"You honestly don't really feel it when the shots are going down. You don't ever get the goose bumps until the fans start to appreciate what you're doing." -- Allen Iverson after scoring 60 points in a 112-99 win over the Orlando Magic in 2005.
Growing up in the heart of North Philadelphia, PA, there aren't many things that frequently occupy a young boy's mind. Philadelphia is a city like any other and has its share of attractions and opposition. An environment filled with animosity to it's fellow man that has been shown through murder and prostitution rings, is only an inkling of what Philadelphia brings to the American urban demographic.
But as a budding youth in the big city, one begins to become attracted to one of two things: the positive or the negative. The negative in Philadelphia is the same as any other big city in the country. Although, the positives come from living in one of the hubs of guard play on the East Coast, and there is no other guard that has meant as much to Philadelphia as Allen Iverson.
Iverson was originally the first overall draft pick from Georgetown University in 1996 by the Philadelphia 76ers and born in 1975 in Hampton, VA. At Georgetown, Iverson set the school record for career scoring average (22.9 points per game) and won Big East Defensive Player of the Year awards in both of his years there. Since his first game in the NBA, he has blossomed into one of the superstars in Philadelphia sports history as of late.
To Philadelphians in the early 2000's, Iverson was one of the greatest players to ever come through the franchise and the feeling still remains present. Iverson achieved numerous marks of brilliance throughout his 14-year NBA career that brought shock and awe to every opponent he faced.
Iverson was the 1997 NBA Rookie of the Year, 11-time All-Star, 2-time All-Star MVP, 2001 regular season MVP, a 4-time NBA scoring champion, 3-time steals leader in the NBA and took the 76ers to their only trip to the NBA Finals in the 2000's. To many Philadelphians alike, Iverson is a future hall of famer, not for his resounding professional career, but for the impact he brought the game.
His main impact the NBA came in two different contributions.
First, Iverson re-invented the early form of the crossover in the late nineties and early 2000's. Iverson brought a specific level of quickness, ball handling skills, and speed that wasn't seen in the NBA outside the likes of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant to that time. Iverson however, was the cream of the crop. Iverson's crossover was elite, so good that it left Bryant and Jordan dazed during some of their first encounters against A.I.
Second, Iverson broke apart the idea that basketball was essentially "a big man's game." Iverson stood at a listed 6-foot, but if he was ever seen in public (most notably wearing glistening chains and/or a fur coat) he was much smaller. Watching highlights of the electric guard, he would weave his way through a bevy of defenders without fear for injury and sky towards the basket among elevated opposition. That same type of play was put on display for his entire career and became the igniter for players of his archetype to find an easier path to the NBA.
After meeting Iverson personally and attending numerous games at the newly named Wells Fargo Center, A.I. has always been seen to many Philadelphians as a stand-up individual. He's had his ups and downs like any player of prominence in the Philadelphia sports area, but he's taken all of his blows in stride.
From attention-grabbing banter during his famous 2002 rant about missing practice, to his deep reflections after scoring 58 points against the Houston Rockets in the same season, Iverson is one of the more interesting personalities to ever grace an NBA court.
Iverson is one of the best scorers as a guard in the 2000's era and some of his numbers still haven't been altered. The former Georgetown Hoya has had five seasons where he's scored thirty or more points for his average (2000-2002, 2004-2006, 2006-2007) and scored more than twenty points per game every season except his last four.
Like most professional athletes, A.I. had his problems. He had his run in with financial issues as well as legal difficulties. Popular to many football and basketball players, Iverson attempted a musical career, had drinking issues and a gambling addiction. The big time guard wasn't always at the pinnacle of perfection.
Aside from his problematic past, Iverson was a role model to a young boy growing up in the heart of Philadelphia. Living in a concrete jungle, surviving off of the sound of nylon being pushed against the wind on concrete courts, he answered the call to all guards with the ambition to try achieve much more than the oblivious set of statistics.
Even though Iverson was born in Virginia, he's a native son of Philadelphia and has given hope to troubled individuals that walk a similar path as the star guard. A.I. was referred to commonly as "the Answer," because he was one of the best in the league and he kept answering when the team needed him to play a big game.
Iverson was the answer on the court and a solution for the 76ers, but he was also the answer for all young players throughout Philadelphia. He conveyed the message that with a little hard work, a few hours a night in the gym, and an unfathomable desire to be great, one day the dream of playing on a national stage can be achieved.