I’m sure I was just like every other kid growing up thinking I would be a professional athlete. I had it all planned out, I would be a 6’4” point guard who could do a little bit of everything and I would make a bunch of money and buy stuff. I soon found out about genetics and realized I would not be a 6’4” point guard so I just watched the game and admired these big, tall human beings gracefully running around a basketball court.
On June 26, 1996 the NBA world changed just a little bit. With the 1st pick in the NBA draft the Philadelphia 76ers selected Allen Iverson. He was a 6 foot shooting guard that maybe weighed 160 pounds. From day 1 Iverson was just different. He wasn’t Magic, Jordan, Bird or anyone else that played in the NBA.
As a rookie he had a stretch where he scored 30 or more points in six straight games including four 40 point games and a 50 point game. Of course most will remember the March 12th matchup against Michael Jordan when Iverson hit Jordan with a crossover. Iverson went on to score 37 points that game but the Bulls still won. It was only one season but Iverson had arrived.
Before Iverson arrived all the stars in the NBA were clean cut. No tattoos, usually short or no hair. Iverson changed everything and to me he is the most influential player in NBA history. Yes Michael Jordan is the best player ever and he has the shoes, rings and dominance but nobody was out there trying to wear a loop earring. A player’s greatness is determined by their on-court performance and their off-court influence.
After Iverson crossed up the league including Jordan the NBA decided to call palming violations on players. They said Iverson’s crossover was illegal. Iverson adapted, changed his moves and continued to score. Iverson grew his hair out and added tattoos. Slowly his arm was covered in tats and his braids were not regular. After Jordan retired the league needed a new face and Iverson was that guy. People around the world wanted to handle the ball like Iverson and countless people got their hair braided and I was one of those people.
A.I. changed the game once again in 2001. No I’m not talking about his run to the NBA Finals, the crossover against Ty Lue or the fact that Iverson’s Sixers were the only team to beat the Lakers in the playoffs that year. In January of 2001 Iverson wore a sleeve in a game because he was battling Bursitis in his elbow which resulted in pain, swelling and tenderness in the elbow. He went on to score 51 points in that game. He never took the sleeve off; in fact he started to get customized sleeves from Under Armor.
Once Iverson started wearing his headband and sleeve the rest of the league followed suit. Countless players wear arm sleeves now because of Iverson. I’m not sure which players actually need the sleeves due to injury or are wearing it for fashion. More players came into the league with braids or started to get braids during the year.
Look around at the Superstars today. A lot of them got their style from Iverson. He was never afraid to be Allen Iverson. He was not trying to be like any other player in the league. Superstars have more tattoos, sleeves are everywhere and accessories are very important to these athletes today.
Iverson was not done changing the league. He was a guy from the streets so he dressed like that. The NBA created a dress code because of Allen Iverson. At first some players opposed the idea but now players take their fashion very seriously. Although a lot of players changed their style up Iverson continues to be Allen. Just look at him during the Hall of Fame announcement, while everyone was in suits Iverson was just being Iverson.
Allen Iverson did not always play the right way; he had problems with his coach, had issues off the court, and was a flawed but unique individual. Most remember him for the Jordan crossover, the Practice rant or maybe just the braids. I remember a guy who wasn’t afraid to cry, to show his emotions on and off the court and a guy who played every game like it was his last game. He was fearless competitor who was small in height but played with a big heart. Watch his interview with Stephen A. Smith and how he got choked up when he heard Larry Brown talk about him (10:20-12:30 mark).
Congratulations to the Hall of Famer Allen Iverson, my favorite basketball player of all-time.