One of the weirdest things a human can do is look back in their life at the things they loved. A person, a TV show and even an athlete, we go through ebbs and flows with our obsessions, with some staying with us forever and some fading with time.
I grew up without a team to call my own. In East Texas I had the dominant Cowboys as a kid but I could never relate to the insanity of that team, and the Dallas Mavericks were a joke for most of my childhood (and sorry, Stars, but we just weren’t a hockey household).
My fandom branched out across the country, with most of my younger days spent collecting Penny Hardaway cards and shoes, loving the way he played the game when he came in the league and being mildly obsessed with the 1 cent symbol that Penny made famous.
But the guy I respected the most was a man as far from my life as possible.
Allen Iverson was a kid born in Virgina without a dad, the opposite of my two parent family that I wouldn’t trade for the world. This was a guy that got up in the morning just hoping to make it back to that pillow by nightfall, a little different than my “leave all the doors unlocked” home that couldn’t spell the word CRIME with a full Scrabble set.
But one thing that Iverson and I had in common, and the thing I respected the most about him, was that he was extremely undersized for the game he was playing.
My family is full of late growth spurts, a family that remains short well into the later years of high school, and when you’re a kid with an obsession with sports, especially basketball, it isn’t the easiest of things to overcome.
When Iverson was drafted, and came into the league, I remember spending hours out on our slab of concrete trying to perfect my crossover. I’d watch him do it and then go out in hopes that this would be my move to help give me enough room to get my shot off.
I was barely 5 feet tall when I got to high school, but the coaches wanted me to give basketball a shot because I could dribble fairly well and had a good set of eyes that tended to scan the court instead of looking at the ball, and that was my life; try to get everything I could out of a frame that was more “A Tale of Two Cities” than NBA Jam.
When Reebok put this video out, I spent weeks in my backyard trying to get it just perfect enough to look like something AI would be proud of, and even attempted to us it in a game (spoiler alert: it didn’t work).
Still, Iverson was the guy I admired, because if you look past all his roughness and antics off the court, you see a guy that simply wanted to overcome all the things that were stacked up against him.
Today, Iverson officially retires, even though he’s been retired for years. Iverson is 38 now, and the speed he once had isn’t nearly good enough to compete in a guard-heavy league that sees the likes of Derrick Rose, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook move up and down the court at Bolt-like speed.
The incredible thing about Iverson, however, is for years to come, the conversation will be bated around about the toughest guy to ever play in the NBA. Charles Oakley will be mentioned, as will Dennis Rodman and even Kobe Bryant, but in my eyes nobody has ever been able to withstand all the hardship that Iverson did in his prime.
A league MVP, a Rookie of the Year and a man that simply never stopped when that ball went in the air, Iverson will forever be one of my favorite athletes not because of who he was, but what he stood for.
I’ll turn 30 in a couple of weeks, but I still hit the court three times a week and I still toss out that Iverson crossover (well, a weak attempt at the Iverson crossover) a few times a game, because I learned it from the best and always wanted to be the best.
Allen Iverson was my basketball coach, my basketball mentor and a guy that truly played the game of basketball with no regrets in a way that few really do.
He might be done with basketball, but that intensity he brought to the game of basketball is something that will stay with me for as long as I watch guys battle on the hardwood.