Rookie of the Year. Four-time scoring champion. Nine-time All-Star. League MVP.
The most dynamic, prolific, controversial yet engaging and entertaining player to put on a Sixers uniform in the last 25 years.
Pound for pound, perhaps the best player in franchise history.
And now, Hall of Famer.
Allen Iverson was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame class of 2016 on Monday. The 6-foot, lithe, acrobatic, high-scoring, fiery guard left a lasting impact over his 14-year NBA career, and those who played against him and looked up to him believe his selection was well deserved.
"He was a guy I loved watching, just his entertainment value and knowing his story,” Stephen Curry said (see story). “It was inspiring just to know that you can defy a lot of odds and be yourself while you’re out there on the court playing and changing the game.”
The first overall pick in the 1996 draft, Iverson quickly established himself in the NBA, earning Rookie of the Year honors. He went on to capture the 2001 MVP award, win four scoring titles and earn nine All-Star selections. In 2001, he was the driving force behind the Sixers' unforgettable run to the NBA Finals against the Lakers.
Among the Sixers' all-time leaders, Iverson is tied with Wilt Chamberlain for first in points per game (27.6) and tied with Maurice Cheeks for steals per game (2.3). He is also first in three-point field goals (885). Iverson ranks second in points (19,931), minutes per game (41.4), minutes played (29,879), free throws (5,122) and steals (1,644) and is third in assists (4,385).
Iverson ranks fourth in minutes per game (41.4), seventh in points per game (27.7) and is tied for 10th in steals per game (2.17) with John Stockton among all-time NBA players.
“If you look at what he just did on the basketball court, which we all should just look at when we’re dealing with this type of stuff, it’s a no-brainer,” Kevin Durant said. “MVP of the league, the shortest MVP ever, countless All-Star games, scoring titles. I don’t understand what’s the hold up or why it’s even a debate [if he should be first ballot].”
While players got hyped up to compete against Iverson, they looked forward to getting to know him as well. A young Dwyane Wade had an opportunity before an exhibition game and again on the Team USA basketball team.
“My favorite moment is getting a chance to play against him for the first time in preseason, it was in Puerto Rico,” Wade said. “I got a chance to be around him the night before and it was a cool experience for me. I got a chance to play with him in the Olympics after my rookie year. I got to be around him as well. He’s just a real cool guy, someone who came in and just loved the game of basketball, gave everything he had to it.”
As much as players could learn from sporadic opportunities to be around Iverson, being his teammate provided months to soak up knowledge and advice. Before he was one of the most consistent long-range shooters in the league, former Sixer Kyle Korver remembers Iverson urging him to work toward that role.
“He was just such a dynamic person and player,” Korver said. “As big of a personality as he was on the court, he was off the court, and that was all good to me. He was always fun to be around, always fun to watch obviously. I think he was big for me early in my career instilling confidence in me. I came in as a second-round pick and not really sure where my place was going to be in this league. He was always right there telling me, ‘Shooters shoot’ and encouraging me to keep on working.”
Paul Pierce was an Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference foe of Iverson while on the Celtics. Yet he always respected his game and even imagined what it would have been like to play with him (see story). Pierce appreciates how Iverson made his mark on multiple levels.
"I think he had a great impact," Pierce said. "You saw a lot of the smaller guys that were coming up believe that they really could make it. He was a guy that was one of the smallest guys in the NBA but had huge heart, dominated the league, was an MVP. He changed the culture of the NBA where you saw kids getting tattoos and cornrows and really expressing themselves a little bit more. So not only on the basketball court, he made an impact just on the culture of basketball and I think that was something that was great about him. He expressed himself on and off the court.”
One of those younger fans influenced by Iverson was Damian Lillard. The Trail Blazers' point guard could relate to Iverson beyond basketball. Lillard, also a rap artist, was impacted on several fronts.
“He was my favorite player growing up,” Lillard said. “It’s just what he was able to do at that time in the NBA as a smaller guard, how physical he was, what he could get away with, it was impressive. He pretty much carried his team to the Finals. He competed every year. It was just impressive what he was able to do over a long career.
“I liked the change he brought to the game — the little guy with the crossovers and the pull-up jumpers with the tattoos, the sleeve, the cornrows, the headband. He just brought that. I think he was the guy that kind of blended hip hop with basketball. He was the guy that put it together, that neighborhood swag about him that I could relate to.”
There is a large group of NBA players who grew up watching Iverson. Among those is Wizards point guard John Wall, who calls Iverson his role model. He was on the opposing team the night the Sixers retired Iverson’s jersey in 2014. Seeing the banner raised to the rafters left a lasting impression.
“To have the opportunity to play here, win and see him get his jersey retired on the same night, that’s one of the best memories I have in basketball history,” Wall said. “I was greatly honored and I think he should be a Hall of Famer.”
Iverson will be enshrined on Sept. 9 in Springfield, Massachusetts, along with Shaquille O'Neal, Yao Ming, Tom Izzo, Sheryl Swoops, Jerry Reinsdorf, referee Darell Garretson and coach John McLendon, while Zelmo Beaty and Cumberland Posey will be enshrined posthumously.