Thursday, July 10, 2014
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Allen Iverson's lost legacy: A historic career that could have been better

As gaudy as Iverson's numbers are, the fact of the matter remains: They could have been better.

Allen Iverson's lost legacy: A historic career that could have been better

Former Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson. (AP file photo)
Former Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson. (AP file photo)

Allen Iverson was an extremely productive NBA player. Anyone who had the pleasure of watching him effortlessly put up points can attest to his abilities. He was that rare, once-in-a-generation superstar who was able to transcend the league and leave one hell of a legacy, controversy-ridden and all.

With an MVP, a Rookie of the Year award, 11 all-star games and four scoring titles under his waistband, Iverson’s spot in NBA history is secure. He was one of the greatest scorers the game has ever seen, piling up 24,368 points over 14 seasons, which is currently 19th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

As gaudy as Iverson’s numbers are (remember, he put up all these points while playing in under 1,000 NBA games), the fact of the matter remains...

They could have been better.

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Iverson’s career took a steep tumble after the 2007-08 season. During that year in Denver he averaged 26 points and seven assists while playing in all 82 games for the first time in his career. After the season, however, Iverson was shipped to Detroit and the downward spiral began. Despite some solid play with the Pistons, Iverson lost tick to Rodney Stuckey and other young players, and became unhappy with his role with the team. A situation that should have served as a sign to A.I. that times were a-changing. The league had new breeds of superstar (LeBron James, Kevin Durant) and superteams (Boston) to contend with, and Iverson’s me-against-the-world style wasn’t the most appealing gameplan, to put it lightly.

Unable to relinquish his alpha-dog status, Iverson continued to bounce around the league’s landscape, stopping briefly in Memphis and finally back in Philadelphia, searching for a flame to re-light his career torch.

Needless to say, the flame was never quite found, which is why we find Iverson, following three years of NBA inactivity, unceremoniously announcing his retirement at the start of another season that he won’t be a part of.

It didn’t have to be this way. Hell, it wasn’t supposed to be this way. But, a plethora of problems, decisions and off-court issues, many of Iverson’s own doing, have the future Hall-of-Famer facing his retirement from the outside looking in.

Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Tim Duncan are all directly behind Iverson on the all-time scoring list - at 20th, 21st, and 22nd respectively - with Vince Carter falling a few spots further back at 27th. While none of these players were the offensive force that Iverson was during his prime, they are all likely to pass him on the list at some point this season. Their ability to grow and adapt has led to league longevity and, in turn, enhanced statistics.

Carter and Allen, who at a time were both amongst the league’s top tickets, have had to give up their individual superstar status to open new opportunities and to relish in new roles. Allen plays an integral part for the defending-champion Heat (who likely would not be the defending champions without Allen’s Finals heroics), and Carter serves as an important piece to the Mavericks movement.

Accepting his own, potentially diminished role within the league’s altering landscape was something that Iverson was unwilling or unable to do. His statistics, as well as his legacy in the league, suffered because of it.

The longevity of players like Carter and Duncan, along with their willingness to step aside in favor of others, has helped cement them in the annals of the NBA, while Iverson remains scrutinized and labeled “selfish” for doing much the opposite.

A player of Iverson’s immense talents doesn’t deserve to retire without a team. Such players aren’t supposed to spend the twilight of their career searching for a home.

Should an NBA team have taken another shot at A.I. over the past three-plus seasons?

Probably, but in the end, Iverson didn’t adapt.

If he had, maybe he would still be an important part of Developing Detroit. Or maybe, he could be providing some offensive firepower off the bench for the Western Conference-contending Memphis Grizzlies. Hell, maybe he would still be suiting up for the Sixers.

At the very least, had he done things differently, he would likely have the opportunity to retire because it’s time, not because he couldn’t find a franchise to secure his services.

Statistically speaking, if Iverson was able to adapt and accept, let’s say, a reserve role, rather than allowing his stats to stagnate while being out of the league for the past three seasons, his overall statistical standing and league legacy would be that much better.

Let’s say he played in 50 games and averaged an even 10 points per in each of the past three seasons. (These are both conservative estimates considering Iverson’s aptitude for shooting and scoring a lot, and the fact that in 2007-08 he played in all 82 games, demonstrating that his body was not yet breaking down. He would, however, have been 35, 36 and 37 in those three seasons, so a production scale-back could be expected.) So 50 games at 10 PPG in each of those last three seasons would have been an additional 1,500 points that could be tacked onto his total. This additional output would put him at 25,868 career points, good enough for 12th all-time and an arms-length away from current, encroaching players.

More importantly, if he had employed a different approach, it would have altered the current perception of him as a person and player. Also, he would have likely had the opportunity to retire on his own terms, rather than being pushed into it by the lack of opportunity.

As time goes by, “The Answer” will continue to be passed on the all-time scoring list by players that do not possess the pure skill and basketball ability exemplified by Iverson during his days of dominance. Such players, however, are and will be able to adapt in areas where Iverson was not.

Iverson was an alpha dog from day one, well before being drafted by the Sixers, and you know what they say about teaching an old dog new tricks.

Despite the prolific and inspiring play, when looking back on Iverson’s legacy and supporting statistics, it is difficult not to shake your head and, think to yourself, “This could have been better.”

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