Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Answer to the Hall of Fame?

So I was listening to some guys on Fox Sports Radio on my satellite on the way into work today talking about Allen Iverson, who announced late on Tuesday that he will not be returning to the Philadelphia 76ers this season, and who it seems increasingly likely has seen the last he will play in the NBA. After what was clearly an exhillarating career for the barely 6-foot guy from Hampton, Virginia, I find myself asking the same question as I've done a couple of times in the past here at the blog: Is this guy a hall of famer?

First, let's look at the career stats:

96-97 PHI 76 0.416 0.341 0.702 4.1 7.5 2.1 0.3 4.43 3.07 23.5
97-98 PHI 80 0.461 0.298 0.729 3.7 6.2 2.2 0.3 3.05 2.50 22.0
98-99 PHI 48 0.412 0.291 0.751 4.9 4.6 2.3 0.2 3.48 2.04 26.8
99-00 PHI 70 0.421 0.341 0.713 3.8 4.7 2.1 0.1 3.29 2.31 28.4
00-01 PHI 71 0.420 0.320 0.814 3.8 4.6 2.5 0.3 3.34 2.07 31.1
01-02 PHI 60 0.398 0.291 0.812 4.5 5.5 2.8 0.2 3.95 1.70 31.4
02-03 PHI 82 0.414 0.277 0.774 4.2 5.5 2.7 0.2 3.49 1.82 27.6
03-04 PHI 48 0.387 0.286 0.745 3.7 6.8 2.4 0.1 4.35 1.81 26.4
04-05 PHI 75 0.424 0.308 0.835 4.0 7.9 2.4 0.1 4.59 1.87 30.7
05-06 PHI 72 0.447 0.323 0.814 3.2 7.4 1.9 0.1 3.44 1.68 33.0
06-07 DEN 50 0.454 0.347 0.759 3.0 7.2 1.8 0.2 4.04 1.48 24.8
06-07 PHI 15 0.413 0.226 0.885 2.7 7.3 2.2 0.1 4.40 1.40 31.2
07-08 DEN 82 0.458 0.345 0.809 3.0 7.1 2.0 0.2 2.99 1.33 26.4
08-09 DET 54 0.416 0.286 0.786 3.1 4.9 1.6 0.1 2.52 1.54 17.4
08-09 DEN 3 0.450 0.250 0.720 2.7 6.7 1.0 0.3 3.33 1.00 18.7
09-10 PHI 25 0.417 0.333 0.824 3.0 4.1 0.7 0.1 2.28 1.72 13.9
09-10 MEM 3 0.577 1.000 0.500 1.3 3.7 0.3 0.0 2.33 1.67 12.3
Career -- 914 0.425 0.313 0.780 3.7 6.2 2.2 0.2 3.57 1.94 26.7
All-Star -- 9 0.414 0.667 0.769 2.6 6.2 2.3 0.1 4.22 0.67 14.4

And AI's career playoff averages:

98-99 PHI 8 8 44.8 0.411 0.283 0.712 1.8 2.4 4.1 4.9 2.5 0.2 3.00 2.38 28.5
99-00 PHI 10 10 44.4 0.384 0.308 0.739 1.4 2.6 4.0 4.5 1.2 0.1 3.20 2.40 26.2
00-01 PHI 22 22 46.2 0.389 0.338 0.774 0.7 4.0 4.7 6.1 2.4 0.3 2.86 2.50 32.9
01-02 PHI 5 5 42.0 0.381 0.333 0.810 0.2 3.4 3.6 4.2 2.6 0.0 2.40 1.60 30.0
02-03 PHI 12 12 46.4 0.416 0.345 0.737 0.9 3.4 4.3 7.4 2.4 0.1 3.92 2.08 31.7
04-05 PHI 5 5 47.6 0.468 0.414 0.897 0.0 2.2 2.2 10.0 2.0 0.4 4.20 2.40 31.2
06-07 DEN 5 5 44.6 0.368 0.294 0.806 0.0 0.6 0.6 5.8 1.4 0.0 3.00 2.20 22.8
07-08 DEN 4 4 39.5 0.434 0.214 0.697 1.0 2.0 3.0 4.5 1.0 0.2 1.75 0.75 24.5
Career -- 71 71 45.1 0.401 0.327 0.764 0.8 3.0 3.8 6.0 2.1 0.2 3.11 2.21 29.7

It was a pretty stellar career by the numbers no matter how you slice it. If Iverson is done here, he will retire with 24,368 career points in just 914 games played, good for 16th on the NBA's all-time scoring list, along with 5,624 assists and 1983 steals. Over his career AI averaged a lofty 27.0 ppg (good for 6th all-time among NBA players), 6.2 assists and 2.2 steals per game. Iverson also knew how to step is up in the playoff as you can see from the above, including a career playoff scoring average of 29.7 ppg which is second all time behind only the great Michael Jordan, while also placing third in career minutes per game (45.1, trailing only Wilt and Bill Russell) and seventh in steals per game at 2.07, also just behind Michael Jordan).

