I’ve got nothing but love for Allen Iverson

Allen Iverson for me was the reason that I became a sports fan (especially a Philadelphia sports fan). Before his appearance in the NBA, Michael Jordan was the person I followed (as did many young people in the 90s), but The Answer changed it all for me.

Allen Iverson, a regular season MVP, four-time scoring champ, two-time All-Star MVP, and rookie of the year, was moving to me. In my opinion, pound-for-pound the greatest player ever. Some of the greatest offered him that same respect on Saturday night.

Watching his retirement ceremony reminded me of all the things we can learn from Iverson, some good, some bad. Try to apply them to your life.

Use your God-given talents. No one can deny Allen’s God-given talents. Well, I suppose you could deny that God gave them to him, but he was definitely talented. Leading the league in most steals, assists, and points isn’t just luck. The dude had speed and athleticism and led his team to the NBA finals in 2001, and beat the L.A. Lakers and one Tyron Lou in game one—marking the greatest moment in my sports history up until that point.

Be self-sacrificial. Allen Iverson was known for being a shrub in the trees. That is, he would make his presence through the paint and get banged around like a pinball, he often had the injuries to show for it—and played through them. He was a winner and wanted to win, and on the floor, he did all it took to make it happen. His style of play was so amazing that he captivated an entire city, which might put basketball at the fourth spot on a list of favorite sports. He was a brilliant entertainer and for many of us a morale booster.

Be humble. Larry Brown (his coach) and Allen Iverson got in their fair share of tiffs. But A.I. still honored the man, and never hated on his competitors or his teammates in his retirement speech. Compare that to Michael Jordan’s vitriolic Hall of Fame speech and you see two different characters. A.I. even loved on the easiest-to-hate members of the sports world: the media. He honored our resident jackass Howard Eskin (I actually like the guy). I appreciate that humility. He acknowledged his mistakes and thanked his teammates for letting him learn from them.

But it’s not all good stuff that A.I. brought. Allen says if he could do it all over again, he’d do it exactly the same way. Here are a few things I wish he would change if given that opportunity.

Practice hard. In the best presser in Philadelphia sports history, Allen Iverson defended his absence at practice. Allen loved the game and put everything out there when it “counted,” but I wish he had the discipline to develop into a greater player that wouldn’t need to rely so heavily on his natural talent. There’s a reason why his career fizzled out before it really needed to. When his talents waned, he lacked the fundamental skill to keep developing as a player. He need to know that he wouldn’t always be the fastest player and that his body wouldn’t recover from injuries as fast later in life.

Make the people around you better. Often not surrounded by the greatest athletes, Allen had the propensity to shoot more than his fair share of shots. He was usually the most likely to make it in, but he was a chucker at times too. (Though when criticized for this, Allen proved he was a good passer.) Allen needed to improve his game and give more opportunities to his teammates. Great players lead and create opportunities (actually create shots) for their teammates. We might have a title or two to show for it if Allen did do that.

Learn from your mistakes. Iverson is self-aware enough to know that he is less-than-perfect. He can readily admit to his mistakes and isn’t arrogant in that sense, but apologies and acknowledgements only go so far. My wish for Allen Iverson was that he not just admit when he was wrong, but that he would take the positive steps in his life to improve on his problems. He lost most of his wealth through bad choices (and an endless supply of cronies and distant relatives leeching off of him) and found himself in legal trouble more than once. His lack of discipline, though he would admit it as a mistake, didn’t serve him well on or off the court.

Allen Iverson is a hero of mine, for sure. And for many people (like LeBron James), Allen is a motivation. He was the first player with corn-rows and tattoos up-and-down his arms, and he influenced players across sports to the same thing. He led and people followed. Unfortunately for him, he led and people followed when he didn’t want them to, too.

Despite his flaws, for me, I’m glad no one will ever wear number three again. Allen Iverson is my favorite athlete ever, and I do honor him and his contribution to the Sixers, to the game of basketball (my first love), and to me personally.

Godspeed, Allen.

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