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When recognizing some of the most iconic figures within the black community, there are so many exceptional names that come to mind. Whether one creates a legacy in the lane of activism, film, sports, music or any other avenue; it’s important to take the time to salute the individuals that have been impactful in elevating our culture. With that being said, today we take the time to celebrate Allen Iverson, an athlete whose elite skill-set, strong personality and authentically unapologetic style made him one of the most influential sports figures of this generation.
Being able to see African American athletes proudly represent black culture has always been important and may be even more so today. Representation goes a long way in inspiring the next generation and Iverson definitely succeeded in that, which meant a lot more to the culture than just being a great athlete.
Influence & Impact Off The Court
As an NBA player, Iverson was a clear embodiment of hip hop. He had a true underdog story as a kid from the 757 in Virginia, who eventually became one of the biggest stars the NBA has ever seen. Growing up in the projects, dealing with setbacks with the law, along with many other obstacles; A.I’s success served as motivation for those who came from similar backgrounds and life scenarios.
Once Iverson got to the league in ‘96, his influence blossomed from just motivation to impacting mainstream culture at a national level. From the shoe deal with Reebok to his cornrows and tattoos to his way of dressing, he was pushing the boundaries for a league that had historically been on the conservative side of the spectrum. His impact was so powerful that the NBA commissioner at the time, David Stern, implemented a dress code to counteract the influence the ball player was having across the league, as players were showing up to games wearing chains, baggy clothes, etc. Iverson's display of self-expression was empowering to many not just in the NBA, but in all sports.
All-Star point guard Chris Paul commented on his influence back in 2016, “Allen Iverson had the biggest effect on the culture of the NBA out of any player. He started a culture. He started the arm sleeve, the tattoos, all that stuff. He’s the biggest influence in the NBA out of anybody… I wanted braids because AI had them. I just loved the grit that he played with.”
We see players today like James Harden, Russell Westbrook and others who come to games like they’re prepared for a full-blown fashion show because of the precedent that Iverson set. The man was even putting out rap records in the early 2000s, taking full advantage of his moment.
The relatability factor that he had was a lot different from black athletes of the past because he truly felt like one of us.
Play-Style On The Floor
On the court, Iverson played with a dog mentality, as many of the all-time greats did. Being undersized at 6’0,” his relentless effort and ability as scorer made him straight up unstoppable at times. Critics may argue that his style of play was not the most efficient, but A.I never cheated his teammates or fans with his effort on either end of the floor. There’s a cliche’ that “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard,” which is true. But, Iverson showed what one can accomplish combining both.
In an interview with ESPN, LeBron James praised A.I’s work ethic, stating, “They say he was 6 feet, but A.I. was like 5-10½. Do we even want to say 160? 170 [pounds]? Do we even want to give him that much weight? And he played like a 6'8 guard. He was one of the greatest finishers we've ever seen. You could never question his heart. Ever. He gave it his all.”
He brought in many ways a flashy streetball style of play to his game and had a crossover that even the greatest of all-time couldn’t stand in front of…..literally. When “The Answer” lost Michael Jordan with his signature move, it was a preview of what the rest of the league would have to deal with for the next decade.
Iverson’s most memorable moments while in the NBA showcased his unshakable confidence on the court, but also highlighted the personality that so many fans and young people in our culture resonated with.
Maybe the most legendary moment of his career was when he led the underdog Philadelphia 76ers to the 2001 NBA Finals to square off against the Kobe and Shaq-led Los Angeles Lakers. Going up against this juggernaut of a duo in Game 1, Iverson led his team to a win by dropping off 48 points on the road. This exclamation point of this win came in the final minute of overtime when he had Tyronn Lue in an isolation situation and the rest was history.
Of course, we can’t go without mentioning the classic “We talkin' about practice” moment. What has gone down to be a charming and highly quotable interview clip for many, has a deeper backstory when context is provided, as Iverson was dealing with the death of a close friend in those moments. Regardless, the moment showcases who Iverson is and was, an individual who wore his heart on his sleeve and was always willing to say how he felt.
There are so many more moments that can be highlighted. But, we’d be here for a while. As an athlete built for viral moments, imagine if A.I’s prime was during the social media age?
Iverson’s Hall of Fame career was far from perfect and had some hiccups along the way. Despite this, his journey served as one that many in the black community were inspired by, learned from and appreciated for the legacy it left. Whether you’re a rapper, actor or athlete; your influence can spread far beyond that audience, especially when you are great within your craft. Iverson is a prime example of this. Today, we just wanted to take the time to salute that.
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