There are not many people who can cruise into Philadelphia and melt the hearts of their cold sports fans. And even fewer make enough of an impact to have their jerseys retired amongst the likes of Charles Barkley, Julius Erving and the five other banners hanging from the Philadelphia 76ers’ rafters.
However, Allen Iverson beat the odds with the attitude of a marked man. Every move the future Hall-of-Famer made had the feel of a life or death deal that he was determined not to lose.
It didn’t matter if it was on or off court, Iverson had a passion that spoke to the 5-foot everyday man — of every race — more than skying through the air like Michael Jordan could.
In the words of LeBron James, A.I. is “the reason why I got tattoos, wore a headband and arm sleeve.” He was also the reason people like John Wall said that he “always wanted to grow braids.”
His heart and style were things that the league wasn’t used too. And that was his appeal. He was bringing the park to the league on a superstar level while speaking to a generation of outspoken kids who weren’t afraid to buck the system for what they thought was rightfully deserved — a generation that barely seems to exist in basketball anymore.
Now, I’m not trying to say that Iverson is the very last of a breed that’s dying, but Saturday night marked the last gasps of an era that’s ending — especially with Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett on their last legs.
Long gone are the days of the abrasive, brash talking NBA athlete who didn’t mind being hated. Today’s ball players believe in being politically correct for the advertising dollars. It’s as if they don’t realize that honesty draws the fans closer to believing that we are actually one in the same.
Iverson was one of the people who did that. He also was one of the few pound-for-pound warriors left who would have to be forced off the court just to make him miss a game — unlike today’s stars who willingly volunteer for days off.
Hate it or love it, there probably will never be another player cocky enough to cross a man over on his home floor then step over him as if he was unworthy but humble enough to publicly thank his ex-wife for helping him “grow as a man” even after going through a bitter divorce.
That’s the type of realness that made fans fall in love with Iverson — flaws and all.