007nites Presents: Allen Iverson
Full Name: Allen Ezail Iverson
Born: June 7, 1975 in Hampton, Virginia
High School: Bethel (Hampton, Virginia)
College: Georgetown University (1994-1996)
Drafted By: Philadelphia 76ers, 1st Pick Overall, 1996 NBA Draft
Height: 6-0 ; Weight: 165lbs
Position: Shooting Guard
Nickname: The Answer, AI, Ivy
Career Statistics - NBA (1996-2010)
G - 914
FG% - .425
3PFG% - .313
FT% - .780
Points - 24,368
PPG - 26.7
Rebounds - 3,394
RPG - 3.7
Assists - 5,624
APG - 6.2
Blocks - 164
BPG - 0.2
Steals - 1,983
SPG - 2.2
Honors: 2000-01 NBA MVP, 4 x All-NBA First Team, 3 X All-NBA Second Team, 1 x All NBA Third Team, 4 x NBA Scoring Champion, 1996-97 NBA Rookie of the Year, 2000-01 NBA All-Star Game MVP, 2004-05 NBA All-Star Game MVP, 11 x NBA All-Star, 1995-96 First Team All-American, 1995-96 Big East Rookie of the Year, All-Rookie Tournament First Team.
What does it take for a little man to dominate in the NBA? In Allen Iverson’s case, the answer is outrageous talent, in-your-face confidence and the heart of a giant. No one in the league can guard him off the dribble, no one his size goes to the hoop with more authority, and no one pours in points like he does when he's in the highlight zone. It has been a long, strange journey for Allen, who started as a football star and ended up as hip-hop’s favorite hoopster.
Allen Iverson was born June 7, 1975, in Hampton, Virginia. Allen’s mother, Ann, was 15 years old when she had him. His biological father, also a teenager, didn’t stick around, but another man, Michael Freeman, moved in with Ann and helped support the family from the time Allen was a toddler. Michael and Ann had two daughters, Brandy and Iiesha. Michael worked at the Norfolk shipyards and Ann, lacking a high school diploma, did what she could to find part-time employment.
Ends sometimes did not meet. Allen remembers the power and phone being shut off on more than one occasion during his childhood, and a burst pipe once trickled raw sewage for a month into the apartment they occupied in a rundown complex in Hampton. Allen’s mother was a pillar of strength through these years, telling her kids again and again that things would get better, and that nothing was out of their reach if they gave everything they had.
Infused with this confidence, Allen began to think he had a future in football. He played the game faster, better and smarter than anyone in his grade school. When tacklers hit him, they bounced off; when Allen tackled guys, they went flying. Although his football hero was Walter Payton, Allen’s position was quarterback. He had a great arm, and a natural feel for the passing game. He was at his best when he dropped back and the whole field was swirling around him. He loved the strategy and the contact and the violence of the sport.
Freeman thought Allen might also be a star in basketball. Hoping to get the boy interested in the game, he would take him down to the playground after work and point out the best players. Allen was not interested. To him, basketball seemed “soft.” When his mother bought him one of the first-ever pairs of Air Jordans and enrolled him in a hoops camp at the age of nine, he cried every step of the way. Allen’s day brightened up when he discovered several of his football friends were attending the same camp. He returned with a smile and thanked his mother for sending him.
Between basketball and football, Allen had enough to keep him off the increasingly dangerous streets of Hampton, where crack was ravaging the neighborhood. When he was tempted to hang out with the wrong kids, another boy from the neighborhood, Tony Clark, would rat him out to his mom. Tony, who was seven years older, saw something special in Allen and decided to become his unofficial big brother.
Around 1990, Allen lost the two most important men in his life. Tony was killed by his girlfriend when an argument escalated out of control. And Freeman was caught dealing drugs and given a stiff sentence. Ann, who had just given birth to Iiesha, was having health problems and, without insurance, her doctor visits and medication were draining the family’s finances. Their situation grew more desperate with Freeman in lock-up.
Allen was in his freshman year at Bethel High School at the time. At age 15, he had already established himself as the Bruins' best all-around athlete, and he was holding his own in class, but the family’s woes were just too much to bear. He quit sports and stopped going to school, and started hanging out, repeating the pattern he had witnessed countless times in his neighborhood.
