Allen Iverson: Perfectly Imperfect

Ethan Miller

The Philadelphia 76ers are going to raise Allen Iverson's No. 3 to the rafters on Saturday. The 6-foot, 165-pound guard wasn't perfect, but that's exactly what made him great.

It's difficult to explain Allen Iverson to those who weren't fortunate enough to see him in his prime. Much like the video game numbers Wilt Chamberlain put up during his illustrious career, a lot of what Iverson did both on and off of the court doesn't make much sense when taken at face value.

What player who stands a hair under six feet tall has any business dominating a professional sports league, much less one that boasts dozens of 7-footers? How many athletes who routinely eschew practice are talented enough to lead a team of cast-offs and overachievers to the brink of a championship? What man can spend the better part of a night at an Atlantic City casino only to come out hours later and drop 40 points with seemingly little effort?

Of course, there are those who would argue that Iverson could have been even better had he committed more time to his craft. Those same people believe that Iverson should have raised far more banners to the rafters of the Wells Fargo Center than the one he'll hoist on Saturday night.

None of this is debatable, but it is defensible. To be fair, how great could any of us have been had we dedicated more time to the thing that we love the most?

To his credit, Iverson has come to peace with his past and is far removed the point of self-pity, realizing that the best recourse at this stage in his life is to reflect on what was, focus on what is, and prepare himself for what could be.

"I have no regrets on anything. People ask me all the time, 'Do I have any regrets?' I don't have any. If I could go back and do it all over, would I change anything? No.

"Obviously if I could go back and change anything I would be a perfect man. And I know there's no perfect man."

It's both a gift and curse that Iverson spent the bulk of his playing days in an era where social media wasn't as prevalent as it is now. For every Vine of Iverson putting a hapless defender in a blender, there would be a dozen tweets detailing the post-game activities of The Answer and the rest of the Cru Thik armada.

Nearly everyone in the Greater Philadelphia area knows someone who knows someone who has a Iverson story worthy of TMZ. Tales of A.I. hanging out at T.G.I.Friday's and Houlihan's are almost as legendary as the clip of him rocking Michael Jordan to sleep back in 1997.

News of Iverson's late-night exploits would often bleed from the sports page to the front page, yet through all of it - or maybe because of it - Iverson would resonate like very few athletes have in the City of Brotherly Love.

In many respects, Allen Iverson was an everyman - he just happened to be one with an extraordinary amount of basketball talent. His accomplishments as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers speak for themselves (seven All-NBA nods, four scoring championships, three steals titles, an MVP award, a magical run to the 2001 NBA Finals), but the impact that he had on the game goes far beyond the physical footprint of any arena.

Iverson was unabashedly anti-establishment during his playing days - a trait that ultimately led to his evolution into a global icon. Kids across the world mimicked his signature crossover, tattoos became all the rage in the NBA (despite the league's misguided attempt to airbrush them away), and Iverson's hip-hop inspired wardrobe was adopted by his contemporaries to the point that it led then-Commissioner David Stern to institute a wildly unpopular dress code.

"My whole thing was just being me," said Iverson in October of last year. "Now you look around the NBA and all of them have tattoos, guys wearing cornrows. You used to think the suspect was the guy with the cornrows, now you see the police officers with the cornrows."

After suffering bursitis in his elbow during the 2000-01 season, Iverson began sporting a protective sleeve on his right arm. Soon enough, other players started wearing similar garb despite the fact that they had no maladies to speak of. Seven years later, the shooting sleeve was the most popular non-apparel item sold in the NBA Store.

Four years have passed since Iverson last appeared in an NBA game, and the league hasn't missed a beat in his absence. The same can't be said for the Sixers, a team still struggling to find a true superstar ever since they first parted ways with Iverson back in 2006.

Strangely enough, the current iteration of the 76ers would be adverse to adding a player like Iverson to their roster. "The Answer" boasted a better crossover than Kyrie Irving, was faster than Stephen Curry, and attacked the lane with the ferociousness of James Harden, but his inefficiency as a scorer wouldn't earn him much support in the league's front offices.

If a 26-year-old Iverson were still in the NBA today, the attendees at this weekend's Sloan Sports Analytics Conference would have a field day breaking down his high usage rate (31.8 percent for his career) and lackluster effective field-goal percentage (45.2 percent).

Quite frankly, those numbers only serve to obscure the truth: There are few advanced statistics that can measure the impact that Iverson had on a basketball court. Even fewer can give proper due to a man whose 10-plus years in a Sixers' uniform vaulted him into the pantheon of NBA legends.

Saturday's jersey retirement is a commendable way for a franchise to recognize the talents of one of its own, but Iverson - flaws and all - has already been feted in the minds of many. And despite his recent assertion that he was "as clean as the Board of Health", Iverson's foibles and imperfections are primary reasons why he will always be a beloved figure in the hearts of Sixers' fans.

"These fans are me. I am Philadelphia," said Iverson back in October. "When you think of Philadelphia basketball, you think of Allen Iverson... I'm going to always be a Sixer till I die."

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