Think Fast Is Allen Iverson The Fastest Player With The Ball In Nba History? Wanna Race? How Iverson Stacks Up Against Nba's Fastest, Past And Present

Posted: December 03, 1996

The contenders include a healthy Muggsy Bogues, Robert Pack, a younger Spud Webb, perhaps Tyus Edney or Lindsey Hunter.

The historical perspective is provided by Rickey Green, Tiny Archibald, Calvin Murphy, Isiah Thomas, Guy Rodgers and Gus Williams.

Add any name you like, perhaps Gary Payton or Andrew Toney. No one will ever really know unless everybody mentioned could be lined up, in their prime, to compete.

But the fastest man with the ball in the NBA today appears to be 6-foot, 165-pound 76ers rookie point guard Allen Iverson.

Not the best runner. Not the favorite in a sprint. But dribbling a basketball under control, creating a shot for a teammate or himself.

It's Iverson. Don't blink, don't reach for the popcorn. You might miss something.

In his first 12 games in the league, he has amassed team highs of 77 assists, 64 turnovers, 32 steals and a 21.8 scoring average. He has done that while going north, south, east and west and virtually every direction in between.

``In terms of sheer speed with the ball, Allen's the fastest I've seen,'' said Sixers center Michael Cage, in his 13th season in the league.

``He pushes the ball basically with a sprint. Sometimes, on the fastbreak, he's by himself. But that's OK, because he's good at finishing.''

Iverson shrugs and says it has always been this way.

``I've pretty much always been the fastest,'' he said. ``It means guys have to get out and run with me. That's why I like playing with Mark Davis. That's my style, get it and go. I'm looking for Mark and `Stack' [Jerry Stackhouse] first, because they get down the quickest and can finish with the best.''

But if speed kills opponents, Cage says Iverson will become far more deadly as he learns the nuances of the pro game.

That's not a step every player takes. B.J. Tyler, a first-round draft choice of the Sixers in 1994, was remarkably fast with the ball but couldn't fathom what to do with it. Tyler was sent away in the 1995 expansion draft, then was waived before the start of this season by the Toronto Raptors.

``When Allen's knowledge and mental approach catch up with his skill, whew,'' Cage said. ``Right now, looking at him is like opening a box of Frosted Flakes. You open a new box, it's never full because the cereal has settled. Allen's not settled yet.''

Maybe Cage should have selected Rice Krispies for his comparison, because there is a snap, crackle and pop to Iverson's game.

He already has scored 35 and 26 points in two victories over New York, 32 in a win over Boston, 30 in a loss to Milwaukee. When he was benched for the final 12:58 of Friday night's victory over Orlando, he came back the following evening against Vancouver to score 23, steal the ball six times and turn it over 10, proving that not everything that happens fast is necessarily good.

But in Daily News conversations with voices around the league, Iverson was consistently mentioned as the fastest man with the ball. His own candidates as his chief competition in that facet of the game are Toronto's Damon Stoudamire and Sacramento's Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf.

Bogues, the 5-3 Charlotte Hornets point guard, is struggling with a bad knee. The 5-7 Webb, an 11-season veteran, is an unsigned free agent after finishing last season with Minnesota. Pack, who has played for Portland, Denver and Washington, is in his first season with New Jersey. Edney is in his second season with Sacramento, Hunter in his fourth season with Detroit.

Greg Grant, a 5-7 guard who logged time with the Sixers and several other teams, possessed the speed and knowledge but not the explosiveness or the ability to consistently finish plays.

Most of the older voices recalled Archibald and Murphy, both in the Basketball Hall Of Fame, but also pointed to Green, Williams and Thomas as the fastest they had seen to this point. Randy Smith and former Sixers star Doug Collins, now the coach of the Pistons, were mentioned as the fastest moving without the ball.

``If Iverson's not the quickest, the list is short,'' Collins said. ``Stoudamire is also pretty quick, Jason Kidd [of Dallas] is very fast with the ball, but Iverson and Stoudamire are herky-jerky, change-direction fast. They have the ability to change direction in a small area to go from here to there.''

If there's somebody faster with the ball than Iverson, Jerry Reynolds, the Kings' director of player personnel, hasn't seen him.

``I always thought Green [also a former Sixer] had turbo speed,'' Reynolds said. ``He might have been as fast as this kid, but Rickey just had a right hand. Before his Achilles' tendon problem, Archibald would literally run up the backs of defenses. He might not have been as fast as Iverson, but he was a lot more skilled.

``Edney is fast in the open floor, but he's not in that league. Five or six years ago, I might have said John Stockton [of Utah], but he doesn't have those legs anymore. Iverson has amazing gifts. He's like the Energizer Bunny, just keeps going and going and going. The ball is almost magnetized to him.

``Even when he passes it, he's all over the place, chasing it, getting it back. I don't know whether I've ever seen a guy like him. As he develops his judgment, he'll learn he can't score 40 points in a quarter. But let's see him play the year out, let's see if he falls over.''

Iverson, who missed three games after suffering a separation in his left shoulder against the Cleveland Cavaliers, has not had a strong ratio of assists to turnovers, but has said repeatedly that he can get a shot virtually any time he wants.

``Now let's see if he can get a good shot,'' Reynolds said. ``Archibald could do that. He could get 30 points pretty easily. And it's no insult to put Iverson in Tiny's category.

``I saw Iverson as a freshman at Georgetown and he took my breath away. I was sitting there saying, `Is this for real?' He was just zigzagging around. Eventually, he'll find that he can score 20 points or more pretty easily and still have a 2 1/2-to-1 ratio of assists to turnovers just by finding a more comfortable pace.

