TSL Flashback: Allen Iverson’s Mad Dash To The NBA Finals

Allen Iverson.  AI. The Answer.

He changed the game of basketball in a multitude of ways, none of which is more tenable than becoming a cultural basketball icon. With his numerous tattoos, diamond-encrusted jewelry, cornrow braids and game that personified the gritty streets of Hampton, Virginia from which he was gleaned, AI became a symbol of culture,  loved by millions across the globe. He last donned an NBA uniform in 2010, leaving a bit of a sour taste in the mouth of the National Basketball Association and fans worldwide. However, five years after his last crossover, Allen Iverson is still one of the most highly-documented players in NBA history. On April 27, 2014 the film aficionados and media got a first look at Iverson at the Tribeca Film Festival. Now, Showtime is preparing to bring it to the world.

To quantify his abilities in words is akin to describing your favorite meal as dished by the best cook to ever have cooked it for you- amazing. A blurring combination of speed, rebelliousness, scoring ability and battle-honed guile the likes of which had never been seen before his arrival or since his departure. Like some dystopian warrior in a future yet realized, Allen Iverson is as un-killable as the protagonist from a Mad Max film. No matter what was thrown at him, no matter how insurmountable the obstacle, and no matter the inability to suspend disbelief from those observing history in the making, he survived and thrived. His tale is tantamount to ghetto nightmares that transformed into a dream come true in the light of day.

Yes, as dramatic as an explosive-laden car chase, as harrowing as a gun-battle at 100 mph and as unlikely as the original director of a cult classic revisiting his work over 30 years later, Allen Iverson was born in poverty in Hampton, Virginia. Like many of his peers, a young AI used football and basketball to keep himself out of trouble. But none of his peers were as enchanted with a ball in their hands as A.I. though.

He would win High School All-American honors in both sports before serving time in jail for what appears to have been a racial and politically motivated incident in a bowling alley in 1993. Iverson was convicted of the rarely used statute maiming by mob and would serve time in the Newport News City Farm Correctional Facility. For many of his ilk, young, Black and birthed from an impoverished environment, this would have spelled the end of the road. But he would furiously throw off the shackles of his circumstances when accepted into the hallowed halls of Georgetown University to play for legendary Coach John Thompson and his Hoyas basketball team.

The diminutive dynamo would lead the Hoyas to two berths in the NCAA tournament, leading them in scoring in both seasons. He would eventually move on to the NBA in 1996 and light the world ablaze with a game that seemed straight from Any Park, U.S.A.- becoming the shortest player ever selected with the first overall pick in the NBA draft.

As we continue to watch the NBA playoffs proceed into the Eastern and Western Conference Finals, I am reminded of the time when Iversons maximum survivability was on full display and at its most apparent.

The year was 2001 and Iverson and his Philadelphia Sixers teammates were enjoying a season that harkened back to the 76ers’ glory days of the 80’s, as they would storm out of the gate by winning their first 10 games of the season.  A.I. would be joined by Dikembe Mutombo mid-season, with a hopeful eye on an NBA Finals match-up against Shaquille ONeal and the powerhouse Los Angeles Lakers.

The path to the Finals was fraught with seemingly insurmountable perils, facing a first round match-up against the Reggie Miller-led Indiana Pacers. But the Sixers dispatched them rather easily.

The Eastern Conference Semifinals would pit the Sixers against the Toronto Raptors and high-flying scoring machine Vince Carter. As is the case with any great action film, our protagonist threw himself up against yet another freakish titan. Despite trading victories in the first four games of the series, A.I. would score 54 points in Game Two, 30 in Game Four and 52 points in Game Five en route to a victory in seven games over the Raptors.

Allen Iverson would lead the Philadelphia 76ers into a Eastern Conference Finals matchup against the highly-favored Milwaukee Bucks and the offensive chimera of SG Ray Allen, SF Glenn Robinson and PG Sam Cassell.

As history would have it, the Sixers would win that series in seven games before moving on to face the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2001 NBA Finals.

Stories end, as most stories do, and reality would eventually come into view. For the Sixers that reality would come in the form of a seven foot tall, 330 pound behemoth named Shaquille ONeal, a Philly-bred Jordan clone named Kobe Bryant and a stable of battle-tested NBA veterans. Though Iverson and company would draw first blood with a 107-101 victory in Game One, they would lose four straight to the eventually 2001 NBA Champs. 

This is where reality and fiction parted ways. The Lilliputian Lightning Rods limitations were laid bare and that decades favorite hoops protagonist would never go that deep in the playoffs again. Allen Iverson always seemed to have the odds stacked against him, yet somehow, and thankfully, he always had the determination to pull through.

And we’ve always loved him for that. Stay fly AI.

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