Philadelphia's favorite little guy is finally getting the recognition his career deserves. Allen Iverson will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame alongside other members of the 2016 class, joining luminaries that include Shaquille O'Neal, Yao Ming and Tom Izzo.
Nationally, the scope of AI's career has come under fire in recent years as efficiency is increasingly treasured by teams and analysts around the league. But Iverson's credentials -- seven All-NBA selections, four scoring titles and an MVP award -- are under no dispute as far as I'm concerned. In many ways, he is a symbol of a transitional period during the NBA's lifespan, and he is an iconic figure in so many ways other than what he contributed as a player.
Many of the fashion and style trends you see present in the game today, tattoo and cotton sleeves alike, were pioneered by Iverson. He took a lot of abuse during his career for the way he carried himself but was proud to be a torchbearer for a new generation of basketball players.
"What I'm proud of most is changing the whole culture," Iverson said at his 2014 jersey retirement ceremony. "I took a beating for it, how I dressed... I took that beating, so this generation [is] able to do that now."
It was evident he had done so when you saw the who's who of names sending well wishes to Iverson on his big night at The Center. Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James all credited Iverson as a childhood inspiration, with James going so far as to say he was his idol.
Even considering some of the questionable behavior, he was an easy guy to root for. Maybe that's due to the success he single-handedly powered the Sixers to in the early 2000's, or maybe it's because watching a tiny guy dance through the trees and defy the odds resonates with the armchair analysts who couldn't make it themselves. Regardless, Iverson is a larger-than-life figure in Philadelphia.
Funny enough, that's reflected best in a story Thaddeus Young once told about The Answer's second, less-heralded stint in Philadelphia.
Young recalled Iverson returning to the team as his career was dwindling in 2010, the franchise desperately searching for a shot in the arm and a reminder of the glory days. When the prodigal son returned home, he re-established himself as the "top dog" in the least Iverson of formats: practice. On his last legs, Iverson nonetheless dominated the ball upon his introduction to a new group of Sixers, establishing that there was only one way for it to go down -- on his terms.
What you think about Iverson is dependent largely on how much you are willing to explore the "why" behind his actions. His "Practice" rant is often skewered as a display of his lack of leadership, but most tend to gloss over the end of the same presser, when Iverson confessed his best friend had just been killed. His adherence to being himself, unapologetically, lifted Iverson to his greatest heights and cost him a longer career. It is triumphant and tragic that he built a legend living by his own terms, only to watch it all fade when those terms were no longer palatable to NBA teams.
"Bubba Chuck" is one-of-a-kind and deserves every bit of this honor. His induction will reinforce a lesson his career taught me all those years ago -- to love and admire our heroes without expecting them to be perfect. Iverson's career will go down as an extraordinary achievement and a cautionary tale, and I think we're all better for it.