot at taking Kobe, Ariza, Odom, Artest and Gasol. Detroit meanwhile, swept in the first round by Lebron and the Cavaliers, would fail to reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2003, a bar that had been achieved in the first place, with Billups at the helm.
Valentine's Day, 1993 Newport News, Virginia
People came out in droves wondering who was this kid who was just zipping past all these huge kickoff teams enroute to touchdown after touchdown. Who was this kid who was throwing 70-yard on-the-money passes, completely befuddling the defense the rest of the way as they would just freeze like in Day After Tomorrow whenever he'd fake a pass. Chances are...plugging up the holes and watching the sidelines weren't going to cut it -- this guy....IS IT A PASS OR A RUN WE CAN'T TELL YET!!!! AHHHHHH!!!!!!
Well his name was Allen Iverson. Star of both the basketball and football teams. The 2001 MVP of the NBA could never be stopped by another man once a ball entered his hands of any kind. Iverson wouldn't of been stopped if they were playing at the bottom of a well. Every college wanted him, everybody knew of him. He had everything.
But that night of Valentine's Day, Iverson's public image was severely fractured when his friends got into it with some ruffians in a bowling alley. Several of the jerks they got into it with were white, so it's safe to say that when the n-word was uttered with the r at the end, it didn't come from AI's friends. Someone threw a table, someone else had a knife.
Iverson's crew was large, had cornrows, and this was Virginia. The charge was "lynching"! Two years later the same thing happened to Kevin Garnett in Maudlin, South Carolina. That's why his mom moved him to Chicago.
Iverson wasn't so lucky.
He got three months in a correctional center. On the bright side, I really doubt anybody saw him as they sat in their cell and went "fresh fish".
The governor pardoned him however, and he was freed. The problem was that NO DIVISION 1 schools were going to take a chance on this guy. He became a featured article in Sports Illustrated where they talked about a terrible guy he was. And his mom would work tirelessly to fix this.
She had managed to get the Virginia governor to listen to her, now she would use AI's media exposure to ease into the next task -- getting a new person to listen to her -- John Thompson of the Georgetown Hoyas.
And the rest was history.
Iverson was a two-time All-American at Georgetown. With Othella Harrington as his power forward, they dominated the ACC, running into roadblocks with Ray Allen's Connecticut Huskies and Tim Duncan's Wake Forest Demon Deacons who had the acrobatic and powerful Randolph Childress. But that didn't stop Iverson from taking these teams FIVE ON ONE. What he did to Tyronn Lue he would do regularly to four or five guys at once on a drive. Like Isiah Thomas long ago, it appeared that Iverson was BAITING each guy to guard him on his way to the basket, like it didn't count for two unless it happened over at least two defenders.
That's probably why in the pros, whenever triple teamed, rather then pass it, he'd attempt a three:)
Iverson was drafted Number 1 in the 1996 draft. The Philadelphia 76ers had been crappy all decade and even some time before. Charles Barkley becoming their star early on coupled with Julius Erving's old age was a disaster for 76ers fans, who watched the team take on the combined work ethic and age of it's stars. Barkley likes donuts, that's life. You can't change that. And Allen Iverson likes to simply play and not have to do homework.
This is why he could never practice.
Homework, studying, it's bogus.
He's ALLEN IVERSON!!!! Let all the kids who can't be AI instead DREAM of being AI while they do homework and studying!
As was his theory and mine.
Of course, Iverson's on the way out of the league, while I'm writing blogs at 8 in the morning instead of working.
During the first four years leading up to their loss to the Lakers, AI would undergo the worst kinds of growing pains, because he was not getting credit for all the things he could do. On the court, AI was the most disciplined, controlled professional in the history of the NBA. It's very possible that a bunch of average players can go without committing a single error during the course of the game as long as you listen to Larry Brown. This meant that AI, though scoring 50 points, was doing it his way and thus was cannon fodder for EVERY ERROR HE MADE.
Yet while Batman had his butler to talk to when things got tough, and Spider-Man had Aunt May, Allen Iverson...had his mom.
"Mom," he'd say as a child. "I don't know what I'm gonna get to be when I grow up."
"Well," she'd say. "That's easy. You're going to do what you want more then anything -- you're gonna be an NBA all-star."
"Come on mom," the youngster would reply. "Those guys are like one-in-a-million."
