When the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced in April that Allen Iverson would be inducted in the class of 2016, I knew that I had to be there to see it. It has been some time since a ball player from the 76ers has been enshrined.
For so many years, Iverson was the most talked about sports figure in Philadelphia. It seemed like everything he did, on and off the basketball court, resonated with his fans. For many, right here in the Philadelphia area, Iverson has always been and continues to be a role model.
“While in Philadelphia as a member of the 76ers, Allen Iverson played the game of basketball giving 150 percent effort every time he put on the team’s jersey and took to the court,” said my lifelong buddy Kalif Washington, who livers in South Philly. For Philadelphians, however, Allen Iverson is more than just a great basketball player. Oh, how we miss the days of his stern, larger-than-life attitude, which we all tolerated — and in some cases, loved — for the love of the sport.
He had an impact on us in ways he may never even know. I used to work as a middle school special education teacher in Camden City Public Schools. If it was hard to get the students’ attention, I would bring up Iverson’s game play from the night before. It always helped me manage the students and keep their focus.
What I like the most about Iverson was he just wasn’t a foul-mouthed player. He never gave the media in the City of Brotherly Love any reason to call him out for profanity-laced rants. “He just didn’t curse like Rick Mahorn,” Washington said.
I really like Iverson’s own personal style. He was a trend setter. For a guy from Hampton, Virginia, he had an urban persona about himself. Nowadays, we would call that “swag.” Wearing his hair in cornrows was an uncommon style when he played with the Sixers, and a lot of young men with long hair imitated him.
As a Hall of Famer, Iverson stands out among his fellow 76ers inducted before him, including Charles Barkley, Julius Irving, Dolph Schayes, Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer, Billy Cunningham, Bailey Howell, Bob McAdoo, Moses Malone, and Chet Walker. All of these players were strong in their own way, but Iverson was the man of the generation, who embodied leadership both on and off the court.
I spoke to a lot of people at the Hall of Fame — Sixers fans, sports reporters, journalists and connoisseurs of the sport. One common thread stood out clearly: Philadelphia 76ers fans love themselves some Allen Iverson.
I met Detra Boyd, from the Mount Airy section of Philly, who was at the Hall of Fame museum with her entire family. But not all of the fans I met were from Philadelphia.
“My room was covered with A.I. pictures,” said Eboni Love of Washington, D.C., who attended the event with her very enthusiastic sister Shanell.
“I always lived in Southern California,” said Ryan Galovan of Los Angeles. “Iverson was my favorite player growing up.”
Also caught wearing the No. 3 jersey at the Hall of Fame museum, and also from Los Angeles, was Miguel Rodriguez, who said he was born in Philadelphia.
Joe Smith of Camden said to me, “Ever since [Iverson] left the 76ers, I stopped looking at basketball. Iverson is an icon, even in Camden.”
So maybe it’s not so odd that the 76ers should choose to relocate their practice facility across the Delaware River from Philadelphia to Wiggins Waterfront Park in Camden. The move calls to mind Iverson’s infamous 2002 “practice” rant. A reporter tried to ask him about something his coach had said about Iverson missing practice. Iverson was irritated.
“We’re sitting here, and I’m supposed to be the franchise player, and we’re in here talking about practice. I mean, listen, we’re talking about practice. Not a game! Not a game! Not a game! We’re talking about practice. Not a game; not the game that I go out there and die for and play every game like it’s my last, not the game, we’re talking about practice, man. I mean, how silly is that? We’re talking about practice. I know I’m supposed to be there, I know I’m supposed to lead by example, I know that. And I’m not shoving it aside like it don’t mean anything. I know it’s important. I do. I honestly do. But we’re talking about practice, man. What are we talking about? Practice? We’re talking about practice, man!”
He may have had a beef with his coach about showing up for practice, but to him, the real work happened out there on the court. That’s where he shone. Who wants to talk about practice?
Disappointingly, Iverson was nearly two hours late to the press conference. That theme of “showing up” continues even today. He missed the traditional procession into center court that preceded the presentations. But after he settled in, Iverson did seem eager to speak to the media about his career.
By sustaining such a long playing career, he became a role model for both adults and kids. He played the game with the total support of Philly fans and the encouragement of his family. And he demonstrated good sportsmanship. His time with the Sixers was a great time for Philadelphia sports entertainment.
Wayne E. Williams lives in Camden, N.J., and is a contributor to NewsWorks.