Friday, November 8, 2013

J-Speaks: "The Answer" Officially Retires

Pound for pound, he was one of the best players in the history of the National Basketball Association (NBA). While he only stood at six foot and weighed just 160 pounds, he played with every bit the intensity, skill and toughness as a guard that stood '6'6.'' His image in the eyes of many was controversial and he clashed with coaches, but not matter what arena he played in from the Philadelphia, where he played 10 of his 14 years in the league to overseas, people came to see him perform and perform he did. Last week, before his former team's home opener versus the two-defending champion Miami Heat, which they won 114-110, the player also known as "The Answer" officially said goodbye to the game.

Last Wednesday, Oct. 30, former Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson officially announced his retirement.

In the 14 seasons of his career, which includes stints with the Denver Nuggets, Detroit Pistons and Memphis Grizzlies, he averaged 26.7 points per contest, which is sixth all-time in NBA history, while also averaging 6.2 assists per game.

The former No. 1 overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft out of Georgetown was an 11-time All-Star (2000-2010) and won the All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award in 2001 and 2005. Iverson was named Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the league in 2001. He won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1997; garnered four scoring titles (1999, 2001-2002 and 2005); led the league in steals per contest from 2001-2003; made the All-NBA First Team three times (1999, 2001 and 2005) and All-NBA Second Team on three occasions (2000, 2002-03).

In a conversation prior to the announcement of his retirement, Iverson said to NBATV/TNT Insider David Aldridge that he will most remember about his NBA career is the competition.

"I think when I was in college, that's all I used to think about," Iverson said to Aldridge.

"That's the greatest part about it. Ain't no cake walks in no NBA basketball game. Everything that you do, that you do successful in those games, you earned it. You earned it."

As mentioned earlier, Iverson was pound for pound one of the best players in the history of the game. He was also one of the most unique as well. Many players who stand at six feet and under normally play point guard in the NBA. Iverson was different because he had a shoot first mentality and pass second.

His uniqueness is very similar to a couple of Hall of Famers. The first that comes to mind is Los Angeles Lakers Hall of Fame lead guard Earvin "Magic" Johnson. He was one of the first players in the history of the NBA to stand '6'9'' tall and play the point guard position as well as the shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center. Not only could he score with the best, he had the ability to grab the rebound and lead the break, while also being able to direct the offense from the top of the key and in the low post and in the triple threat position.

The other Hall of Famer whose game was unique for his position was current NBATV/TNT analyst Charles Barkley. He was one of the very few in the NBA to play power forward and stand at '6'6'' while he really was about '6'4 1/2." He like Johnson had an ability to score in the low post, especially against taller players. He had a jump shot that extended all the way out to the three-point line. He could grab the rebound and lead the break as well as finish and like Johnson, he was very good passer at the top of the circle, which he especially did well in his days with the Phoenix Suns.

The way Iverson was unique was he had an ability to run off screens to get open and he was a rare guard for his size that could get off close to 30 shots and take the physical punishment in putting the ball on the floor and get to the line at a consistent rate of eight to 10-plus times per game.

For all of his greatness on the hardwood, he was very controversial from his countless number of tattoos that were very noticable on his body, the cornrows in hair to the fact that his wardrobe that he wore to games consisted of a backwards cap, gold chains, earings and pants that sagged. His image was the main reason why the league a few years ago instituted a dress code where players had to wear suits or really nicely dress clothes to games on game day.

Iverson's image also drew the side eye from many sponsors who felt that the NBA's relationship with the hip hop community was one that turned a lot of people's stomachs.

With that being said though, the hip hop community provided a major bridge, especially in the early years of Iverson's career.

When Iverson's journey in the NBA began, it occurred at the end of the Michael Jordan era and in the crosshairs of the NBA Lockout 15 years ago, which shortened the 1998-99 season to 50 games.

It was because of Iverson's stellar play individually on the court that allowed the NBA to gain a whole new fan base and turn the page from the Jordan years.

Think about this, without Iverson, there may not be a Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY. The one person that made that happen was hip hop legend and entrepreneur Shaun Carter also known as Jay-Z.

When Iverson came into the league, he took it by storm individually. The Sixers on the other hand were still languishing at the bottom of the NBA mountain winning just 22 and 31 games respectably in his first two seasons.

Things started to turn around the next season when the Sixers hired "Mr. Fix It," in head coach Larry Brown back in 1997-98 season.

They would make the playoffs in the aforementioned lockout shortened season going 28-22, making their first postseason appearance since 1991 as the No. 6 Seed in the Eastern Conference. Iverson won his first scoring title that season averaging 26.8 points per game.

In the East Quarterfinals, the Sixers defeated the No. 3 Seeded Orlando Magic 3-1 to win their first playoff series in eight years.

