NBA Stories: Allen Iverson, the generational talent who never won a championship

The face of the league, the athlete who defined a decade, the superstar, whether ‘generational talent’ has a significant meaning to you or you just like to whip it out as the occasional buzzword, we’re taking a look at Allen Iverson’s position as all of the above.

Before LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, there was Allen Iverson, the NBA’s biggest star who failed to win a single championship in his fifteen-year career. I may even be as bold to say the eleven-time Allstar was the most impressive athlete since Michael Jordan – he sure as hell was the only reason anybody watched the 2001 Allstar game to its entirety.

We know Iverson modernised the NBA, popularising ‘hip hop culture’, cornrows, baggy shorts, and even becoming the reason for the 2005 NBA player dress code. Jordan will forever be the greatest player of all time but Iverson brought culture and style of play that resonated with the younger generation more than ever before.

However, we all know that being a one-man show can only carry you (and your team) so far in the NBA and Iverson never seemed to have a strong enough roster around him. He also played in the era of Kobe Bryant and Time Duncan who snatched up the majority of the trophies at that time.

Iverson spent the first ten years of his career with the Philadelphia 76ers after being their first pick in the 1996 NBA Draft, but this was a team that had just finished the previous season on a dull 18-64 record. The 1996 NBA Rookie of the Year would have to keep working with an improving lineup before he was to reach his first playoffs in 1999 on a dramatically elevated 28-22 record. 

The Sixers star guard started in all ten games and racked up an incredible average of 28.5 ppg despite numerous injuries. The roster even toppled the Orlando Magic in just four games before losing out to Indiana in the second round. But no finals.

The finals came in Iverson’s 2000-2001 MVP season after leading the Sixers to a franchise-record 10-0 start and a final 56-26 stat, the best in the Eastern Conference. In the same season, he scooped the NBA Allstar MVP, was named to the All NBA First team and led the Sixers to their first finals since their 1983 championship.

The second round saw a Philadelphia-Toronto matchup as the Raptors’ Carter and Philly’s Iverson both lit it up, with the latter going off for 54 in a Game 2 win and the former answering with 50 and a win for his own team. Another outburst from Iverson, 52 points in Game 5, led a Sixers rout that gave them control of the series and the battle ran to game seven.

However, Iverson received considerable help in the low post from Dikembe Mutombo, the big centre who grabbed 17 rebounds and kept the Sixers in the lead, and also had Carter to thank for the victory who missed his signature fadeaway jumper at the buzzer.

It was the Eastern Conference finals against Milwaukee where Iverson crumbled after a 34-point game one win. He hit just five points in the game two loss and was ruled out of game three with a tailbone injury, which Philly surprisingly won. 

The Sixers made it to the finals by the grace of Iverson’s return and Mutombo’s efforts only to be proven as a one-man team when the guard shot a playoff-high 48 points and beat the heavily favoured Lakers 107–101 in game one. This was the only playoff loss suffered by the Lakers that year – Iverson’s attempts were not enough when his team lacked in playoff talent.

Iverson and his misfit Sixers made the Playoffs two more seasons in a row only to be swept away in the first round, both times. The first defeat included the memorable “We’re sitting here, I’m supposed to be the franchise player, and we’re in here talking about practice,” clip made famous after Iverson went on a rant in response to coach Brown’s criticism of his absence from practices.

Sent to the Denver Nuggets in December 2006, Iverson was the NBA’s number two leading scorer at the time, with new teammate Carmelo Anthony placing at number one. With this talent combination, you would have expected Denver to make it further than the first round of the 2007 Playoffs… they didn’t.

This was Iverson’s last taste of the Playoff limelight. But, what was the issue? Was Iverson a cursed commodity? 

Well, if there was one main issue Iverson had trouble controlling, it was his attitude – the youth looked up to it but the league despised how difficult it made him. His final season showed hope, with a chance to go to a lottery team and become the main guy or even head to the competition and come off the bench. But Iverson refused to ever play off the bench.

Memphis and Miami both showed interest but proved to be horrible ideas given their current situations and Iverson’s ‘superstar’ mentality. Miami provided the opportunity for him to play alongside Dwyane Wade but they both needed some work, and two scorers would have been too much when the Heat needed to focus on developing Mario Chalmers.

Memphis, on the other hand, already had a full project frontcourt and at the age of 34, Iverson was both not necessary but also determined to start – do you see the dilemma?

Iverson could have easily gone to a Championship-winning team but he would have had to accept a smaller role and sacrifice that star-studded attitude. Now, he is simply remembered as one of the greatest players in history… to never win a ring.  

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