"Exactly," she countered. "You ARE one-in-a-million."
The 76ers were awesome. At 11-0 they would be the last of the NBA's unbeaten. Iverson was the leader in points and steals. Philadelphia reveled in their new hero, and there was no mistaking his mom...front row at the What-Ever-It-Was-Called-After-The-Spectrum-And-Before-Wachovia...with a sweatshirt that read "AI'S MOM".
Harold Katz wondered what to do. This team was playing and winning like it was their year. But they had really nobody EXCEPT Allen Iverson. No Brian Skinner and Andre Igoudala yet. The others in Iverson's starting five were Todd McCullough at center, George Lynch at power forward, Aaron McKie at small forward, AI was the 2-guard, and Eric Snow of Michigan State who played with Sean Respert was their point. This team was good, but they just didn't look BIG enough. Not with guys like Shaq and David Robinson on the horizon.
Yet by February it had become obvious the 76ers were series. They had 40 wins before anybody. And so Katz went and got, for AI's belated Christmas present, Dikembe Mutumbo.
And the Philadelphia fans said YEEEEEEEAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!
For the rest of the season, Iverson and Mutombo would be awesome. And they finished as the first seed.
In round one, however, they ended up in a bitter bitter bitter fight with Indiana. Reggie Miller won Game 1 at the buzzer with a great three. Nobody could believe that this team that had lost Rik Smits, Chris Mullin, Dale Davis, Antonio Davis and Mark Jackson could actually be competive. Bird wasn't the coach, instead it was Isiah. Jermaine O'Neal would become famous in this series. Al Harrington and Johnathon Bender were babies. And Jalen Rose was the starting three guard.
But the 76ers won in five games. Just barely.
Next up was Toronto, and the marquee match-up between Allen Iverson and Vince Carter. In Canada, they tried to give Carter a nickname that would rival Allen Iverson's Answer. ESPN for a while told us that they decided on the "Solution".
But the Solution would help the Raptors take Game 1. Iverson would have 55 in Game 2 and Carter would have 54 in Game 3. Philadelphia trailed the whole series and almost lost it at the buzzer in Game 7. Carter missed a shot that would have sent Toronto, unbelievably, to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Instead it was Philly, and Iverson would face his biggest test yet...
The Milwaukee Bucks consisted of a bunch of unsavory fellows who carried the added burden of being POSITIVE that the refs were going to screw them. They were so SURE that they would be treated like crap in this series. They were no-respect players from a city nobody in the world wants to visit. They were coached by George Karl who became Dennis Miller for the extent of the series in discussing the league's 10000% favoritism towards Philly. Their starting five was Glenn Robinson, Scott Williams, Jason Caffey (two former Bulls who had garnered the unfair and completely untrue reputations as hacks and goons), the viciously good Sam Cassell, and a guy that Iverson particularly wanted to play...Ray Allen.
Glenn Robinson at Purdue was one of the most dominating forces in college sports history. On the eve of a 90 million dollar payout before playing a single game in NBA, he threw a party in Milwaukee and charged people 100 dollars a head to get in. According to Sports Illustrated, the place was equipped for several thousand. Only about 50 people showed up.
Robinson's early season highlights in 94 were not flattering. As his tiny errors were magnified, Grant Hill and Jason Kidd got all the credit. Robinson, like Webber, had been expected to play center. But while Webber had troubles, Robinson was a consistent 21 points a game scorer. Yet all the hype from the last two paragraphs would cause the whole world to label him a bust.
Yet now he was in his prime, and ready to help Ray Allen win a championship. The Bucks were awesome in 2000-01, overshadowed ONLY by Allen Iverson's individual brilliance. Ray Allen had been perpetual obstacle in his way for a title. And they would each play the series of their lives.
They fought to death, forging a standstill after the first two games in Philly. But then the series went to Milwaukee and AI would get injured in a Bucks rout. It looked bad. The deep side-bruise that Iverson had encountered had eaten right at his jumpshot and his mobility.
And in Game 4, Iverson would score 46 points on his bad back to lead the Sixers to a tied series, officially etching his name in the 100-year history of Philadelphia sports lore. For they won in seven games, and little AI had taken the 76ers to the first NBA Finals since 1983. The NBA's Most Valuable Player and one of the most prolific and exciting players in the history of the sport.
And yet, he had the hardest time in the world trying to find a team that would take him in 2009.