Their season ended in the East Semifinals, the Sixers were swept 4-0 to the East runner-up the Indiana Pacers, coach Brown's old team that he coached from 1993-1997.

In his first postseason, Iverson averaged 28.5 points per contest in the eight playoff games.

The team went 49-33 the next season, garnering their most victories since the 1989-90, when they went 53-29.

As the No. 5 Seed in the East, they defeated the No. 4 Seed the then Charlotte Hornets in the first round 3-1.

For the second straight season though, they fell to the Pacers, the East representative in the Finals that season 4-2.

Iverson in the postseaon that year averaged 26.2 points per game, 4.8 assists and four rebounds.

While the Sixers were back as one of the elite teams in the East, behind the scenes Iverson and Brown clashed. It reached a point that in that off-season, the team was actively trying to trade their star. The Sixers reached a deal with the Pistons, but when then center Matt Geiger, who was going to be included in the deal did not want to part ways with his $5 million trade kicker the deal was rescinded.

After a conversation with then Sixers' owner Pat Croche that for the betterment of the team Iverson and Brown had to put aside their differences and Iverson had to become the all around leader of the team.

He did that and the Sixers reaped the rewards for it.

They started the 2000-01 season like a house of fire winning their first 10 games, en route to the best record in the East at 56-26, their first 50-plus win season in over a decade.

Iverson averaged a then career-best 31.1 points and 2.5 steals per contest, which both led the league.

His stellar performance garnered him 93 of 124 first place votes on his way to winning his only MVP Award of his career. He became the shortest and lightest player in NBA history to win MVP.

On top of that at the 2001 All-Star Game, which was held in Washington, DC, not to far from where Iverson played college basketball at Georgetown University and he won the first of his two All-Star Game MVP Awards in his career.

In the first round of the playoffs, the Sixers met up with Pacers, the No. 8 Seed, for the third straight postseason.

In Game 1, it looked like the Sixers were going to make quick work of the Pacers, but they could not hold an 18-point lead and lost 79-78. They would bounce back taking the next three games and winning the series 3-1.

In the Semis, they met up with the then Vince Carter led Toronto Raptors. The series went to the limit and the Sixers won 4-3 to advance to the Conference Finals.

They went up against the Milwaukee Bucks, who would take them to seven games, but the Sixers came out on top winning 4-3 and advancing to their first Finals since 1983, where they would face the Los Angeles Lakers, who they swept in the Finals 18 years prior winning their third NBA crown in franchise history and the first and only title in the career of Hall of Famer Dr. Julius Erving.

This time around the Sixers led by Iverson took on the Lakers and their dynamic duo of Kobe Bryant and current NBATV/TNT analyst Shaquille O'Neal.

The Sixers stole Game 1 in overtime 107-101. Iverson led the way with 48 and had the signature moment of the contest where in the extra frame he hit a stepback jumper right in front of the Lakers' bench and in the process stepped right over then guard Tyronn Lue.

It was the Lakers first loss of the 2001 playoffs, which also ended a 19-game overall winning streak that dated back to the regular season. It would also be their last loss as they won Games 2, 3, 4 and 5 to win the series 4-1 and win their second of three straight NBA titles.

In the years that followed, Iverson would continue to put up solid numbers, but the team would not reach the Finals again.

After the next season, which ended in a six-game defeat to the East runner-up the Pistons in the Semis, coach Brown moved on. He and Iverson indicated that they were on good terms and had a genuine respect for one another. In fact eight years back, Iverson said of Brown that he was "the best coach in the world."

Iverson's tenure with the Sixers ended on Dec. 19, 2006 when he was traded to the Nuggets for guard Andre Miller, forward Joe Smith and two first round picks in the 2007 draft.

In two seasons with the Nuggets, the high scoring tandem of Iverson and then forward Carmelo Anthony never made it passed the first round losing to the eventual NBA champion San Antonio Spurs in five games and the West representative in the Finals the Lakers in a four-game sweep.

Iverson was traded again on Nov. 4, 2008 to the Pistons for 2004 Finals MVP guard Chauncey Billups, forward Antonio McDyess and center Cheikh Samb. Iverson while with the Pistons changed his jersey number from No. 3, which he has worn since his days at Georgetown to No. 1.

Things did not go well in the "Motor City" for Iverson. In fact as the regular season drew to a close that year, Pistons' President of Basketball Operations Je Dumars announced on Apr. 3, 2009 that Iverson would be lost for the remainder of the season because of an ongoing back injury. It was reported two days prior however that Iverson stated he would rather retire than come off the bench.

The next September, Iverson signed a one-year contract with the Grizzlies.

He again voiced his displeasure at being a bench player and left the team on Nov. 7, 2009 for "personal reasons."