Then, one day, the light flickered on. Allen woke up and realized that his mother and two sisters had no one to depend on but him. It dawned on him that he was the man of the house. Allen mapped out a long-term plan that would put food on the table, money in the bank, and get the family out of poverty for good. He would work his butt off for three years, earn a football scholarship, tear it up in Division I and then leave college early with an NFL contract in his pocket. It meant five more years of living close to the bone, but now, for the first time, he saw a light at the end of the tunnel.
During Allen’s sophomore year at Bethel, the money ran out and his mother was evicted from their apartment. The only housing option left was on the other side of town, and would add another 45 minutes each way to Allen’s school commute. Ann decided her son should stay with a family friend, Gary Moore—who had coached Allen in youth football—until she could regroup and move back into the neighborhood. Moore used the opportunity to fine-tune Allen’s daily routine: Get up early, eat a good breakfast, leave for school on time, get your homework done when you get home, and go to sleep at a decent hour. Moore also talked football with Allen, emphasizing the connection between making good decisions on the field and off it.
The time with Moore made Allen more responsible, and his mother and sisters did eventually move back. The pressure of having the family’s hopes pinned on him, however, could sometimes be overwhelming. Allen became moodier and more explosive. He never did anything really bad, but he would snap at teachers and coaches, and blow off school once and a while. His reputation as a head case began to rival his reputation as a quarterback, which, by his junior season, had turned him into the most highly touted athlete in Virginia.
Allen was honored as the state’s top quarterback after his sophomore year with the Bruins, and he earned the honor again in 1992, when he led Bethel to the state title. In the championship game, he threw for over 200 yards, intercepted two passes, and returned a punt for a 60-yard touchdown. Allen was also a Division I prospect as a defensive back.
Basketball, though still Allen’s second-favorite sport, had opened up other options. At just under six feet, with a 41-inch vertical leap, he had the college hoops recruiters saying he was the best high-school guard they had seen in 15 years. And this was as a junior. He had already smashed the state record with 948 points as a sophomore, and opened the following campaign with a 37-point performance. Allen was unbelievably quick off the dribble, and had great vision and shooting range. His cross-over move was virtually unstoppable.
On Valentine’s Day in 1993, the skies suddenly darkened on Allen’s future. He met some friends at a local bowling alley, and had a confrontation with some white bowlers in another lane. They knew who Allen was, and tried to goad him into a fight. A melee ensued, the alley managers called the cops, and they broke things up before anyone was seriously hurt. Allen had already slipped out at this point—he says he left the instant the first punch was thrown—but he was the guy everyone remembered, and he was the guy who was arrested for fleeing the scene. None of the white bowlers was taken into custody.
Allen spent the night in jail, wondering what else could go wrong. When he was charged with “maiming by mob”—a law on the books to prevent the lynching of African-Americans—the case became a national sensation. With the networks now focused on Hampton, dozens of top attorneys vied to take Allen's case pro bono. He chose Herbert Kelly, a top defense attorney. During the trial, held in July of 1993, Allen listened as several witnesses placed him in the middle of the bowling alley fight. Kelly instructed his client to keep his mouth shut, chose not to put him on the stand, and managed to discredit much of the testimony.
The strategy backfired when Judge Nelson Overton delivered a guilty verdict. The following month, Overton sentenced Allen to five years in prison. He was supposed to be starting his senior year in a Bethel football jersey. Instead, he was wearing the uniform of the Newport News City Farm. Allen believed the decision would be overturned, but in the meantime he would miss his most important football season. A college scholarship was no longer possible.
In December of 1993, Virginia Governor Douglas Wilder pardoned Allen. The teenager took a long look at the options before him.
Allen chose not to return to Bethel High, and decided to work with a tutor to earn his high-school diploma. In the meantime, his mother contacted Georgetown University coach John Thompson, who had already heard about Allen’s case but knew little about the details. Ann promised Thompson that he was the perfect coach for her son. Thompson agreed to talk with Allen, and was impressed with the young man. After checking with some local coaches and watching Allen work out, he put a scholarship offer on the table. In September of 1994, Allen arrived on campus ready for a fresh start.
