Friday night, Allen Iverson, Shaquille O'Neal, Sheryl Swoopes, and Yao Ming among others were enshrined into the basketball Hall of Fame. However, the greatest of all these players in terms of importance, production, and impact is by far Allen Iverson!
To me Sheryl Swoopes is 2nd but that's another story. Consequently, you may think I'm asinine, and immediately assume it's Shaquille O'Neal that's the greatest in this class based on his 4 championships, more points, less controversy and a longer career, on the contrary that is extremely false! Allen Iverson not only had a statistically dominant career averaging: 26.7 ppg, 6.2 apg, and 3.7 rpg, and a career total of 24,368 points but he also transcended the game of basketball and had perhaps the biggest influence on the wider culture in the history of the NBA.
He brought the urban and Hip Hop culture to the NBA and impacted a generation of young NBA players. The: gold chains, timberlands, baggy jeans, durags, and cornrows were only a scintilla of the style he pioneered that helped to change the culture of the game. He did to the point that even most of the young players in today's NBA, including arguably the best Lebron James said he wanted to be Allen Iverson and idolized him even more than Michael Jordan!!!
Once he brought his heart and soul to the game, the NBA culture was never the same!
That does not happen by accident. One needs to be a unique, charismatic, and ultra talented individual to pull this kind of feat off. They essentially have to be a maverick of sorts. But back to the juxtaposition to Shaquille O'Neal. Shaquille O'Neal for all his physical gifts, intimidating presence, outright dominance and natural ability, ultimately proved to be somewhat of a waste of talent and sheer disappointment to say the least!
Even considering the fact that he won multiple championships and achieved great things, he only partially scratched the surface of his potential. He never had that special drive and unmatchable discipline of a: Jordan, Olajuwon, and ultimately which Iverson displayed which is what makes him so special. Yes he averaged 23.7 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 2.3 bpg and finished his career with 28,596 points and 5th(at the time) all time in scoring (7th now), but really he should have finished with around 35,000 points and been 3rd all time in scoring with his abilities. His game was primarily based on brute strength and the ability to physically overwhelm his opponents. Although even that failed him as he rarely ever played in peak physical condition, and never took the game as serious as she should have to become an elite competitor.
Kobe Bryant his most famous teammate attested to this, among others such as: coaches, other teammates, and those closest to him. He lacked the tireless work ethic!
This is one of the biggest factors in the contrast between him and Allen Iverson. The fact that he had: a tireless work ethic, the drive, the dedication, and the discipline to go out and play his heart out every game. Yes he had a life off the court but he didn't let that or overindulgence derail his play on the court. In other words, he had "the life" but he had the drive.
Despite all of this, perhaps the greatest attribute of Allen Iverson was his ability to overcome the numerous nightmarish obstacles and roadblocks that encountered him early on in his youth. Growing up in the tough inner city neighbourhoods of Hampton and Newport News Virginia with a single mother and no father and multiple siblings, and having to be the man of the house as early 3 years old! Couple that with a house that was always leaking with raw sewage in which he always had to wear winter boots. Fast forward some years later, and he's imprisoned for 4-5 months due to a racially motivated brawl in which he was originally sentenced to 15 years but got it reduced to 10 months. While most would have crumbled under the immense pressure and extensive circumstances, Allen Iverson found a path out of these insurmountable obstacles through sports.
He was a 2 sport phenom at Bethel High School in Hampton and routinely assaulted the crosstown rival Hampton High School playing Quarterback/Safety in football and Point Guard in Basketball. With his exploits he went on to win State championships in both sports before heading to Georgetown University where he was a: 2x Big East Defensive player of the Year, and an All-American, while leading the nation in steals.
Having said all of this, maybe Allen Iverson's resilience and perseverance in the face of adverse circumstances which helped draw so many people to him, may also have pushed so many away from him also. Allen Iverson's life challenges many critics and cynics to face the reality of inconsistencies in their own lives, and possibly acknowledge the fact that they've been given so much more than Iverson but did so much less with it. Quite frankly, they underachieved! Be honest, most of you reading, have had many opportunities, but you either: threw them away, didn't dedicate yourself to mastering a your craft, differed things to later on to the point of incompletion, or just simply lacked discipline.
At any rate, Allen Iverson's Hall of Fame is the achievement of a lifetime that had: hardship, success along the way which lead to the realization and actualization of his life's dream to play pro basketball. In contrast to Shaquille O'Neal who also had a great career but was given more, Allen Iverson has clearly more than surpassed pound for pound what Shaq did. Shaq all had the physical gifts and size in the world but his playful demeanour and lethargic work habits limited his ultimate potential.
As for Iverson he nearly maxed out on his talent, while at the same time transcending the game of Basketball and influencing many generations with his flare and heart on the court, and with his swagger and style off it. Cograts to Allen Iverson on being enshrined in the 2016 Hall of Fame Class.
As Iverson said in his own words "I play every game like it's my last"....