AI was the 1996 Rookie of the year in arguably the best draft class ever, and won the MVP of the 1997 Rookie-Sophmore game during All-Star weekend. AI led the NBA in steals 3 times, was an 11 time NBA All-Star (including 10 straight years from 2000-2009), 2 time All-Star game MVP, and he won four NBA scoring titles which people often forget amidst the hype of Jordan, Kobe and LeBron. Among all-time NBA players, 4 scoring titles puts Iverson behind only Wilt (7) and Jordan (10), and tied with George Gervin. And AI was also named the 2001 NBA MVP (one of the best individual seasons in NBA history), and he received at least one MVP vote in eight of his 13 full seasons as an NBA player. Iverson was also named all-NBA seven times, with three First-Team selections.

Allen Iverson will retire as one of only three players in NBA history who averaged at least 25 points, five assists and two steals per game, with the others being Michael Jordan and Jerry West. So, among all the great players in the NBA over the past 35 years, only Jordan and Iverson managed to average 25-5-2 during their full pro basketball careers.

For his career, Iverson currently sits fourth in career minutes per game with 41.4, sixth in career scoring average (27.0 ppg), sixth in career steals per game (2.2), 11th in career free throws made (6277) and 16th in career points (24,368)

Looking at the fact that AI is a little guy, at barely 6 feet tall, his career numbers are that much more amazing. The closest guy at 6"0' or under in career scoring totals is Calvin Murphy, nearly 6500 points behind. The only other "short" guy above Iverson on the NBA's career scoring list is Jerry West, and he is a legitimate 3 inches taller than Iverson, who only even reaches 6 feet when he is really stretched out to the max. The next guy up above Iverson in career scoring is 6"6'. Basically, nobody anywhere near as short as AI who ever played this game played it as well as AI did, period. For Allen Iverson, just making it to the NBA is am amazing feat; to have survived as long and to have taken as much of a beating as he did and still finish where he's at on the all-time scoring list is simply incredible.

And let's not forget some of the amazing, incredible plays:

(Pay special attention to what AI does to Jordan around 2:15 in the above video. I have it on good authority that Jordan went home and cried that night because he knew his dominance over the NBA was finally and officially over).

And of course, who could forget the crossover dribble, which AI did better than anyone in the NBA has ever done (or probably ever will do):

But, on the flip side, AI played on a lot of terrible teams and was only able to will his team to one NBA finals -- a 4 games to 1 loss to Shaq's great Lakers team, in a sport widely recognized as the one where it is easiest for one player to rise up and carry his team to victory. Despite having him out there pouring in the buckets night in and night out, AI's team lost a lot of games, and that has got to be a big knock against him when you try to compare him to the Magic Johnsons, Michael Jordans, Wilt Chamberlains, Jerry Wests, Bill Russells, Larry Birds, etc. of the world.

More than that, the points AI scored over his career are amazing, yes, but you would be remiss if you did not mention the shooting percentage that went into achieving all those point totals. Basically, AI never met a shot he didn't like for over a decade of dominance in the NBA. Iverson's career 42.5% shoot percentage is not good, and those of you who followed him with any interest are well aware of how many 9-for-29 performances from the field that AI came up with over the years. The guy shot a bunch, and a huge number of his total points scored have also come from the free throw line as AI took it to the hole and got pounded worse than any player probably in NBA history. Even the free throws he only finished his career at just over 70%, which is also testament to the fact that AI was never the most accurate shooter out there. Don't get me wrong -- being able to generate 20 to 30 shots a game is itself quite a feat and very much indicative of just how skilled, and how quick, Allen Iverson was. But 9 for 30 doesn't impress me much, and I doubt it will impress the Hall of Fame voters out there much either.

