Sixers finally got it right when they drafted Iverson

FILE PHOTO Pat Croce, Allen Iverson are all smiles on draft night in 1996.
FILE PHOTO Pat Croce, Allen Iverson are all smiles on draft night in 1996.
Posted: February 22, 2013

17th in a series of 25

ON JUNE 26, 1996, the Sixers finally got it right.

After a series of first-round busts that included Shawn Bradley, Sharone Wright and B.J. Tyler, all after the trading of Charles Barkley, the Sixers took Georgetown's Allen Iverson with the first pick of the draft.

While history says the pick was a non-brainer, it wasn't at the time. The Sixers were desperate for either a center or a point guard. But there wasn't a legitimate center in the draft, so it came down to choosing the best point guard. The consensus was that Iverson and Georgia Tech's Stephon Marbury were the best of the lot. So the Sixers had to make a choice.

Although general manager Brad Greenberg was being tight-lipped throughout the process, the vibe coming out of the team offices was that Iverson was the front-runner.

"We'll end up selecting the player we feel has the best chance to become the very best NBA player, the guy we think can have the strongest career, the guy with the best chance to be special," said Greenberg the Friday before the draft. "We're not looking to add a piece, we're looking to add talent. We've got to get talent."

The next day, Iverson came in for a second interview and workout.

"I was excited about [Saturday's] workout," Iverson said on draft night. "I wanted to show them I was their man, that this is the uniform I want to be in."

And the Sixers were sold on Iverson.

"It was very, very clear that the most talented player was Allen," Greenberg said at the time. "Once we made that decision, we were not going to move the pick. He's a special athlete, a special competitor, mentally tough, resilient. That made it an easy decision. He was the most exciting player in college basketball."

Greenberg was dead-on in his assessment. Iverson was, at that time, the best player in the draft.

Marbury went on to have a decent NBA career, but never reached the level that was expected of him. Marbury was eventually drafted by Milwaukee with the fourth pick and was traded minutes later to Minnesota for the No. 5 pick, Ray Allen, and a future No. 1.

Marcus Camby went to Toronto with the second pick. The college player of the year at UMass, Camby was thought to be too skinny at 6-10, 220 pounds, to make an impact. That was partially correct. Camby, when healthy, was a solid player. But he was rarely healthy.

With the third pick, Vancouver took Shareef Abdur-Rahim, a promising player out of Cal who was coming off a standout freshman season. He had his moments, but they were few are far between.

Then there was a 6-6 1/2, 17-year-old lad from Lower Merion by the name of Kobe Bryant, who ended up having a pretty good NBA career. But no team in 1996 was going to take a chance on an unproven shooting guard out of high school with the top pick. The Lakers, who pulled off a trade with Charlotte for the rights to Bryant, were a good enough team that they didn't need him to make an immediate impact and brought him along slowly. Needless to say, the genius that is Jerry West made the best move of the night.

But for the Sixers, there was no doubt that they made the right move, the only right move made by Greenberg in his 1 year at the helm.

While he had flaws, and there were numerous, Iverson was just what the Sixers hoped for. He was the exciting player the franchise so desperately needed.

He put butts in the seats and had the Sixers, who had won 18 games prior to his arrival and 22 his rookie season, in the playoffs in just his third year.

"I want to be an All-Star one day," Iverson said the day after the draft. "When you talk about great players in the NBA, like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, I want my name to be amongst those guys when I leave."

Mission accomplished. He was rookie of the year in 1997; first-team All-NBA in 1998-99, 2000-2001, 2004-05; NBA MVP in 2000-01; and a two-time All-Star Game MVP (2001 and 2005); led NBA in total points in 2004-05; and led NBA in scoring average in 1998-99, 2000-01, 2001-02 and 2004-05.

Iverson was just 632 points and 376 assists away from becoming just the fourth player in NBA history to accumulate 25,000 points and 6,000 assists.

And in 2000-01, he led the Sixers to the NBA Finals with one of the greatest playoff runs ever by an individual player. In 22 games, Iverson went for at least 50 twice (in the same series against Toronto), had four games in the 40s and eight games in the 30s. He never played less than 42 minutes and provided Philadelphia with the best ride ever that didn't end in a championship.

While we all wish he passed a little more, practiced a little more, and hit the clubs a little less, the smallest player ever taken with the first pick in the draft finished his career as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

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