In the 1997-98 season the 76ers brought in a new head coach in Larry Brown, and it was under Brown that Iverson’s legend grew. Brown’s first year as Iverson’s coach was lackluster. The next season, like Wilder and Thompson before him, Brown found a way to accommodate Iverson. At six feet tall, Iverson played point guard for the first two years of his career. In his third season, Brown did something radical: he moved Iverson to the shooting guard position. Shooting guards are typically much taller than six feet , so fielding a short shooting guard in your lineup makes your team vulnerable defensively. Brown’s thinking on that matter was simple. Iverson might have trouble guarding larger players, but not as much trouble as they would have guarding him.
The gamble paid off and that year, Iverson was a first team all-NBA shooting guard, and the 76ers made the playoffs—even pulling off an upset of the Orlando Magic in the first playoff round.
Under Brown’s expert coaching and Iverson’s outstanding play, the 76ers were expected to take another step forward the next season, which was Iverson’s fourth. Instead there were problems beneath the surface. Brown was a teaching coach, meaning that he valued practice as much as the game. Iverson was the ultimate gamer, but once the grueling schedule of NBA basketball began, practice was not a top priority for Iverson. The disagreements over practice hit a boiling point after game six of the 2000 playoff series against the Indiana Pacers. The 76ers lost that series four games to two, and almost immediately after the loss, Brown complained that he could no longer coach Iverson because of his lack of commitment to practice.
That summer, the question of would Iverson be traded dominated both local Philadelphia sports news as well as the national sports news. Finally, Iverson was traded to the Detroit Pistons, and once again fate stepped in on his behalf. One of the players included in that trade was Iverson’s teammate Matt Geiger, but Geiger’s contract gave him the right to void any trade. As it turned out Geiger did not want to play for the Pistons so he voided the trade and Iverson remained a 76er.
Iverson realized that he’d dodged a bullet, and that 2000-2001 season was one for the ages. The 76ers went to the NBA Finals while Iverson won the league’s MVP award and became the unofficial “face” of the NBA.
At that point it appeared that all of the controversy in Iverson’s past had been put behind him. Instead, in many ways it was really just the beginning. In the 2001-2002 season the 76ers were favored to get back to the NBA Finals. Throughout the season, rumors of Iverson’s missing practices again resurfaced and the 76ers, rather than making it back to the NBA Finals, were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round. Disappointment abounded, and during the 76ers final press conference for the season, Iverson gave one of the most surreal press conferences in the history of professional sports. In a nutshell the press conference veered towards Iverson’s practice habits. Highlights of Iverson’s remarks can be seen below.
As odd as that press conference may have been, it spoke volumes to who Iverson is. Unlike most professional athletes who give standard vanilla answers to just about any question thrown at them, Iverson refused to censor himself. So even though much was made of how many times Iverson uttered the word “practice”, the press realized that where Iverson was concerned you would always get emotional honesty. A rarity in today’s soundbite culture.
Later that summer Iverson had another incident. This time it was a family dispute in which Iverson allegedly barged into an apartment with a gun in his belt, looking for his wife. The apartment was one that Iverson owned and rented to his cousin, but it made no difference as Iverson was arrested and charged with multiple felonies. Fortunately all the charges were dropped. But again Iverson was a lightning rod for controversy.
Over the next few years, Iverson continued to play well, but by 2006 had worn out his welcome in Philadelphia and was traded to the Denver Nuggets and then to the Detroit Pistons in 2008 where he was ultimately asked to give up his role as a starter. True to form, rather than keeping his thoughts to himself, Iverson balked and left the Pistons. In the 2009-2010 season Iverson initially signed with the Memphis Grizzlies, but once again issues of being a starter came up, and once again Iverson balked and left the team. It seemed that Iverson’s career had finally reached its end, and in November 2009, Iverson announced his retirement from basketball.
It was the shortest retirement in history, and brings us full circle. In December 2009 Iverson was resigned by the Philadelphia 76ers and a press conference was held. This press conference was every bit as emotionally honest as his “practice” press conference, but the defiance was replaced by humility and tears.
Nobody knows how Iverson’s return to Philadelphia will turnout. Currently the 76ers are struggling to make the playoffs, and at 34-years-old, father time seems to have finally caught up to Iverson. But that’s really not the point. Unlike athletes like Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson never “used” the media to project an image of himself as a flawless human being. Rather, Iverson has never been afraid to wear his emotions and his attitude on his sleeve and he never shied away from a challenge whether it was from a 6’10” defender on the basketball court or a 5’10” reporter looking for a story. More importantly, if anybody wants to get an idea of what the hip-hop generation is about, studying the life of Allen Iverson is a good place to begin.