An Ode To The Answer: How Allen Iverson Impacted Philadelphia + The World
The city of Philadelphia has been known for many things in the sports world, most importantly, its “dedicated” fan base.
To those within the City of Brotherly Love, we will ride with our sports heroes until the wheels fall off, come to their defense whenever and wherever needed, and will make sure they never have to pay for a beer in our town for as long as they live. From Dawkins to Dykstra, Lindros to LeSean (we miss you, Shady), if you lay it all on the line for one of our storied franchises, Philly will embrace you as one of its native sons with zero hesitation.
In my almost 30 years as a Philadelphia sports fan, I haven’t seen my hometown rally around and support one single player as much as we stand by “The Answer,” Allen Iverson.
Allen Iverson joined the Philadelphia 76ers on June 26th, 1996 as the first overall pick of the 1996 NBA Draft. Long before the days of YouTube and social media, there wasn’t any quick fix to do your research on the 6’0" guard out of Georgetown University. If you haven’t had the chance to see him in action, Iverson didn’t waste any time proving that he was worth the high draft pick. He proved that he could be the leader and face of a then-struggling franchise that hadn’t had a polarizing figure since the days of Sir Charles Barkley. He even gave us hope for a team we could see ourselves in and root for. In his rookie year, Iverson averaged 23.5 points per game, making league history as the second youngest player to ever score 50 points in a single game. But as much as Iverson tore up the stats, it was his off-court action that drew fans far and wide from outside the Philly streets.
In a league where being tall is supposed to be the standard, who was this “normal-sized” kid taking it down the lane (and sometimes throwing it down) with zero regard for human life and getting buckets by any means necessary? Who’s this guy who went at the best players in the league with no fear and all heart as if he somehow knew that he was just as good as them, if not better? Wait, is this the cat from Hampton, Virginia that met the greatest basketball player ever named Michael Jordan at the top of the 3-point line and hit him with a body-rock crossover so nasty that it almost sent him out of his self-titled shoes and left him the victim of a smooth 20-foot jump shot?
Before the end of the season, the Sixers, hell, the city of Philadelphia as a whole realized what we had in this small, scrappy guard with the heart of a giant. We had one of our own, both on and off the court, and as he represented us, we felt it was only right to do the same for him.
In the early to mid-‘90s, Nike reigned supreme being the featured shoe brand to some of the biggest names in sports. Jordan, [Bo] Jackson, [Deion] Sanders — the shining stars all had “The Swoosh” on the side of their shoes. Always the one to do things his own way, Allen Iverson entered the league signing a deal with Reebok, planning to be the resurrecting face of the fledgling shoe company the same way he was for Philly’s basketball franchise. That partnership would go on to shape not just basketball culture, but popular culture as a whole, as everyone wanted to wear the shoes of their new favorite player both on and off the court. But the homage paid didn’t stop at just the shoes, as cornrows became the go-to hairstyle for America’s youth, more and more tattoos visibly sprouted on the skin of sports’ brightest stars, opening the doors for athletes to express themselves while playing their sports on an entirely new level. Forget wanting to be "like Mike," now everyone wanted to be A.I., and while the higher-ups of the NBA were conflicted on how Iverson now “made the league look,” the damage was done. Allen Iverson transcended labels and societal constraints by pioneering the modern athlete’s ability for self-expression. More importantly, he allowed the world’s inner city residents of young and the old to have someone playing the game how they play it while looking and dressing how they looked and dressed.
Allen Iverson’s time in Philadelphia came to a very awkward and unfulfilling end, as he clashed with Sixers brass and it ultimately led to him being traded to the Denver Nuggets in December of 2006. Ten years of service didn’t bring Philly an elusive NBA championship, with our closest chance being in 2001, where Iverson led a team of Davids against Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and the Goliath-sized Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. In true A.I. fashion, the most memorable moment of the series came in Game 1, where Iverson led the Sixers on a comeback win capped off with the crossover, step-back and step over of Lakers guard Tyronn Lue.
Allen Iverson changed many different games in his prestigious career, and tonight, he will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. It’s fitting that he will get his just due. I’ll always remember the one affectionately known as “Bubba Chuck,“ center-court, hand cupped to his ear to the crowd, as a son of my city, who loved us just as much as we loved him.
Thank you, Allen. For everything. For me personally as a Sixers fan, and for my city of Philadelphia, you’ve always been “The Answer”.
Cory Townes is a native Philadelphia, a freelance writer and co-host of the Pay HMGE podcast. Follow his musings on Twitter @CoryTownes.