The biggest news story of the week surrounding the Sixers is that former Sixer Allen Iverson will officially announce his retirement from the NBA at the team’s home opener on October 30. Many of us have known for a while now that Iverson had played his last game in the NBA after his short stint with the Sixers back in 2010. Despite his three-year absence from the game, the news that Iverson will officially retire is bitter-sweet for fans around the league, especially those of us who grew up watching the future Hall of Famer.
Following a decade of great basketball by the Sixers in the 1980s, the 1990s were a struggle for the franchise. The team failed to make the playoffs during any of the first five years of the decade, and each year saw their win total decrease until a low point of a 18-64 record, the second worst in franchise history, in 1995. The team finished with the worst record in the NBA during the 1995-1996 season, and as a result, were awarded the first overall pick in the upcoming 1996 draft.
For a team that needed a new identity and cornerstone, the draft presented them the opportunity to handpick their next hopeful superstar since Julius Irving and Charles Barkley. First overall picks are not easy to come by so when a team has that opportunity it is important for the team to make it count, and boy did the Sixers make it count.
When commissioner David Stern came to the podium to announce the pick for the Sixers, it was the moment fans had all been waiting for. The words “with the first pick in the 1996 NBA draft, the Philadelphia 76ers select Allen Iverson from Georgetown University” would set the stage for a decade of an era of Sixer’s basketball that is special to many fans in Philadelphia.
As a six-foot guard from Georgetown University, Iverson led the Hoyas to an Elite 8 appearance earlier that year. The consensus All-American averaged 23 points per game during his sophomore season and put on a show that is rare for a collegiate player. Highlight after highlight would be displayed on the television screen as Iverson used his killer cross over to break the ankles of his defenders and finish with an acrobatic lay up that saw his seemingly fly from one side of the lane to the other. It was apparent from the beginning of his collegiate career that Allen Iverson had a bright future ahead of him in the NBA and Sixers fans were foaming at the mouth to see him carry this franchise into a new era.
At the time, Sixers’ president Pat Croce fittingly described Iverson as “the answer” to the franchise’s struggles. Thus from that point on, the nickname “The Answer” was born and one of the best careers in NBA history had begun.
Heading into the 1996 season, the team now had a player to rebuild around and carry them into the future. Unfortunately, the team did not have much else besides Iverson and once again struggled. In Iverson’s first season, the Sixers managed to win four more games than the previous year, but that season wasn’t about the team. It was about Allen Iverson and the historically great rookie season that was taking place.
It did not take long for the Georgetown product to get acquainted with the rest of the league as Iverson took off from the start. As a rookie, the twenty-one year old averaged 23.5 points per game along with 7.5 assists per game. At just under six-foot, Iverson played as if he was a 6’6” forward. He dazzled us with his speed, athleticism, ball handling, ability to finish through contact, and step back jumpers. All of these skills came to fruition on one play that would be the signature play of his rookie season when Iverson crossed over the greatest basketball player to ever live, Michael Jordan. Ask anyone about Iverson’s rookie season and they will surely mention this as a defining moment.
When it was all said and done, Iverson was voted the 1996 Rookie of the Year and awarded the honor of being named to the NBA All Rookie First Team. Based on the performance of their number one draft pick, it was clear that the Sixers would be Iverson’s team moving forward and the future of the franchise looked bright.
For the last two decades, Michael Jordan had dominated the NBA and brought the league into prominence once again, but with Jordan retiring after the 1998 season, the league needed a new image and a new set of stars to take control of the league. Well along with winning the heart of Philadelphia, Allen Iverson took the rest of the league by storm as well.
Allen Iverson was a different breed of player than the league had been accustomed to. He had the dreads, the corn rows, tattoos, baggy shorts and the swagger that had not yet entered the league to that extent. Yet it was Iverson, along with several other young players, who ushered the league into the post-Jordan Era and 21st century basketball. The league was on a new course that was leading them to a new level of popularity and competitive basketball. Fittingly, it was Allen Iverson who would take the biggest stage and display this new era against another fellow young star Kobe Bryant and his Los Angeles Lakers in the 2001 NBA Finals.
The 2001 Philadelphia 76ers were a team that relied heavily on defense to beat opponents. With Dikembe Mutumbo guarding the paint and AI pestering opposing guards, the team had a stellar defense. On offense, however, head coach Larry Brown put the ball in the hands of his all-star Allen Iverson and said do your thing and score us some points. This formula worked for the Sixers as the team finished the regular season with the best record in the Eastern Conference and were primed for a deep playoff run.