And that brings me to perhaps AI's greatest legacy of all -- what he did to the culture in the NBA. Allen Iverson was the first of the real "hip hop" thugs in the NBA, a trend that nowadays is copied by probably over 100 NBA players but who nobody ever had done before Iverson came to Philly. It was Iverson who started the cornrows, the excessive tattoos, the baggy clothing, the crooked baseball cap and the famous sleeve. No joke, the NBA dress code that David Stern came out with some years ago was made because of Allen Iverson, make no mistake about it. Although AI was hugely popular among NBA fans in particular in inner cities -- he has the second longest-running shoe line next to Michael Jordan and AI's jersey was one of the highest selling of all time among NBA apparel -- it is highly questionable whether his long-standing legacy was actually good at all for the league as a whole. There was the 2000 rap video Iverson recorded where he openly slammed on homosexuals. On February 24, 2004, Iverson urinated in a trash can at Bally's Atlantic City casino in full view of staff and patrons, which got him kicked out for life from the property (guess he won't be playing any nlh tournaments with me at Billy's poker room anytime soon). On December 9, 2005 after the Sixers defeated the Charlotte Bobcats, Iverson paid a late-night visit to the Trump Taj Mahal. After winning a hand at a three-card-stud poker table, Iverson was overpaid $10,000 in chips by a dealer. When the dealer quickly realized the mistake and requested the chips back, Iverson refused and a heated head-turning argument between him and casino staff began.

Also in 2005, Iverson's bodyguard Jason Kane was accused of assaulting a man at a Washington DC nightclub after the man, Marlin Godfrey, refused to leave the club's VIP section so Iverson's entourage could enter. Godfrey suffered a concussion, a ruptured eardrum, a burst blood vessel in his eye, a torn rotator cuff, cuts and bruises, and emotional injuries. Although Iverson did not touch Godfrey himself, Godfrey sued Iverson for the injuries caused by his bodyguard. In 2007 a jury awarded Godfrey $260,000. The U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the verdict in 2009.

On April 18, 2006, Iverson and Chris Webber arrived late to the Sixers' fan appreciation night and home game finale. Players are expected to report 90 minutes before game time, but both Iverson and Webber arrived around tipoff. Coach Maurice Cheeks notified the media that neither would be playing and general manager Billy King announced that Iverson and Webber would be fined. During the 2006 off-season, trade rumors had Iverson going to Denver, Atlanta, or Boston. None of the deals were completed. Iverson had made it clear that he would like to stay a Sixer.

On November 29, 2006, following a conflict at practice, Iverson stormed out of the gymnasium. That same evening, Iverson missed a corporate sponsor night at Lucky Strike Lanes in Philadelphia. All the 76ers besides Iverson attended this mandatory event. Iverson was fined an undisclosed amount by the 76ers. Iverson claimed he overslept after taking medication for pain related to having two abscessed teeth pulled but it was reported that Iverson told teammates earlier in the day he planned to blow off the event and was simply going to take the fine.

On December 8, 2006, Iverson reportedly demanded a trade from the Sixers (although he would deny that). As a result of the demand and missing practice prior to a matchup against the Washington Wizards, Iverson was told not to play nor attend any further games.

Between 1999 and 2009, Iverson also managed to get arrested separately once for speeding, once for carrying a concealed weapon, and one time for possession of marijuana. This, in addition to at least two other domestic dispute incidents that did not result in an arrest, one of which in 2002 included him throwing his wife out of the house after a two-day argument, buck naked, into the streets of Philadelphia.

Ultimately, I weigh all the positives about Allen Iverson's skill heavily, but I tend to lean on the side of no, he is not quite going to make it to the HOF. Sadly I think it is the off-the-court stuff and the selfish shooting that will stick in voters' minds far longer than all of the amazing highlights like in the videos above.
And really, how can you ultimately send someone to the Hall of Fame when what everyone in the world will most remember them for is not their work ethic, their play on the field, or the charity work, but rather this speech:

Watch the whole thing, really. It's downright comical how long and how fervently AI goes on down the road he should never even have touched.

So I say no Hall of Fame for The Answer. Anybody agree / disagree?

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Blogger Daly said...

mate i live in england, have no real knowledge of NBA but i know Allen is boss... up there with Shaq, Scottie Pippen and Jordan/Johnson

4:05 AM  
Blogger BLAARGH! said...

You're forgetting the best iverson video ever:

7:46 AM  
Blogger Zachary said...

Well written piece, chief. I've always appreciate your writing style.

Reading the first part of the article, I was afraid you were only going to highlight the good points, but then you hit all my high notes on the way back down. Mainly, Iverson played on some abyssmal teams with no scoring support, and it's not hard to score 20 points a night when you put up 40 shots, which was not an uncommon occurence late 90's/early 00's. If you look purely at points, he's incredible. The whole picture, as you point out, is a little different.

That, and he's just not a guy you want on your team. He causes more headaches than he solves. Just ask my wife's Pistons last year. I know HOF status should be based on performance, but it's hard to overlook his attitude ever since coming to the league.

But then again, what do I know.

11:10 PM  
Blogger AlCantHang said...

I was always and will always be an Iverson fan. His hard work and willingness to put his body on the line every night far outweighed his issues in my mind.

My favorite move is definitely laying the sick crossover on Jordan.

Also when he returned to Philly for the first time as a Nugget and got the huge extended ovation.

2:30 AM  

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