All morning, I’ve been watching SportsCenter, hearing them talk about how Allen Iverson’s planning to retire. I knew it had to come sometime, but I wasn’t ready for that yet.
Either way, on this Thanksgiving Day, I give thanks for The Answer. He’s changed the game in so many ways… I can’t even start to make a list.
I was reminded, however, of an article I read in SLAM Magazine a few months ago, entitled “Final Answer.” Written by Dave Zirin, the article talks about the influence of Iverson in the NBA, ever since his entry in 1996. As Zirin wrote, “It was AI, the rookie, who signaled a new period in ’96-97, when he crossed over MJ and said, ‘My heroes don’t wear suits.'”
Love him or hate him, it’s undeniable that Iverson’s influence on the game is indelible. From a performance perspective, his list of awards and accomplishments as a pro is quite impressive:
- NBA Most Valuable Player (2001)
- NBA Rookie of the Year (1997)
- 10x NBA All-Star (2000-2009)
- 4x NBA Scoring Champion (1999, 2001, 2002, 2005)
- 3x All-NBA First Team (1999, 2001, 2005)
- 3x All-NBA Second Team (2000, 2002, 2003)
- All-NBA Third Team (2006)
- NBA All-Rookie First Team (1997)
- 2x NBA All-Star Game MVP (2001, 2005)
From the perspective of everything else, however… well, I’ll let Dave Zirin explain that. Read the article below… it’s worth it.
While we will always remember his accomplishments fondly, Allen Iverson’s days of influencing kids—on and off the court—may be finished. By Dave Zirin
It starts with the cornrows. When I think back on the ’08-09 season, I don’t think my first thoughts will stray to King James ascending to the MVP throne, DWade returning to and surpassing his old form, Kobe clawing for that championship or Shaq finding the fountain of middle age. I am going to remember the cornrows. Allen Iverson’s cornrows, to be exact, untangled braid by braid during All-Star Weekend.
Once shaped up and out, AI in that unfamiliar Pistons uni looked like just another baller. It was those cornrows, blown out, that gave SLAM its most iconic cover [Even not blown out they gave us some of our next most famous covers.—Ed.]. They were the crown on the former king. Now the king, when he still plays, has descended from the mountain top.
For the last decade, AI—his tattoos, his reckless arrogance, his audacious authority—has dominated the discourse. After a season in formerly team-oriented Detroit where AI was deemed a problem and chemistry killer—and the man he was traded for from Denver, Chauncey Billups, got more good ink than the Pope’s papyrus—it is probably safe to say that the era of the Answer is done.
It was AI, the rookie, who signaled a new period in ’96-97, when he crossed over MJ and said, “My heroes don’t wear suits.” Like he’d say years later regarding the dress code, “Just because you put a guy in a tuxedo, it doesn’t mean he’s a good guy. It sends a bad message to kids. If you don’t have a suit on when you go to school, is the teacher going to think you’re a bad kid? I never wore a suit going in any park I ever went to when I was coming up.”
The moment the Answer, the ultimate one-on-one (or at times one-on-five) baller joined the directionless Pistons, it was obvious the torch had been passed. With him goes an era of NBA players at the heart of debates that have inspired volumes of books. The questions they have spawned are important ones and will be familiar to readers of this column: What effect does “hip-hop culture” have on the game? How do we explain the dress code, the age requirements, the media scrutiny, and all the latent—or even open—hostility between new jack players and the Commissioner’s office, the press and the people David Stern calls “the ticket-buying fans?” Why is one man’s entourage another man’s posse? AI was at the center of all these storms. And he did it with style and substance: the most dominant six footer in NBA history with the tats to match.
Now LeBron James, repeatedly praised for his “poise and maturity,” leads the League; the contrast with AI lies rudely below the surface. It is also led by Chris Paul, rebuilding New Orleans one assist at a time. And Kevin Durant, who tells the press he loves the dress code. I’m not hating on anyone. Just saying: the era of antipathy is done. Ratings are high, stars are appropriately telegenic and Stern is smiling. But for those of us who believe sports has a great deal to teach us about life, for those of us who like to live a little more rough, rugged and raw, let’s take a moment, sit back and remember the man who delivered the Answer, before we could even articulate the questions.