By Andrew Porter
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – “And finally….the SIX FOOT GUARD from Georgetown—number three—ALLEN IIIIIIVERSOOONNN!”
I can still hear it now. Gives me goosebumps just typing it. In my lifetime, he’s the only guy to ever pack the house for a Sixers game. And boy, did he ever pack it. He captivated us every night—with his tattoos, corn rows, six foot frame, baggy shorts, unrivaled determination, uncanny moves, pre and post game comments, and dominating performances. It’s impossible to explain, although many try, no one does it justice.
I’ll admit, the Sixers may have abused his legacy a little bit. Every time they roll him out for another ceremony or press conference it seems contrived, but every time he sits down to talk or walks out on the court, I’m in awe. I love every second of it and I can’t help it.
I will be in attendance for Iverson’s jersey retirement tomorrow night, perhaps the final time the Sixers milk ‘Bubba Chuck’ for all he’s worth, and I couldn’t be more excited about it. I owe a lot to the little, big shooting guard, way more than 750 words. When he first stepped on the court as a Sixer, I was six years old just starting my own basketball career. Watching him play was a life ritual for me—I couldn’t miss it. It was like brushing my teeth, taking a shower, or putting ketchup on my turkey sandwich (I know, I can’t believe my mom let me do that either).
Right around the same time in my life, I began playing organized basketball (Bustleton Bengals Boys Club). Probably unfortunately for a guy like myself, I began emulating Iverson on my front-yard hoop. That unparalleled crossover dribble and his ridiculous step-back fade away jumper of his. I say unfortunately because, as a 6’0″ slow, white kid, mirroring the basketball style of Allen Iverson probably wasn’t in my best interest. If only the Sixers drafted Larry Bird in 1996.
Little did I know, I would go on to play basketball my whole life, including AAU ball (Northeast Sting) and three years of varsity ball for George Washington High School in Philly (honorable-mention all-public senior year—I could play a little). Throughout my basketball career I always carried little nuances I picked up from watching Allen Iverson with me, whether good or bad, and maybe he’s the reason I never played college ball. Yeah, let’s go with that.
Iverson didn’t care about fundamentals. He didn’t care about being on time. He didn’t care about the rules. He didn’t care about what he is “supposed” to say. He didn’t care about the haters. I’m certainly not excusing that behavior, nor would he. I’m just acknowledging it. (Could you imagine him playing in today’s world? The social media era? Me neither.)
Right or wrong, he simply cared about dominating on the basketball court and playing his heart out every single night. And no matter how hard anyone tried, or how many young basketball careers Iverson shaped (or in my case, hindered), there will never be another guy like him.
11 time NBA all-star, two-time NBA all-star game MVP, four-time scoring champ, three-time steals leader, three-time all-NBA first team, three-time all-NBA second team, NBA rookie of the year, and NBA MVP. Did you know he scored 40-plus points in five straight games as a ROOKIE and averaged 24.8-plus points per game for 12 straight seasons?!
From his famous “step over” shot on Tyronn Lue, to his crossover on Michael Jordan, to his infamous “practice” presser, he’s a once in a lifetime player and person. He epitomized Philadelphia, willing his way to greatness, and fans revered him.
The hardest part of Iverson’s career being over is trying to explain it. I think about how AI helped shape my childhood: creating lifelong memories, bonding me with family members, peers, teachers, and developing my love for basketball. I’ll never forget begging my dad to stay up to watch the NBA finals in 2001, or sitting court-side for a playoff game in which Iverson went for 50, or sitting in Mrs. Feldman’s 5th grade class and cringing while listening to her attempt to describe the Sixers game 7 Eastern Conference Finals last-second win over Vince Carter and the Raptors, or high-fiving my late, great baby-sitter Betsy—the biggest Iverson fan I’ve ever known.
Trying to explain the way Iverson played, what he accomplished, and how he did it on a nightly basis to my children and grandchildren will be impossible. But maybe that’s how my father and grandfather feel when trying to tell me about Dr. J or Wilt? Or maybe Iverson is just indescribable, someone you had to see to believe.
I write this to express my personal emotions and stories associated with AI, but I know I’m not the only one with these stories. I’m just one in a million. Iverson helped shape the lives and basketball careers of not just Philadelphians, but people all over the country. He was truly one of a kind, and tomorrow night, I’ll be there to simply say thank you.
Andrew Porter is the Audio Roadshow Coordinator for SportsRadio WIP, editor and writer for The School Philly, and a contributor for CBS Philly. You can follow him on Twitter @And_Porter.