In the history of the NBA, no player has had a bigger impact on the sport than Allen Iverson. While he’s not among the top ten players in the history of the sport, he’s the definitive greatest when it comes to cultural impact. No one comes even close. Not even Michael Jordan, the consensus greatest of all time. In today’s NBA, his impact is seen throughout the league in his style of play and the way he carried himself.
When Iverson first appeared in the NBA in the fall of 1996, the NBA had been since its inception a very conservative league. Despite being over 80 percent African American, the players all dressed and looked like Madison Avenue picked out their clothes and music. Iverson single handily changed that look. He was, as Chuck D so poignantly pointed out in his autobiography, the first true NBA hip hop star. He brought the hip hop style to to the league. He was the first NBA player to wear cornrows, gold ropes around his neck and tattoos all over his body. Soon, many of his brethren followed. He entered the league right after Tupac Shakur was murdered. It was as though Tupac was reincarnated as Allen Iverson, the “Answer.”
Because he was so unapologetically Black and young, Iverson received a barrage of criticism from the NBA, former players and critics. He was labeled a thug and a disgrace to the league. Yet, even though he played for the Philadelphia 76ers in a city that was notorious for booing their own, the city embraced him like no one before or since. He is without a doubt the most beloved Philadelphia athlete in the history of that great city. Why? Because Philadelphia fans recognize hard work, determination and great heart. Through his entire career, Iverson played through a rash of injuries. At less than six feet tall and 165 pounds, Iverson played with reckless abandon. The Sixer fans saw this and showered him with adulation, despite what outsiders were saying about him. It was his playing style that has had the greatest impact in the history of the sport. An impact that is so prevalent today.
When Iverson entered the league twenty years ago, the league was dominated by big men like David Robinson, Patrick Ewing and Shaquille O’Neal. In 2016, the NBA is dominated by the little men, the point guards who emulate Iverson’s style of play. The list of players who idolized Iverson and copied his style is endless: Derrick Rose, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving and the reigning two time NBA MVP Stephon Curry all have elements of Iverson’s style in their games. Iverson was a point guard when he first came in the league. He was immediately shifted to the shooting guard position, but physically he was in a point guard’s body. The players I mentioned above all grew up idolizing Iverson. Curry and Irving’s signature crossover is a direct impersonation of the move Iverson made famous when he crossed up Jordan in his rookie year. Westbrook and Harden play with a reckless abandonment reminiscent of a prime Iverson. At one time Rose was seen as the successor to Iverson’s style until injuries robbed Rose of his greatness. And Lillard today carries a mediocre team just like Iverson did throughout his career as a Sixer.
Two months ago Iverson was inducted into the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame as a first ballot induction. Fittingly, he was inducted almost 20 years to the day Tupac died and when Iverson made his NBA debut. He was the best little man to ever play the sport of basketball. He was a cultural icon. A man despite being torn with injuries and criticisms galore, became a legendary ball player, both on and off the court. Who is the single, most culturally impact individual in the history of basketball? “THE ANSWER, ALLEN IVERSON!!!!!”