The NBA has given us the greatest basketball players in the history of the world. Those special, once-in-a-lifetime, rim-wreckers who were head and shoulders above the rest, winning championships, doing the unthinkable, breaking barriers, obliterating stereotypes, and playing with other top-notch players to create juggernauts.
Basketball is a team sport, but sometimes a rare player transcends the game and influences culture with his ideologies, life experiences, esoteric presentation, and captivating swag. He demands the keys to the franchise and the fans implore management to hand them to him. And with a band of brothers designed to pour his water and keep his forehead dry, that player manages to reach improbable goals.
Allen Iverson is one of those players and the diminutive giant turns 45 today.
Some of the most dirt-dog delicious players in the game never get the iconic, No. 1 stunner praise. Some of our greatest b-ball master craftsmen have had to pick up the lunch pail and hand the mic off to a lead singer. Few players have served a given franchise as the body-n-soul, the Alpha and the Omega, the angel and the devil, the goat and the hero, the epitome of the theory that paper smothers rock, even boulders.
MJ had Chi-Town. Ewing was NY Knicks basketball. Isiah owned Detroit. Once Shaq left, Kobe owned LA. Tim Duncan owned the oil wells of basketball riches down in San Antonio and Iverson owned Philly and the 76ers. If Dr. J was an aerial appetizer, then Iverson was the main course.
A.I. was the golden child of basketball and football growing up financially impoverished in the Newport News-Hampton Roads area. He survived the hood and a racist, old school Southern public lynching that would have him rot in prison rather than fulfill his star destiny. He became a symbol of black justice in this country when the only African-American Governor in Virginia’s rich confederate history pardoned his sentence. Georgetown and John Thompson stepped in and awarded him a scholarship and safe haven to pursue his inevitable NBA legend.
.A.I. was inspired by survival and he became the mouthpiece and poetry in motion for a generation of ballers who came from nothing and overcame tremendous socio-economic odds to reach the land of wealth and health.
Generation Xers followed his every move from his cornrows and durags to his baggy jerseys and trunk jewelry. He was the perfect blend of baller with a rap persona. He represented the Black kids of his generation and influenced the white kids who wanted to ball like Mighty Mouse.
Iverson won four scoring titles and single-handedly led Philly to an NBA Finals against a dynasty Lakers team featuring Kobe and Shaq in the 2000-01 season and he gave the NBA 33 points per game in an entire 22-game playoff series.
Happy Birthday, Allen Iverson!