Allen blew Thompson and his fellow Hoyas away when the team started practicing. He had not played organized ball in almost two years, yet rather than diminishing his skills, the time off had only amplified them. He was bigger, faster, stronger and more aggressive, and he was playing for survival. Allen would shake his man at the perimeter, slice toward the basket, elevate from 12 feet out, and then slam the ball home as he soared past players several inches taller. At the other end, Allen would snatch rebounds away from the power forwards and centers, and then beat everyone down the floor on the break.
It had been several seasons since Thompson had a go-to guard. In the interim, he had recruited talented players for his front line. In 1994-95, the Hoyas had four good big men in Jahidi White, Jerome Williams, Don Reid and Othella Harrington. Allen started the year as Georgetown’s sixth man, but his effect on games was so immediate and dramatic that Thompson could not keep him out of the starting lineup. Teaming with two-guard George Butler, Allen tried to run the offense, but most of the time he ended up shooting a long jumper or taking it to the hole. When other Hoyas got their hands on the ball, they were reluctant to give it up. Although Allen made the Sports Center highlights after almost every game, he was too impatient, and the Hoyas lacked the chemistry to win consistently.
His aggressiveness, however, was not a problem at the other end, where he shut down opposing guards. Despite his freshman status, Allen was named the Big East’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Allen was one of three exciting young players in the Big East. Kerry Kittles of Villanova and Ray Allen of UConn were more polished, but neither one could cause people to leap out of their seats like Allen. And on those nights when the offense was in sync and Allen distributed the ball, the Hoyas were hard to beat. They proved this after eking out a bid to the NCAA Tournament, and then advancing to the Sweet 16.
That summer, Allen joined Kittles and Allen (as well as Wake’s Tim Duncan) on the U.S. team at the World University Games in Japan. They won the gold medal, but Allen got into a fight with his teammates after they hatched a practical joke on him while he was sleeping. Basketball was no joke to Allen. He wanted to put in one more year at Georgetown and then go pro.
To accomplish this goal, Allen knew he would have to demonstrate to NBA scouts that he had evolved as a point guard. He would have to demonstrate the patience to let situations develop, and not force the action every time down the court. This he did from the outset, leading Georgetown to the finals of the Pre-Season NIT. In the championship game, however, Allen reverted to old habits and tried to do it all. He scored 40 but the Hoyas lost by 10 to Arizona.
Allen showed the NBA a lot during his sophomore year. He took what defenses gave him. When double-teamed, he racked up double-digits in assists. When they dared him to score, he did. When opponents challenged him on defense, he stifled enemy guards. In one game Allen racked up 10 steals. In another, he grabbed 10 rebounds. The Hoyas were looking like Final Four material, and Allen was getting Big East Player of the Year consideration. His main competition came from Allen, now in his senior season at Connecticut. In the second meeting between UConn and Georgetown, Allen dominated the Huskies, and finished off a 77-65 victory with a dunk in his rival’s face.
The Hoyas went into the NCAA Tournament with high hopes, and marched toward the Final Four with victories over Mississippi Valley State, New Mexico and Texas Tech. But in the Elite Eight they ran into Marcus Camby and red-hot UMass. Thompson looked to Harrington to stop Camby, a task he couldn't handle as Georgetown exited March Madness. Still, despite falling short of their goal, the Hoyas finished the year ranked fourth nationally. Allen was the proud owner of the school’s single-season scoring record, and added his second Big East Defensive Player of the Year award. He also was honored as an All-American.
As expected, Allen announced he would be eligible for the 1996 NBA draft. Thompson normaly did not like to see his players leave Georgetown without their diplomas, but in Allen’s case he supported the move wholeheartedly. A certain lottery pick, the sophomore would now be able to provide for his family all the things they never had.