Not only did the team find great success in 2001, but Iverson, himself, had a spectacular season. In just his fifth year in the league, The Answer made his second NBA All-Star game as a starter and won the MVP of the game on his home court in Philadelphia by scoring 25 points along with 5 assists and four steals. The All-Star game was just the beginning for Iverson as he continued his dominance into the second half of the season. By season’s end, AI had secured the scoring title with an average of 31.1 PPG and the league MVP award to go along with best record in the East.
The 2001 playoff run for the Sixers was filled with memorable highlights and outstanding wire to wire basketball games. After finishing off the Pacers in just four games, Allen Iverson and his Sixers faced off against the talented Toronto Raptors. This was an intense back and forth series that would eventually see the Sixers defeat the Raptors in seven games, but Iverson stole the show.
With the Sixers losing a heart breaking game one by a score of 96-93, the team needed to come out and win game two. Iverson took the challenge and put the team on his back during game two and delivered one of the most dominating playoff performances in NBA history. Everything seemed to be falling for Iverson on this night as he shot 54% from the field and 60% from behind the arc en route to a 54 point performance and a 97-92 victory for the Sixers. The 54 points in a playoff game is still a team record today and is unlikely to be broken anytime soon.
Three games later, Iverson was back at it again with the series tied at two games a piece. With a chance to a lead in the series, The Answer delivered when called upon dropping 52 points in a 121–88 game five victory. Two games later the Sixers would eventually defeat the Raptors and move on to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Like the series with the Raptors, the series against the Bucks was a hard-fought battle between the two top teams in the Eastern Conference. The Sixers would overcome the sharp shooting of Ray Allen to defeat the Bucks in seven games and make a date with the Los Angeles Lakers in the finals. Iverson again carried the load for the Sixers offensively with an average of 26 points per game. Six years after finishing with the league’s worst record, the Sixers were now poised to win their first NBA title since 1983.
In hindsight, the reigning NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers were far and above a better team than the Sixers. Shaquille O’Neal was the most dominant center in the game and Kobe Bryant was beginning to establish himself as a superstar in the league. Many experts picked the Lakers to easily defeat the Sixers to win back to back titles. Allen Iverson, on the other hand, had a different idea.
Game one of the Finals will forever hold a special place in Sixers history due to the performance of Allen Iverson against the power house Lakers. In a duel with Lower Merion’s own, Kobe Bryant, Iverson played 52 minutes out of 53 total minutes in the game one overtime victory.
On the biggest stage in the NBA, Iverson crossed over into the lane for lay ups, hit step back after step back jumper, hit multiple three pointers, and made nine free throws on his way to a 48 point game one performance. He sent a message that he was not going to be stopped by the Lakers. That message was heard loud and clear when Iverson scored his seventh straight point by crossing over Tyronn Lue.
Whenever the words Allen Iverson and cross over are mentioned together, the Tyronn Lue moment is in the conversation. As you are reading this, I’m sure you are picturing it in your mind like it was yesterday. You can probably even repeat the play by-play for that exact moment or hear the words of Sixers’ broadcaster Tom McGinnis in your head.
“Iverson against Tyronn Lue. Baseline right, he backs up, he fires, two ball and he got it again! He’s way too good! He steps around Lue and drilled it! The Sixers have scored nine in a row! Are you kidding me?”
These words will forever hold a special place in the heart of Sixers fans everywhere. Fans have told their children about it. Children try to reenact that exact same cross over and step over move on basketball courts all over Philadelphia to this very day. This was a signature Allen Iverson moment and it came on the biggest stage, and in perhaps the best game of his life.
Unfortunately, the Sixers could not carry over the momentum into the rest of the series. The Lakers would win the next four games and go on to win their second of back to back to back titles. The magical run of the 2001 Philadelphia 76ers had come to an end and left Sixers fans heart-broken.
The next few years of AI’s career with the Sixers were a bit tumultuous and strained. The team made the playoffs for the next few seasons, but failed to make any deep runs into the post season. Management failed to bring in any major impact players to help shoulder the load with Iverson, and a rift soon began to take shape.
This rift led to the eventual dismissal of head coach Larry Brown and could have also played a role in the franchise player missing a practice in 2002. Yes, this is a reference to the same missed practice that led to the infamous, yet still hilarious, Allen Iverson practice rant. It’s been eleven years since Iverson provided one of the greatest question and answer moments in sports.
Despite the lack of help brought in by team management, AI continued to shine for the Sixers and do all that he could do to win. The game winners, highlight reel plays, and high scoring games kept coming on a nightly basis for a team that needed its superstar to put them on his back.
The 2005 season would be Allen Iverson’s last full season with the Philadelphia 76ers. This season was again filled with unforgettable moments that will be kept in the Sixers’ team vault for safekeeping and reminiscing. AI would go on to start another All-Star game and take home another MVP award in the game with a stat line of 15 points, 10 assists, and 5 steals to lead the Eastern Conference to a 125-115 victory over the Western Conference.
