Allen Iverson gives Hall of Fame speech for the ages

Allen Iverson gives Hall of Fame speech for the ages

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — The applause erupted before he even took the stage. As emcee Ahmad Rashad started his introduction by talking about swagger, the camera panned to Allen Iverson in his seat. 

“There is no debating style" Rashad said as Iverson appeared on the monitors. Then he stopped. The crowd burst into a wild cheer, cutting off Rashad for the next 35 seconds.

So began Iverson’s Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremony, which 38 minutes later could have been headlined as “A.I.’s Special Night with his Fans.”

From the moment Iverson walked up to the podium, his speech was more than about basketball. It was a declaration of appreciation. 

Iverson’s career is marked by his unique personal style, on and off the court. The gold chains, baggy jeans and T-shirts, cornrows, shooting sleeves — Iverson has been identified by his outward appearance. 

He admitted on Thursday he was uncomfortable wearing the orange Hall of Fame inductee jacket, which he sported with a handful of necklaces and a Yankees cap. But on Friday, Iverson arrived in a simple, tailored, all-black suit, shirt and tie. No flash. No flare. When he stepped on to the stage and the bright lights shined down on him, the focus only was on his emotional words. 

From his mother who insisted he attend youth practice to the coaches who poured themselves into molding him, his relatives who provided a solid foundation in the hectic world of a professional athlete to the fans who stood by him regardless of the circumstances, Iverson shared the special moment by giving thanks to those who helped him become a Hall of Famer.

He called out specific mentors in the basketball world, including his three presenters. Iverson began with former Georgetown head coach John Thompson, who he credited for saving his life. Next was former Sixers head coach Larry Brown. They didn’t always see eye to eye, but Iverson said once he began to listen to Brown, he became an All-Star and MVP. 

Iverson then thanked Julius Erving for supporting him during his entire tenure with the Sixers. Later in the speech, Iverson called out former Sixers president Pat Croce, who drafted Iverson first overall in 1996, for recognizing his potential to lead a franchise. He noted, “I love you, Pat.” 

There are so many people involved in the daily operations of basketball, and Iverson made sure to recognize those on court and behind the scenes. He praised handfuls of former teammates, basketball operations staff and broadcasters. The Sixers had front office and former players in attendance, including Eric Snow, head coach Brett Brown and president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo. 

Much of Iverson’s time was spent talking about his family. Each member received a special message, and Iverson expressed how much the stability they give means to him. 

“I thank y'all for being my crutch in my career,” he said. “When I had hard losses, didn’t play well, the media treated me like they did throughout my career, I always came home and forgot about all of that once I saw y'all.” 

Iverson took the listeners through a journey of his life. There were somber pauses and tearful acknowledgements, and then there were jokes and humorous anecdotes. 

In a speech that covered all aspects of his personality, Iverson drew a reference between meeting Michael Jordan to Chappelle's Show (see video) and thanked artists, including Michael Jackson, The Notorious B.I.G. and 2Pac for being the theme music of his career. He paid tribute to fierce competitors like Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, and shared comical exchanges between him and Tyronn Lue. He even closed his night by thanking the negative people he got out of his life. Regardless of the topic at hand, Iverson had the audience waiting on every word. 

Some attendees showed their dedication by wearing Iverson jerseys, donning Hoyas, Sixers and Nuggets gear. Others stood and rooted while he spoke. It was only fitting that he gave a special shoutout to his supporters, a group that filled the balcony and was so loud the hall sounded like it was packed just for him.

“Philly fans!” Iverson called out. Nearly half a minute of cheers ensued, fans bowed, and some chanted “M-V-P” (see video).

“My relationship with the fans in Philadelphia is like no other,” he said. “Thank y’all for the support over the years. Y'all let me grow. Y’all let me make my mistakes. Never jumped off the bandwagon, continued to support me like true fans are supposed to.” 

Iverson embodied the impact of his family, friends and fans in his induction speech. He was the one playing basketball, but made it clear he could not have done it alone. On a night that celebrated his personal achievements, Iverson made it about everyone else. 

“The ones that stuck by me throughout my journey, I love y'all,” he said (watch speech). “I love the fact that now y'all can walk around and stick y'all chest out and say y'all Hall of Famers.” 

Joel Embiid: All-Star voting 'shows fans support me, that’s why I’m not even mad'

Joel Embiid: All-Star voting 'shows fans support me, that’s why I’m not even mad'

CAMDEN, N.J. — Joel Embiid didn’t earn enough overall votes to be named an All-Star starter, but he has no disappointment about the outpour of fan appreciation he received during the campaign.

“It shows that the fans support me, that’s why I’m not even mad,” Embiid said after shootaround on Friday. “The fans are going stick up for who they love, and I love that.”