On June 26, the Philadelphia 76ers used the first overall selection in the draft on Allen, making him the smallest player ever to earn that distinction. The pick was a judgment call by owner Pat Croce, a dynamic young personality who wanted a dynamic young star. Allen joined a club that included Jerry Stackhouse, Derrick Coleman and Clarence Weatherspoon. Beyond this quartet, however, the team lacked depth. Coming off a dismal 18-win season, Philly improved by only four wins in 1996-97, to 22-60. For coach Johnny Davis—in his one and only year at the 76er helm—the lone satisfaction came in passing on some tricks of the trade to his meteoric point guard.
Though the victories were few, Allen was sensational. His cross-over dribble, which some swore was a blatant carry violation, worked even better against the pros than it had in college. He just plain embarrassed guys. Once Allen was moving toward the basket, however, things looked a little different than they had in school. There was players who were a foot taller and outweighed him by more than 100 pounds, and they were quick and smart, too. He launched more than 1,500 shots in his rookie year, many of which were ill-advised. The upside was that Allen averaged a team-high 23.5 points per game, and kept his teammates relatively happy with 500-plus assists.
Others in the NBA did not look upon Allen quite as fondly. The trash-talking that had intimidated college opponents just irritated league veterans. When Michael Jordan advised Allen to show a little respect, the rookie snapped back that he respected no one. At the All-Star Game, during which the NBA’s 50 greatest players were honored, several Hall of Famers said they thought Allen’s attitude was a joke. When he was introduced during the Rookies Game, he was booed by the fans. Allen decided to shut up and put his game into overdrive. That April, he scored 40 or more points in five straight games, including a 50-point performance against the Cavaliers.
The big news in Philly over the summer was the arrival of Larry Brown. The legendary coach was attracted to the job because of Allen—he had never tutored a player of his caliber. In their preseason pow-wows, Brown explained to Allen that his approach to the point guard position needed some adjustment. Granted, no one in the league could handle him. But if he looked for scoring opportunities every time down the court, that meant the other team didn’t have to worry about guarding his teammates. Brown showed Allen the stat sheets from his rookie year: the more he scored, the less likely the 76ers were to win.
With Brown at the helm, Philadelphia figured to do a little more winning in 1997-98. The 76ers added Jim Jackson to the lineup, and drafted local star Tim Thomas to go along with Stackhouse, Weatherspoon and Coleman. As the campaign progressed, Brown began to tinker with the team. Out went Stackhouse, Weatherspoon and Jackson, and in came Theo Ratliff, Joe Smith, Aaron McKie and Eric Snow. The club improved to 31 wins, played better defense, and relied on Allen as their leader. Sometimes he came through and sometimes he didn’t. NBA opponents, fearful of his cross-over, gave him more open shots from the perimeter. Allen’s long-range jumper was not yet good enough to take advantage of this opportunity, and he shot under 30 percent from three-point range. Though he averaged 22 a game, he again needed a lot of shots to get his points. It also drove Brown crazy that Allen's passing numbers dropped to six assists per game.
Allen worked on his outside shot during the offseason, which was a long one. A labor dispute interrupted th start of the schedule and dragged on into the new year. When the league resumed play in February, it was a 50-game sprint to the finish. Brown had continued to juggle his roster, dumping Coleman, drafting Larry Hughes, picking up center Matt Geiger, and promoting Snow to starting point guard. Allen moved over to the two and torched the bigger, slower opponents who had to cover him. He averaged 26.8 points to lead the NBA, and the 76ers made the playoffs with a 28-22 record. Philly beat the Orlando Magic three games to one in the first round, but were next swept by the Indiana Pacers.
Brown went into the 1999-2000 season confident his team had the chemistry and talent to be a major factor in the playoffs. He also felt he had a talent surplus in young backup guard Hughes, who most observers felt would blossom given more playing time. But with Allen and Snow logging big minutes, this wasn’t going to happen. In February, the 76ers traded Hughes for forward Toni Kukoc, who brought championship experience to the club. The move was a good one. Kukoc not only gave the 76ers another scorer, he was adept at breaking down defenses and then kicking the ball out for open jumpers.
Philly won 49 games, coming together as a team as Brown had been imploring them to do all along. Allen no longer had to finish atop the scoring sheet for Philly to notch a W. Sometimes he dumped in 40 and sometimes he contributed with 15. With the 76ers near the top of standings, he didn’t care. The real test came in the spring, when Allen sprained a toe and his shooting suffered. Snow picked up the slack and Philly kept winning.