Nine days later, the Grizzlies announced that they were terminating Iverson's contract, where all he did in just three games with team averaged 12.3 points and 3.7 assists in those games.

For a lot of athletes, they do not get to end their career on their own terms and it seems like Iverson was going to be in that majority.

Things looked up though on Nov. 30, 2009 when he had one last go around with the Sixers as he and the team agreed to a one-year non-guaranteed contract at the NBA's minimum salary, which is a prorated portion of $1.3 million that would become guaranteed if Iverson remained on the roster passed Jan. 8, 2010.

He got back on the court on Dec. 7, 2009 versus the Nuggets and he finished with 11 points, six assists and five rebounds in a loss.

While he remained on the active roster passed the aforementioned due date, Iverson left the Sixers on Feb. 22, 2010 to tend to his four-year old daughter Messiah, who was having health problems. He did not attend the All-Star Game that season, where he was voted in as a starter by the fans.

Iverson after the 2008-09 season never played on an NBA court again. His last time on the hardwood came for the Besiktas, a basketball team that was part of a Turkish Basketball League. He signing was made official in New York City at a press conference on Oct. 29, 2010.

He played in just 10 games and returned to the U.S. in Jan. 2011 to have calf surgery. He never played another professional basketball game after that.

It very rare to come across a basketball player who was a great player on the court that was unique, exciting and controversial. Allen Iverson was all of those things.

A big reason why he is one of the greatest to ever play on the hardwood was because he performed that way on the same floor as some of the best ever and earned the respect from some of the greatest to ever grace the professional hardwood.

"This guy was defintely a dog. He always came to play everynight. People perceived him as being a problem, but I know him personally. A great guy. Loves to compete. Loves to win," O'Neal said on TNT's "Inside the NBA" on Friday, Nov. 1.

"I can honestly say if they faced anyone else besides the Lakers in the Finals, he would have a championship ring."

Barkley, a fellow Sixers great also said on the show said that Iverson was the best scorer for his size in the history of the NBA.

"For this little guy to have such a career like he had, I look forward to when the Sixers put his number in the rafters and when he goes into the Hall of Fame," Barkley said.

"It's been an honor and a pleasure to watch him play."

He was also exciting. Whe Iverson hit the court, people looked forward to seeing him. Eight years ago, when I was attending Howard University and my school played at our arch rival Hampton University, Iverson made an apperance walking behind the sidelines of Howard and some of my peers, in particular the women in the bleachers walk down to the end of where we sat and took out their cameras to get a photo of Iverson as he walked. Some of them were in tears when they saw him. It was at that moment I understood the appeal he had.

Along with being a great player and an exciting one, Iverson was also a controversial one. If he ever at the end of his run in the league was more a team player instead of a me player, he could have been a major help to any team, he might have gotten on to a championship contender and might have won a title.

While he was their for his daughter Messiah when she was very sick, his family life was not that great either.

Last February, Iverson's divorce from his wife Tawanna became final and the presiding Atlanta, GA family court judge that signed off on the decree had some harsh words for the All-Star and All-NBA performer.

Those words from the unidentified judge consist of him not knowing how to manage children; having little interest in learning how to manage children and at times has been a hindrance to their spiritual and emotional growth and development.

To add to the situation, in order for Iverson to even have the chance to see his own kids now according to this decree, he must not consume any alcohol for an 18-month stretch and untile the children turn the age of 18, he cannot consume any alcohol within a 24 hours of contact with Tiaura, Allen II, Isaiah, Messiah and Dream.

Is Allen Iverson a sure Hall of Famer? Yes indeed. One of the very best to play on the hardwood. He was controversial and did not always wanted to go by the beat of his own drum. He has gone through tough times and is going through some now, but their is one thing for sure is that he never waivers from who he is, embraces what he has gone through both on and off the court and lives to fight another day. That is what along with some other things is why Aldridge said on Monday's edition of NBA TV's "The Beat," "the champion"of the hip hop community.

"I think about the tough times. Bad times," Iverson said to Aldridge last week.

"How can you call any time a great time without the tough ones. Gotta have them. You gotta sprinkle them in somewhere and I don't mind. I understand. That's the way its gonna go. That's life."
Information, statistics and quotations are courtesy of 11/1/13 1 a.m. edition of TNT's "Inside the NBA" with Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal; 11/4/13 5:30 p.m. edition of NBATV's "The Beat" with Vince Cellini, Sekou Smith, David Aldridge and Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times;;; 02/04-13 article on, "Judge Hammers Allen Iverson In Final Divorce Decree;" The Sporting News Official NBA Guide: The Ultimate 1999-2000 Season Reference; The Sporting News 2006-07 Official NBA Guide.

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