Iverson still sparks praise, amazement

CLEM MURRAY / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Allen Iverson still draws praise and amazement from those who watched and played with him.
CLEM MURRAY / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Allen Iverson still draws praise and amazement from those who watched and played with him.
Posted: March 03, 2014

THOUGH HIS stature was minute compared to the men he played against, everything else about Allen Iverson was off-the-charts huge.

The numbers posted by the generously listed 6-footer speak for themselves, with a 26.7 career scoring average (seventh all time) on 24,368 points (21st in NBA history). He captured the league MVP Award in 2001, the same year he carried the 76ers to the NBA Finals, was named an All-Star 11 times, led the league in scoring four times, in minutes played twice, free throws made twice and steals twice.

If ever someone squeezed as much as possible out of 165 pounds, it was Iverson.

And still, he even was bigger than all that.

He again will send Sixers fans into a frenzy tonight when the team retires his No. 3 during a halftime ceremony of game against the Washington Wizards. Few who have played for this storied franchise can garner the kind of emotion from fans that Iverson can. Many still think the team should bring him back to pump some life into the straight-lined organization.

"Oh, man, he was huge," said Aaron McKie, a former teammate of Iverson's for eight seasons with the Sixers and then an assistant coach when Iverson returned in 2009-10. "When we would go on the road, all the arenas were full, and they were there to see Allen. Everybody was wearing No. 3 jerseys. I would go to the local gyms to work out, and everyone would be wearing braids in their hair, everyone would be wearing arm sleeves. He was the one who started all that.

"He didn't realize how big he was. He just went out and played. He had a certain immeasurable confidence about him and he couldn't wait to go out and compete. He would pick out the best player on the other team and say, 'I'm gonna go out and beat that [bleeper].' He meant business when it came to winning basketball games. He was such a competitive person on the floor."

Former players and coaches, as well as current players and coaches, mostly have the same reaction when Iverson's name is brought up. The smile comes almost immediately, the head shakes in disbelief, and the comments go on almost endlessly.

"A.I. is a legend," Thaddeus Young said after the team's practice yesterday. "He sat next to me [in the locker room] when he came back for those 25 games. He was huge for me, [being] a young player growing into his own in the league. He was very helpful teaching me different things and showing me different ways of the league. He was a great person, great to be around. And he was pretty funny.

"When he was in his prime, you could tell he was a rock star, from the simple fact that when we went to the next city, there would be 300 or 400 people waiting on him with Iverson posters and jerseys and shoes ready to be signed. He was good interacting with the fans."

Iverson will be great at it tonight. You can just see the hand cupping his ear to raise the volume at the Wells Fargo Center and the tears welling in his eyes. The city means as much to him as he does to it. And the adulation doesn't stop here.

"A.I., where do we start?" Sixers coach Brett Brown said. "I remember when we were rated, and statistically it was backed up, the league's best defensive team in my [San Antonio] Spur life, and you would have to start out with Tony Parker trying to chase him around or at times Steve Kerr, at times Speedy Claxton, at times Jacque Vaughn. Those are really good defenders and then something would happen that we just couldn't guard him.

"Then you would put [Bruce] Bowen on him and you would go with length, which was remarkable, because he could guard [a variety of players]. He was one of the most difficult defensive assignments always. He was just so competitively cocky and had a street swagger that you couldn't figure out at times how to guard him. He had such a variety of ways that he could get to the rim, he could shoot the long ball and he'd get to the line. He was just so hard to guard.

"I remember the All-Star Games when we were coaching in them and you'd go into the locker room and you see 24 of the best players in the world and you would look over and you would see Allen Iverson. My first year going in there and you're looking around, and they're mingling with each other and getting changed and dealing with different things, and he'd be putting on his practice stuff and he's a bag of bones. He's just so, sort of, diminutive. He's cut up, but he's just a bag of bones and he'd take a pounding night after night and still back it up. He was on the floor a lot and he'd get back up and do it again, and again, and again.

"I just think that from a skill perspective and a toughness, competitive perspective, what a package. Such a unique athlete getting it done on a big stage with the body type he had."

Iverson made an impression on anyone involved in basketball, whether playing or coaching against him, playing with him, or just idolizing him on television.

"He brought a lot to the game, a lot to the city," current point guard Michael Carter-Williams said. "He was an icon, and every kid wanted to be like him, with the braids and the headband and the sleeves and all that. I'm glad to be a part of history [tonight], and to witness his greatness growing up is a special thing."

Danny Granger, acquired by the Sixers last Thursday at the trade deadline from the Indiana Pacers for Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen and let go this week, was signed by the Los Angeles Clippers yesterday.

The Sixers bought out the remainder of his contract for this season, making Granger a free agent. The Sixers received a second-round pick in 2015, via Golden State, for Turner and Allen.

On Twitter: @BobCooney76

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