GREENSBORO, N.C. -- He has been out of the NBA since February 2010, departing in unceremonious fashion, and yet Allen Iverson still draws attention the equivalent of a rock star.
Last Saturday night in Greensboro, N.C., the 36-year-old held his annual summer celebrity classic All-Star basketball game. Iverson was the star, but his friends, many of whom work in the entertainment industry, helped him put on a show that would have made admirers of Ball Up Streetball jealous. At the completion of the game, those in attendance rushed the court clamoring to get an Iverson autograph or picture or even just a chance to rub elbows with the cornrowed icon.
During his 10-plus seasons in Philadelphia, Iversons charisma was always obvious. He and Frank Sinatra had one thing in common: they both could say, I did it my way. In the case of No. 3, his way was sometimes defiant, always bold, with fearless and awesome woven in between.
That combination makes his presence a magnet, still.
I hope that my legacy is that I gave the fans what they wanted, somebody who played the game like it was his last, Iverson reflected. Someone who played hard every night and tried to give them their moneys worth.
In no season did Sixers fans get their moneys worth more than 2001, when Iverson was the leagues MVP and the Sixers marched to the NBA Finals. Ten years have passed since that run, and in its wake when the Sixers have gone to the postseason, their journeys have all been one-and-done.
Who knew in 2001 that the magic would be so short lived?
One cant live in the past, but reminiscing is a worthy pastime. Do you remember the Sixers came out of the gate and won their first 10 games in '01? They had the best record in the NBA at the all-star break, 36-14, earning Larry Brown the opportunity to coach his superstar in the mid-winter classic, which was held in our nations capital.
The East outscored the West, 41-21, in the fourth quarter, staging the greatest comeback in All-Star Game history as Browns team won, 111-110. Iverson was named the MVP having scored 25 points to lead all players. Few remember details of that game, but everyone remembers the line delivered by Iverson after the win: Wheres my coach, wheres my coach? he said as he was handed the MVP trophy.
I was so young and I was really rebellious and I had to learn, Iverson said when asked why those words came out of his mouth in that moment. I used to think he (Brown) was criticizing me when he was telling me things, but he was just teaching me and being my coach, and sharing the things I needed to know to be an MVP and be an All-Star and be a good player. And once I learned that it was constructive criticism, then I realized that he brought me a long way.
Iverson was in his fifth NBA season that year and four of them had been under Browns tutelage. His All-Star Game MVP award turned out to be a prelude to a bigger, more significant Most Valuable Player recognition.
I was ecstatic, Iverson said of his being named the NBA's MVP in 2001. I knew that I worked hard all year long. I think I played well enough to be the MVP and just looking back on it and being the MVP, that is just a great honor. Obviously, when you get that award you are basically labeled the best basketball player in the world that year, but it was a tribute to my teammates and my coaches because without them I wouldnt have been able to do it because they put me in a situation to succeed.
In the spring of that year, success might as well have been Iversons middle name. In the second round of the playoffs, Iverson dropped 54 points in Game 2 against Toronto and followed with 52 points in Game 5. Sandwiched in between was a 50-point performance from opposing superstar Vince Carter. TNT may know drama, but NBA fans had no idea what they were witnessing was the kind of drama that may never come to pass again.
It was incredible, Iverson remembered. He (Carter) had great games at home and I had some great games at home, but both of us were just trying to put our teams on our back and win basketball games. It is great just having those memories and being a part of something like that.
Iverson's mano a mano with Carter defined the Toronto series, but the Finals against the Lakers, despite a 4-1 series defeat, arguably featured Iversons signature visual moment of his postseason career: the Tyronn Lue step over.
I think stepping over him was just an adrenaline rush, Iverson said of his post-jumper antics late in the fourth quarter of the Game 1 overtime victory. I was just into the game and me and him did a lot of trash talking to each other during that series and now today we are really good friends. It was another great memory and something my son (Deuce) always enjoys when he sees it.
If defiance helped Iverson achieve what he did in his pro career, humility spills from him now, 15 years after being the No. 1 overall pick in the 1996 NBA draft. He believes he can still play at the highest level and he is putting all of his energy into achieving that goal.
I just want to do whatever an organization wants me to do, Iverson said. Everybody made a big thing about me not wanting to come off the bench, but I said that at that point because it never happened to me in my life and it was something new to me, and obviously I didnt know how to handle it. But to be back on the biggest stage is my whole thing and I feel like I have a couple more years left in my career and I want to play. I sat through and watched the whole season and it was tough for me. Now I just try to do what I have to do to be physically and mentally able to get back on the stage.
Given the current NBA lockout, being on the stage is not imminent no matter how good Iversons sales pitch. Iverson was in the league when the last work stoppage took place in 1998. That year, the owners and players did not come to an agreement for more than six months before having a shortened 50-game season. Playing overseas was not a consideration by the NBA's stars then, which is contrary to now. New Jersey Nets point guard Deron Williams has agreed to a one-year contract with the very team Iverson signed with last year in Turkey, Besiktas, for 5 million.
Iverson is not convinced Williams will be a trendsetter, but he speaks highly of his experience, which was abbreviated because of a season-ending injury.
They would be shocked to see how fun it is playing over there, Iverson said of his experience in Turkey. The fans over there are the best basketball fans as far as their energy in the building, maybe even more because they keep going during the timeouts and halftime with the chants and everything. They are really into the game. When you have a home game there you know you are at home.
As complimentary as Iverson is of the European basketball way, overseas still isnt where his heart is ultimately. Looking back, plenty of Iverson's draft peers are still playing Marcus Camby, Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash to name a few. But because Iverson relied solely on his gift of incredible talent and spent little time putting other facets into his game, he finds himself on the outside looking in at a world he probably took for granted.
Learning curves. Obviously I have a different work ethic than I did before and, honestly, its because I am older, he said, imploring of his changed ways. I am not as fast and quick as I was, but I can run with the young boys and I can still do the things that I have always been capable of doing, and that is my whole thing with continuing to play. As long as I can continue to do the things I am accustomed to doing, then I will play until the wheels fall off.
Whenever those wheels do fall off, The Answer will then be inducted into the Hall of Fame. It is just a matter of time. For a guy from Newport News, Va., who was on a path of hard knocks as well as hard time as a teenager, that feat seems of the land of make believe.
That will mean everything, Iverson speculated of such an honor. God gave me this talent and in basketball that is the ultimate goal, to be a Hall of Famer. Hopefully one day that will happen and all my teammates that I played with on every level and all the coaches I have ever had and my fans will get credit for that because without them I wouldnt be here.
And with that the 6-foot, 165-pound rock-star-esque Iverson was escorted by police out of a high school gym, leaving behind fans who will never get enough of The Answer. Its a routine 15 years in the making.
E-mail Dei Lynam at firstname.lastname@example.org
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