Commentary

Iverson's best and worst moments with the Sixers

Originally Published: March 19, 2008
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com

Allen IversonLou Capozzola/NBAE/Getty ImagesWhen Allen Iverson came into the league in 1996, he brought a whole new style to the game.

Allen Iverson entered the NBA at the height of the Michael Jordan era, a hip-hop enigma who would eventually embody a generational change; a cornrowed, unpolished product of the mean streets of Hampton, Va., that the NBA didn't quite know what to make of.

They airbrushed away his tattoos when they put him on the cover of an in-house magazine, they summoned him to David Stern's office when they read the lyrics from his never-released rap album and they changed their dress code after he started the trend of showing up to postgame news conferences wearing a baseball cap.

But they watched in awe, too, as Iverson burst onto the scene and unleashed his mesmerizing arsenal of speed, spunk and scoring, turning the Philadelphia 76ers from a league laughingstock into a title contender before it all flamed out some 16 months ago.

When Iverson finally makes his long-awaited return to Philadelphia on Wednesday night as a member of the Denver Nuggets, it'll serve as a moment for the Sixers and the NBA at large to reflect on what his decade in Philly meant to that franchise -- and to the league as a whole.

My own recollections provided enough fodder for a stand-alone column, and to go along with that we present Iverson's best and worst Philly-related moments.

The Best

1. The 2001 Finals. The Sixers were such prohibitive underdogs going into Game 1, fans at the Staples Center were chanting "sweep, sweep" some 30 minutes before tipoff. But Iverson silenced them with 30 first-half points on his way to 48 in a 107-101 overtime victory. And Iverson strode to the interview podium afterward, took his seat in front of the worldwide media -- the same people who said his team had no chance of beating the Lakers -- and grinned the grin of a man who had known the truth all along.

"Big-time underdogs," he said, pausing to relish the thought. "I'm glad nobody bet their life on it because they'd be dead now." It turned out to be the closest Iverson would ever get the Sixers to a championship, as they lost the next four games to Los Angeles. But for one night, Iverson was king of the basketball world.

Allen Iverson
Jeff Haynes/AFP/Getty ImagesOne of the most fearless players in NBA history, Iverson led the Sixers to the Finals in 2001.
2. His MVP season of 2000-01. Averaging 31.1 points for his second scoring title, Iverson led the Sixers to 56 victories and the top seed in the East and became the first NBA player in five years to average more than 30 points. He led the Sixers to Game 7 playoff victories over Toronto (dishing 16 assists) and Milwaukee (scoring 44) that put Philadelphia into the Finals. He also won the All-Star MVP award, a feat he'd repeat in 2005.

3. The Crossover on MJ. Do yourself a favor and do a Web search with the words Iverson, Jordan and crossover, then watch the video. This was at a time when nobody, absolutely nobody, made Michael Jordan look that bad. "I gave him a little cross to see would he bite on it?" Iverson said in the video. "I let him set his feet, then I stepped it back again." If there was one single videotaped moment from the '90s that encapsulated a coming change of eras, this was it. But it also added fuel to some veterans' complaints that the brash, young Iverson was not showing his elders enough respect.

4. His rookie season, 1996-97. He led all rookies in scoring (23.5), assists (7.5) and steals (2.1), and he became the first rookie in NBA history to score 40 or more points in five consecutive games. He also became the second-youngest player at the time, behind Rick Barry, to post a 50-point game. After he won the MVP award at the All-Star rookie game, Red Auerbach, who coached the East rookies that night, said he absolutely loved everything about Iverson as a player and couldn't understand why anyone else wouldn't.

5. Scoring 60 vs. the Magic. It was mid-February in 2005, and two months earlier Iverson had scored 51 and 54 points in consecutive games. But facing the Orlando Magic in a game then-coach Jim O'Brien called "the greatest performance I've ever witnessed," Iverson made 17 field goals and 24 free throws to reach the 60-point mark for the only time in his career. (He has scored 50 or more 11 times and 40 or more 75 times.).

The other players to reach 60 points in game this decade are Kobe Bryant (81, 65, 62, 60), Tracy McGrady (62), Shaquille O'Neal (61) and Gilbert Arenas (60).

The Worst

1. The end. There were already signs that things were falling apart (his late arrival and benching at Fan Appreciation Night at the end of the previous season was a huge strike against him) by the time Iverson stormed out of practice on Nov. 26, 2006, and then skipped a team function at a bowling alley that night. About a week later, he skipped a practice and demanded to be traded, and Sixers chairman Ed Snider went on national television that night to announce that Philadelphia would honor his request and Iverson would never wear a Sixers uniform again.

He was traded on Dec. 19 to the Nuggets for Andre Miller, Joe Smith and two No.1 picks, and the Sixers have played well enough this first full post-Iverson season to be in serious contention for the fifth playoff seed in the East.

Allen Iverson and Larry Brown
Tom Pidgeon/Getty ImagesAllen Iverson and Larry Brown didn't always see eye-to-eye, but they did have success together.

2. The arrests. The more serious one came in 2002. One night after throwing his wife out of their home, Iverson went looking for her at his cousin's apartment and allegedly brandished a handgun and made threats. He was arrested and accused of 14 counts, including making terroristic threats, but all charges against him were eventually dropped.

In 1997, the summer after he won the Rookie of the Year award, Iverson's car (he was not driving) was pulled over for going 93 mph in a 65 mph zone. Police found a half-smoked marijuana joint and an unloaded pistol near the passenger seat where Iverson was sitting. He later took a plea bargain that called for 100 hours of community service and two years of drug testing.

3. His ups and downs with Larry Brown. Player and coach clashed to such a degree early in Brown's six-year tenure, the Sixers actually came within moments of pulling off a four-team megatrade that would have sent Iverson to Detroit. It fell through only when Matt Geiger refused to waive his trade kicker, keeping the mathematics of the deal from complying with salary-cap rules.

The infamous "we're talking about practice" news conference came after Brown criticized Iverson following the Sixers' first-round playoff ouster in 2002, and Brown suspended Iverson from Team USA's first exhibition game in 2004 after he arrived late for a team meeting.

4. "We're talking about practice." That was the signature line from the most bizarre news conference of Iverson's career, including a rambling answer in which he demeaned the notion of the importance of practice by using the word "practice" 23½ times in a single answer. The next day, Brown quipped: "He said practice more times than he actually practiced."

In truth, Iverson had fewer than a half-dozen unexcused missed practices during his time in Philly. Still, the incident was one in a string of episodes related to Iverson's image, many of which contributed to the corresponding change in the public's attitudes toward the NBA that has driven away many former fans.

Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider and has done extensive international basketball reporting. To e-mail Chris, click here.

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