By Joseph Phelan, @JPhelan13
Allen Iverson retired from the National Basketball Association (NBA) recently. Drafted in 1996 by the Philadelphia 76ers, Iverson played until 2010.
Iverson not only built a Hall of Fame career, but he changed the culture of the NBA.
Tattoos, cornrows and a me-first attitude fit Iverson. Early 2000s basketball fans knew Iverson because of those tattoos, cornrows and that attitude—specifically the “practice” rant and the way he stepped over Tyronn Lue after knocking down a three against the Lakers in Game 1 of his only Finals appearance.
He led the league in scoring four times, had been selected to 11 All-Star games and won a regular season MVP award despite being only 6’0”. He played through injuries, had a breath-taking crossover and guided his team to the 2001 NBA Finals—but Iverson will be remembered for something that cannot be found in his stats or accolades.
Baggy shorts, arm sleeves and do-rags became Iverson’s trademarks. Before Iverson entered the League, some players wore short shorts—now each player wears long shorts. After a right elbow injury, Iverson began wearing an arm sleeve, which players now use as a fashion statement. NBA commissioner David Stern announced a dress code in 2005 for press conferences, which critics claim that Stern targeted black males such as Iverson who wore do-rags to press conferences.
Kids grew up wanting to be like Iverson. His jersey sales sat near the top of the rankings for his entire career. He inspired today’s NBA players, including LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Kevin Durant, who all publically acknowledge how important Iverson had been to them as youngsters.
Reebok sponsored Iverson and made him a highly marketable player. Reebok used Iverson in commercials and coined the phrase “I am what I am” in several of them. That phrase illustrated Iverson’s personality, and his roots. Iverson grew up in the hood of Hampton, Va., with his single mother, Gloria. He witnessed murders, violence and racial confrontation—but, even after Iverson spent several months in prison during an incident at a bowling alley in high school, Iverson survived.
In Iverson’s book “Fear no One,” written by John Smallwood, Iverson said, “I did it my way. I never changed who I was.” Although it took some people longer to accept Iverson than others, he continued to be himself—a reason why many people can relate to Iverson.
During his retirement press conference Iverson said, “They (people) used to say the suspect was the guy wearing cornrows. Now the police officer is wearing cornrows.” Iverson made it clear—when he began wearing cornrows, cornrows represented an image of a criminal, but now police officers wear cornrows. His impact on culture rings true in that quote.
Five years from now Iverson will be inducted into The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame—but his impact on the culture of the NBA will be remembered long after his induction.