In a game on February 12 against the Orlando Magic, Iverson provided one more memorable game for the 76ers. It was on this night that AI would score 60 points, his highest point total of his career in a single game. The 60 points were also the fourth most points scored in a single game in team history.
The end result of the 2005-2006 season, however, ended the same as in the previous three years. The 76ers once again failed to make the playoffs and struggled for most of the year. Team management grew tired of the early exits and began to rethink the direction of the team entering the 2006-2007 season. Players and coaches had a short leash entering the season, and once the team fell to 5-15 on the year, things went from bad to worse for Allen Iverson and the Sixers.
To this day, no one truly knows what happened between the 76ers team management and the former number one overall pick. Iverson stated on multiple occasions that he wanted to spend his entire career with the 76ers, yet on the other hand, reports surfaced that Iverson demanded a trade. Regardless of what happened, the end result was a trade sending the seven time All-Star to the Denver Nuggets for a package headlined by point guard Andre Miller.
With the trade of AI, the Sixers sent the message that they were ready to head in a new direction and gave Iverson a chance to pair up with the league’s leading scorer, Carmelo Anthony. Since this trade, the franchise has yet to replace Allen Iverson with a bona fide superstar and cornerstone.
The career path of Allen Iverson would become a winding road over the next few seasons. He would spend just three seasons with the Nuggets before being traded to the Detroit Pistons for only a season. Controversy over Iverson’s role surfaced early on in his tenure with the Pistons. He continued to average over twenty points for the team, but as the season wore on he lost playing time to youngster Rodney Stuckey.
Iverson would eventually sit out the rest of the season and sign with the Memphis Grizzlies in the offseason. After just a few games, the disgruntled guard voiced his displeasure of coming off the bench and regularly stated that he was still a top ten guard and should start for this team. His tenure with Memphis would be short-lived as he was released before the end of the year.
Just a few months after his release, AI signed a one year deal to return to the team that drafted him. His final stint with the Sixers showed glimpses of Iverson’s former self, but things were not the same. The cross over was not as sharp and finishing through contact was becoming much harder than before as the bumps and bruises took more of a toll on the thirty-four year old’s body.
After the initial feelings of joy for the return of the prodigal son, it became more and more difficult to watch as Iverson struggled to repeat and capture the same moments and success that he had during his first stint with the Sixers. The ten time all-star was limping towards the finish line of his career and it was sad to see for Sixers fans who still believed he could do the things he once did for this franchise. Eventually, Allen Iverson would leave the team for personal reasons towards the end of the season and never step foot again on an NBA floor.
Now as Allen Iverson is finally set to officially announce his retirement, all we can do as fans is sit back and reminisce on a career that will eventually end up in the Hall of Fame. The fifteen year career will come to an end leaving behind an impressive resume that includes accolades such as ten All-Star appearances, two All-Star Game MVP awards, four scoring titles, an NBA MVP award, and three All NBA First Team selections.
The six-foot guard finishes his career with 24,368 points placing him 19th on the all time scoring list, and his 19,583 points are second on the Sixers all time scoring list. His 26.7 career points per game average is currently sixth best all time and his playoff average of 29.7 points per game is second all time behind only Michael Jordan.
It is always sad to say goodbye to an athlete when he retires, but it is especially hard when that player is a favorite player of many fans and is associated with so many great memories and accolades for a franchise. For a decade, Allen Iverson was the Philadelphia 76ers and carried the franchise into a new era. He left us speechless with his spectacular plays and hundreds of highlights each and every game.
Iverson left everything he had out on the court every night and showed us that it is not the size of the player that matters, but what matters is the heart and desire of the player. From the first day he stepped foot on the court, he took the city of Philadelphia on a ride that would bring out the best in fans during the 2001 playoff run and provide fans with reasons to cheer every night with jaw dropping plays and all out hustle on the court.
There is no doubt that Allen Iverson will end up in the NBA Hall of Fame one day. For now though, we as the fans must take this time to look back at his career, smile, and say thank you. Thank you Mr. Iverson for playing your hardest day in and day out, for taking the hits as you drove into the lane, and giving us the chance to watch your career and say Allen Iverson will forever be my favorite basketball player.
We have not seen the last of number three. He will soon take the podium in Springfield to give his Hall of Fame speech, and once again have the entire city of Philadelphia watching him. Then it will be his turn to sit back and reminisce on his great career, and with any luck, who knows, he may even talk about practice. But for now, thanks again for the basketball memories of a life time Allen.