It’s wonderful to see Allen Iverson get such a special send off from the Philadelphia 76ers, and especially getting love from the fans and the city. However, it’s good to remember he’s getting this kind of appreciation because of the specific time he played for the team, his stardom fading before the rise of analytics and the love for efficiency.
Iverson averaged 27.6 points for the 76ers in 12 seasons with the team, although that also includes a forgettable 25 game stretch in the 2009-2010 season before getting released by the team in March. He didn’t retire, but he never played an NBA game again.
Iverson was another about efficiency – it was always about quantity and the bottom line, in the rare times he did manage to pull the Sixers to levels they used to think were normal. Once Charles Barkley left the team in 1992, the final piece of a very successful 80’s team fell apart, and it took them a few more years of abysmal basketball to land Iverson, coming out of Georgetown.
Always the fighter, Iverson never rested, and never rolled over. He led the league in minutes per game seven times, playing more than 40 a night for the first 12 years of his career excluding the 1997-1998 season, when he was “only” 39.4 minutes a night on the court. Iverson never rested, and his body took the punishment of playing in a big man’s world with a much smaller body, not to mention his style that was always about taking risks and putting his body on the line. Think Dwyane Wade, just a lot smaller.
So Iverson scored. He led the league in scoring four times, and finished with 30 points or more per game four times as well, including 33 a night in the 2006-2007 season, finishing behind Kobe Bryant. He took the 76ers to the NBA finals in 2001, winning the MVP along the way, putting himself in the club of players to win the award but never put a championship ring on his finger.
But his shooting percentages? Throughout his career he’s at 42.5% from the field, and he had seasons of over 45% only twice. In the 2001-2002 season and in 2003-2004 he shot below 40%. But in that time there was no scrutiny – simply admiration for Iverson – for doing so much with so little, in terms of the teammates he had and the physical tool kit he began with.
These days? effective field goal numbers, true shooting percentages, points per possession and other measurements seem to be much more important than in the past. Many would call Iverson a volume scorer, with the only thing special about doing what he did was the longevity of his success. You think Russell Westbrook and James Harden are having a hard time now? Iverson in his prime playing in 2014 would have been quite the debate creator just because he was a score-first kind of player, who didn’t care if it took him 25-30 shots to reach 30 points.
There’s more to sports than numbers. Iverson was great to watch because he played basketball, winning basketball for a long time, like no one else, and kept at it for a very long time. Longevity is something to admire, especially when it comes along with excellence, even if it’s more about quantity than efficiency.