Embiid finished third among frontcourt players in fan votes behind only LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo, which counted for 50 percent of the votes this season. He made a late push after trailing Kevin Love for third place in the second return of votes last week.

“They’re behind me and they want me to succeed,” Embiid said. “That’s what I took from it.”

Embiid ranked fifth in media votes (25 percent), but there was a drop-off in the player votes (25 percent). Embiid was eighth in player voting, behind James, Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Kristaps Porzingis, Carmelo Anthony and Love.

Embiid is averaging 19.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 25.4 minutes per game. He is under a 28-minute restriction this season and sits out one matchup of each back-to-back series. Veteran Gerald Henderson believes Embiid’s lack of games was a factor the player votes.

“I feel like since all the players vote, it’s probably important for you to play consistent and let all the players see night to night how good you are,” Henderson said. “I think that’s the difference. You’ll see Joel’s numbers are better than a lot of guys, but because some guys have been doing it year after year consistently and guys have seen how good they are, it helps them. I think if Joel continues to play like he’s been playing, he’ll earn everybody’s respect.” 

Embiid saw the competitiveness of the frontcourt race as a sign the league should revert back to the previous voting format which included centers. He has been advocating for that the entire season as he’s faced high-caliber players on the court.

“There’s a lot of talented big men in the league, especially at the center position,” Embiid said. “That’s something the NBA should think about, putting the center back on the All-Star ballot.”

Part of Embiid’s All-Star push centered around his opportunity to land a date with an unnamed celebrity if named a starter. So what happens now if he gets in as a reserve next week from the coach’s votes?

“I don’t know,” he said. “We’re going to have to figure that out.”

In spite of battling illness, Embiid plans to play Friday in front of the home crowd that was behind him during the voting process.

"I feel pretty sick still but I’ll be fine," he said. "I've been coughing a lot, sneezing, headaches, sinuses, can’t really breathe. But I'm fine."

Jay Wright amazed by Joel Embiid's improvements since Kansas

Jay Wright amazed by Joel Embiid's improvements since Kansas

Jay Wright remembers facing Joel Embiid's Kansas team, and he's shocked by the improvements Embiid made while sitting out the last two years.

"Could you imagine not playing for two years and getting better?" Wright said Friday on TCN's Breakfast on Broad. "We played against him in college and he was not close — he was good but not close to the player that he was at the start of this year. 

"What [the Sixers'] staff did while he was out is incredible. I don't know what other pro athlete has done that or could do that — not play and improve drastically.

"He's a unique force. We haven't seen a guy that's got this will defensively and ability defensively and then the skill level and mobility offensively. I've heard some people compare him to (Hakeem) Olajuwon. He's far more mobile than Olajuwon. Olajuwon, offensively, had his set of skills, which [Embiid] will develop. But the mobility he's got far exceeds Olajuwon. He's exciting. ... It's nice to feel this vibe with the Sixers right now."

Wright was also asked if he, as a coach, would want a player on a minutes restriction participating in the All-Star Game.

"Yeah, I would," he said. "I think that it's such an accomplishment for Joel Embiid. It would build his confidence so much to be on the floor with those guys and realize he's earned this. And to have that a part of his psyche going into the next season — 'OK, I've already been separated during the regular season with those guys, I belong with those guys.' So next year I'm thinking, 'I wanna beat these guys, I wanna be better than these guys.' 

"I think it'll be great for him. I think it's awesome ... what Brett Brown and his staff have done with this guy."

As lucky as good?
With a national championship and another No. 1 ranking this season, it would be understandable if Wright was feeling himself right about now. 'Nova is 17-1 and back atop the AP poll after a brief stint at No. 3.

National Player of the Year candidate Josh Hart is leading the way for the Wildcats with 18.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. A lot of Villanova's success this season is owed to Hart's decision to return for his senior year, so Wright has no issue admitting there's been some luck involved in the Wildcats' recent success.

"It's a tremendous advantage and it's really been probably the most important factor in our success the last three, four years," Wright said of 'Nova's senior leadership Friday on TCN's Breakfast on Broad.

"A lot of it is, on Villanova's side, luck. Josh Hart could have left last year. He just looked at it and kind of said, 'I could be maybe a late first-round, early [second-round pick]. I'd rather come back and get my degree.' 

"Having people that make that choice, you're lucky. If we lose him last year, we're a lot younger team this year. Daniel Ochefu the year before was faced with that decision. He stayed. 

"So when you get those guys that decide they're gonna stay, you catch a break because they're invaluable, a senior of that level. Daniel's playing in the NBA now. So we had a guy for a year that was an NBA player. And we have that with Josh this year. Kris (Jenkins) is developing into one, Darryl (Reynolds) has a chance."

Villanova, which destroyed Seton Hall 76-46 on Monday, hosts Providence Saturday at noon.