``He'll begin to understand it's a long season, with a lot of minutes. If you try to make a play on every possession, you're putting a lot of pressure on yourself. He feels he can do that, but he'll find he has other guys on his team who can make plays, too. Magic Johnson could play 5, 6, 8 minutes at a time, not take a shot and control the game.''

Bogues was reluctant to critique Iverson because he hasn't seen him play in person. Stockton said he wouldn't comment on players as long as he had to play against them.

``Bogues is greased lightning going north and south,'' Cleveland center Mark West said. ``But for pure quickness with the ball, I'd go with Allen, maybe Kevin Johnson [of Phoenix]. He comes as advertised. I played with Allen during the summer. He'll shake you out of your shoes, make 10 moves and be gone.''

Said Orlando guard Anfernee Hardaway: ``Muggsy's the quickest guy, the toughest guy for me to try and handle. When he has the ball, you can't even turn him. I've only seen Iverson on TV, but I think he may be as quick as anyone in the league. From what I've seen and who he's played against, he must be right up there with Muggsy.''

Still, Sixers general manager Brad Greenberg didn't just draft Speed Racer.

``Being an effective player is more than just being fast or quick,'' Greenberg said. ``It's a skill level that we liked. The combination of speed and talent are what gives him a chance to be very special. With experience, he'll be incredible because he'll become more purposeful.''

Murphy, now a Houston Rockets broadcaster, used to fascinate students at his summer camps by offering to race dribbling two balls against any challenger dribbling just one.

``Calvin was too quick for the ball at times,'' said Hall of Fame coach Jack Ramsay, now an ESPN analyst. ``It was hard for him to keep his dribble up to speed. Archibald may have been the quickest and most maneuverable.''

Green, now living in Chicago, was almost as fast to praise Iverson as he was with the ball.

``He's awesome,'' Green said. ``I don't know if he'll be able to hold up over a season, but he's not fragile, either. He's wiry strong, like [former Los Angeles Laker] Michael Cooper. If he stays under control, if he doesn't put himself in awkward positions, he'll be OK. He elevates in a way not many guards can. When I saw him play in college, he seemed a little restricted. But not in the NBA.

``Sometimes he elevates, gets so open, it's almost as if he says, `I'm open, why pass?' He's got a good shot, so it becomes a Catch-22. If he can finish, why not do it?''

New Jersey general manager John Nash said he is eagerly awaiting Jan. 17, the first meeting between Iverson and Pack. But Nash also said, ``If you give me the field, I'd bet on Iverson.''

The Sixers have no interest in ``harnessing'' Iverson. They don't like that connotation. Greenberg and coach Johnny Davis, though, are intent on helping him refine his skills.

``He made a play in Toronto, running full speed up the floor, stopping and shooting a `three,' '' Sixers assistant coach Maurice Cheeks said. ``Rex Walters [one of the Sixers' backup point guards] and I just looked at each other, because we understood just how hard that is to do. And Allen made the shot. Unbelievable.''

Davis spent 10 seasons as a guard in the league before turning to administrative work and coaching.

``To me, a healthy Muggsy is in the ballpark, but not Pack,'' Davis said. ``The only one comparable would be Archibald. Green was fast, but I think Allen has him beat. Rickey was lightning, Allen is ultra-lightning.''

And Temple great Rodgers, a star with the Warriors in Philadelphia and San Francisco who played 12 seasons from 1958 to 1970, is Sonny Hill's choice as the fastest of them all.

``Guy is the only one I ever knew who could dribble as fast as he could run,'' said Hill, a consultant to Sixers president Pat Croce and one of the founders of the Baker League, the city's summer pro outlet. ``To me, it's not even close.

``Oscar Robertson once told me that Guy was the greatest passer, dribbler and ball-handler in history. And everybody knows Oscar has an ego about his own ability. It's funny, but I never remember Guy throwing the ball away off the dribble. He must have done that, but I don't remember.''

When Iverson scored 35 in New York, Charlie Ward and Scott Brooks fouled out trying to defend him.

``I'm not sure I would have helped, but playing young guys with that much talent, you can't let them get comfortable with the way they're playing,'' said Chris Childs, the Knicks' starting point guard who was on the injured list at the time.

``I probably wouldn't have made a big difference. Two of our point guards fouled out, I'd have been the third. But you can't let young guys feel comfortable and hit shots and feel good about themselves. You have to make it as difficult as possible. If it means taking a hard foul, you have to do it and send a message that it won't be an easy night.''

The Knicks' Charles Oakley did knock Iverson to the floor once.

``But that was one time,'' Childs said. ``I'm pretty sure he drove to the basket about 12 other times when he didn't get hit. That's an issue we'll have to let other teams know about.''

Childs, though, is back at the drawing board. He fouled out in 25 minutes as the Sixers won, 109-92, Nov. 23 at the CoreStates Center. Teammate John Starks - filling in at the point in the absence of the injured Ward - finished with five fouls.

Cheeks, the finest point guard in Sixers history, understands what's coming next.

``They'll try to devise defenses to keep the ball out of his hands,'' Cheeks said. ``When I would play against a really fast guy, I'd try and make him shoot jumpers rather than let him get to the basket. I'd also pick him up early, because if you allow someone like that to start running, you have no chance.''

But the long, draining season? No problem.

``Allen won't just wither away,'' Cheeks said. ``He looks forward to the games. At this point, he's running on adrenaline.''

``After games, he'd go to play in a playground if he could,'' Sixers assistant Ed Badger said. ``I'm sure he grew up in an area where if you lost on the playground, you could sit for two or three hours. He's used to playing all day.''

As fast as he can.

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