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.” 

Sixers respond to blowout with skid-snapping road win over Bulls

Sixers respond to blowout with skid-snapping road win over Bulls

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO -- The Sixers' win over the Bulls on Friday was a culmination of recent successes, losses and learning experiences.

One could call it a makeup for Wednesday's 25-point defeat to the Thunder; a lesson learned from blowing late leads against the Warriors and Magic; or a carryover from maintaining their poise in a victory over the Celtics. 

Take those games (and more) and roll them into a 117-107 victory (see Instant Replay). It marked the Sixers' first win over the Bulls since Nov. 2, 2013, to snap a 12-game skid.

That victory included coming back from a 10-point first-quarter deficit, pushing a lead up to 26, and holding on for a win when the Bulls got back within 10 in the fourth. They also withstood 36 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds from Jimmy Butler. 

"The better team wins today," Dario Saric said. "We controlled the game like 45 minutes maybe or all the time and we deserve this win. A little bit scared in the end when they came within 11, 12 because we lost a couple games like that this season. We were up around 15 points, 20 and we lost because sometimes a young team, we don't have experience, but I think we will learn something from that and I think this will be something that's good for us."

There were key performances throughout the game that impacted the Sixers' success in different ways (see highlights).

Saric scored a career-high 32 points. He made it a double-double with 10 rebounds. Saric scored 13 in the fourth, including a late three-pointer that halted the Bulls' momentum. 

The rookie said he tried to play smarter, including shooting with more balance, finding his spots on the floor and dribbling more frequently. That seemed to be accurate as Saric shot 12 of 19 from the field.

"Huge," Brett Brown said of Saric's game. "I thought in that fourth period he sort of willed his way to the basket and found multiple ways to score and at big times when the game really fell in the balance."

On the opposite end of the court, Brown praised Sergio Rodriguez for his defensive efforts in the second quarter. Rodriguez was a plus-17 as the Sixers held the Bulls to just 18 points in the quarter. 

"Defensively is where we have been on him relentlessly," Brown said. "He has taken it, he has allowed us to coach him. He has improved and so we rode him out in that second period and he really set the table, I think, for the rest of the game."

And sometimes it's an unlikely player who provides that extra spark needed to defeat a team with playoff aspirations. Shawn Long, who spent most of the season in the D-League, scored a career-high 18 points along with seven rebounds in only 19 minutes off the bench. How efficient was he? Long finished a massive plus-31. 

"I think the main reason maybe is because Shawn Long, where he comes in from the bench, he gave some kind of energy. He was tough," Saric said. "I think he is the guy who brings us some changes than the game before."

The Sixers have been through the ups and downs of wins and losses in just a week. Their victory over the Bulls was a high mark in the roller coaster of results. 

"I think how teams respond is always an interesting litmus test for coaches," Brown said. "We responded in a way that I expected them to. We played well against a team that is fighting to get into the playoffs, and all over the place, we leave here proud of our guys."

Jahlil Okafor gives special treat to his high school team in return home

Jahlil Okafor gives special treat to his high school team in return home

CHICAGO -- Jahlil Okafor was not able to play in front of friends and family on Friday because of right knee soreness. He did, however, have a special evening in his hometown the previous night.

Okafor took the entire boys basketball team from his alma mater, Whitney Young High School, to dinner to celebrate its recent state championship. He estimates there were 35 people with him at Fogo de Chao, a Brazilian steakhouse.

"It was pretty cool," Okafor said. "Two of the guys that were on that team were guys I actually played with, they were freshmen when I was a senior. They already had one state championship (with Okafor). It was cool for me to go back and do something like that for the team."

Okafor won a 4A state title as a senior before playing one season at Duke. His career has been so fast-tracked that Okafor, 21, is only three years removed from high school. He encouraged the players to be in the moment and enjoy every game and accomplishment as they happen.

"My message is just enjoy it," Okafor said. "Just enjoy high school. To the seniors, enjoy going to college. Just enjoy it all. My process went by a lot faster than the average person, so I told them to just enjoy everything."

Okafor would have enjoyed playing Friday. He banged his knee against Victor Oladipo in Wednesday's game against the Thunder. Okafor remained in that game but experienced soreness later. Friday was his eighth game missed this season because of the injury.

"I was in discomfort but I was just thinking I didn't want to miss another game," Okafor said. "I know against Boston (on Sunday) I didn't play the second half and I didn't want that to be the same case. So I was pretty much just trying to tough it and just trying to play."

Richaun Holmes got the start in place of Okafor. He scored eight points and grabbed three rebounds in 29 minutes of the Sixers' 117-107 win over the Bulls (see Instant Replay). Backup Shawn Long had another efficient game, scoring a career-high 18 points off 8 for 10 shooting. He also pulled down seven rebounds in just over 19 minutes.