Allen entered the playoffs still limping from his toe injury, and had a sore elbow, too. He played a couple of great games against the Charlotte Hornets in the first round, but when Snow went down with a bad ankle, Allen wasn’t sure he could shoulder the extra load. In stepped reserve guard McKie, who started lighting it up. He was so hot that Allen passed up several wide-open jumpers to get him the ball. The 76ers took the series three games to one.
Once again, the road to the finals went through Indiana. And once again, the Pacers had Philadelphia’s number. Reggie Miller lit up the 76ers in Game 1, Jalen Rose burned them in Game 2, and in Game 3 Indy scored 32 of the final 48 points to steal an eight-point victory. Just like that, Allen and his teammates were down three-zip. Philly grabbed Game 4, when another reserve, Tyrone Hill, had the night of his life and Miller was ejected for fighting with Geiger. Allen poured in 37 in Game 5 to make the series 3-2, but Indiana regrouped to take Game 6. As the final seconds ticked away, Allen, hurting all over, started to cry. It wasn’t just the disappointment of a playoff exit. It was the realization of how much deeper he and his teammates needed to dig to advance in the postseason.
In 2000-01, Philadelphia roared through the regular season with 56 victories, tying for the league’s second-best record with the Los Angeles Lakers. Brown put essentially the same team on the floor. The major difference was Allen. He had an incredible year, leading the league in scoring for the second time with a 31.1 average. Game after game, Allen hit amazing clutch buckets, and made the league’s best players look like schoolyard chumps when they tried to D-up on him. He was now in his prime, and it was an MVP-caliber prime. At season’s end, in fact, he did win the award. The last 76er to be named NBA MVP was Moses Malone, in 1983.
The other crucial ingredient to Philly's success was a February trade for center Dikembe Mutombo. He gave the 76ers a defensive presence in the middle, and despite doubts that he and Allen could co-exist, they found an offensive rhythm that worked. Their Georgetown connection turned out to be the key. The Mutombo deal sent Kukoc and Ratliff to the Atlanta Hawks, a steep price to pay, but Ratliff—who was leading in the league in blocks— had shattered his wrist two weeks earlier. The 76ers really had no choice but to pull trigger to set their lineup for the playoffs. Mutombo ended up being named Defensive Player of the Year.
Round One of the playoffs gave the 76ers a chance to exorcise their demons, as the Pacers visited the Wachovia Center. When Indiana stole the first game 79-78, Philly fans prepared for the worst. But Allen and company restored their faith with an easy win in Game 2. Two tough wins in Indiana finished the Pacers, and brought on Vince Carter and the Toronto Raptors for Round Two. The two superstars lit it up during the hard-fought seven-game series, with Carter reaching 50 once and Allen twice. Philadelphia’s 88-87 win in the deciding game was one of the best playoff games in franchise history.
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No one really guards Allen. They just try to stay between him and the basket. The league has yet to solve his explosive cross-over move, and when he gets airborne, only a handful of guys in the NBA can hang with him. Give Allen an open jumper and he’ll take it (that’s no secret). But do you give him that shot with the game on the line?
Funneling Allen to the baseline—the preferred strategy against quick guards—is defensive suicide in his case. He gets to the basket so quickly and with such force that you might as well give your big men two fouls apiece before the game starts.
No one plays the game with more heart, or with less regard for his body, than Allen. It is a miracle he can still bring his A-game every night, and a wonder that he hasn’t been to the emergency room more often. To preserve his strength, Allen will take plays off once the ball is out of his hands. This is when defenses can afford a sigh of relief, for he does not move aggressively without the ball.
On defense, Allen’s quickness and anticipation mean you probably won’t hit your average against him. He is a good defender on the ball, and plays the passing lanes very intelligently. He is almost always among the NBA leaders in steals.
Allen takes his leadership responsibilities much more seriously these days. His one appearance in the NBA Finals helped him realize how badly he wants a title to his name. Teammates will follow him. The question is whether he will have to leave Philly to get another shot at an NBA crown.
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