I'm 30 years old. If you're around my age and don't consider Allen Iverson to be one of the greatest basketball players you've ever seen with your own two eyes, I'd reckon we don't have much in common with one another. There's a reason we lead off every episode of Mickstape with "Jewelz." Allen Iverson was, is, and will forever be one of the most influential basketball players of all time - both in terms of style of play and the way the entire world viewed basketball players. You pick any two teams, any ten players, and they'll be covered in tattoos bound with arm and leg sleeves. That wasn't normal until Iverson wore an international "thug" label for how he presented himself to the rest of the world. Allen Iverson was an open wound. He was raw, he was real, he was authentically himself because he didn't know he wasn't supposed to be anything but himself. He's someone who almost lost it all after an incident at a bowling alley locked him away as a teenager. His community freed him, they vouched for him, they knew he could make it out of the mud. That was nearly 30 years ago, people standing up for one another remains the norm. Hopefully we're almost done with that.
The media also hasn't changed much when it comes to discussing The Answer. Back then he was a thug, David Stern had to implement a dress code to try and "save the image of the League." His infamous practice rant is rarely placed in proper context. The full context, of course, being that one of his best friends had just died. He sat in that press conference the same open wound as he always was: he was raw, he was himself, he was hurt. In today's NBA I'd like to think the emphasis they've claimed to have placed on mental health this entire situation would have been handled better. He wouldn't be trotted out to a pit of sneering reporters demanding to know why he wasn't practicing with his teammates. They painted him as a diva, as selfish, as a team cancer. A lot of you right now probably have never heard the entire clip, where he explains how hurt he was that his friend had passed. Prioritizing real life issues over practice. "I'm supposed to be the franchise player, we're up here talkin' about practice. Not a game, not a game." That's about as much as people know, to no fault of their own. That's all that ran on ESPN. It was intentional, it drew eyeballs.
They knew Iverson was a lightning rod. They knew he would attract fans, and they still consistently did him dirty. Because although he was a superstar he wasn't the superstar they wanted. He wasn't polished and proper. He wasn't Grant Hill or Kobe Bryant. But fans loved him because he was himself. You can say a lot about Allen Iverson, he's the first to admit he's far from perfect, but you can never say he wasn't authentic. That's what took him from run-of-the-mill NBA superstar to folk hero. That's what made him a legend. A lot of dudes have a cross-over. Not everyone is Bubba Chuck.
And while you'd think time would help people admit the error of their past ways, it hasn't. How does modern basketball media treat A.I.? "He wasn't actually that good. He was a high volume chucker whose eFG% was actually a detriment to his teams. Sure, he was playing 44 minutes a night surrounded by offensively inept players for the vast majority of his career in Philadelphia, but I would rather tell you he was bad by reading a contextless basketball reference page to try and bury the résumé of a legend." It's really quite a heaping pile of dog shit. Like I said, if you're around my age and you have a crooked word to say about the basketball abilities of Iverson, we grew up watching different sports. Allen Iverson isn't Steph Curry or Steve Nash or Chris Paul. That's part of why we love him. He wasn't perfect. You can't point to his FG% and go, "See, that's why he was the greatest!" Just like you can't point to him leading the League in steals over multiple seasons and claim he was some lockdown defender. The reason I'm so hard on advanced analytics dweebs is that they're often missing the point of why anyone likes basketball in the first place. Every night you have the best athletes in the world playing the freest sport imaginable. There's none of the by-the-playbook rigidness of the NFL. There's no, "You've gotta go to first base before you can get to second base," dynamic of the MLB. It's an unscripted ballet only confined by the parameters of the court itself. You ever notice you don't need fucking VORP to explain why Shaq, or LeBron, or Steph, or Kobe, or MICHAEL JORDAN were awesome? Isn't it substantially more fun to talk about Gary Payton's shit talking abilities over parsing through the PER 36 section of Reggie Miller's 1997 season? Of course it is. That's Allen Iverson. No one who bought a ticket to watch Allen Iverson play cared if he went 12/25. No one who bought his jersey, his shoes, his finger sleeves, gave a fuck if he couldn't crack 35% from the perimeter. He was Allen Iverson! He was the shortest dude on the court and also the baddest of them all. He crossed Michael Jordan. He stepped over Ty Lue to hand the '01 Lakers their only loss in the postseason. Antonio Daniels is still playing Twister on the parquet because of Bubba Chuck.
Happy birthday, Answer. Here's to many, many more.