Thursday, December 25, 2014

Iverson rises to new heights

This article was originally published in the Daily News on February 12, 2001.

Earlier in the weekend, as the East walked through a shell drill, Allen Iverson saw a friendly face along the sideline, pointed to himself and said, "Look at me. I'm the point guard."

Last night, he was able to point to himself and say, "Look at me. I'm the MVP."

In truth, he emerged as a poster boy for all that Larry Brown insists is right with the NBA. Iverson, the 76ers' star shooting guard, scored 25 points, including 10 of his team's last 16, and became the Most Valuable Player of the All-Star Game in a 111-110 victory over the West.

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But this was a team picture if there ever were one. New Jersey's Stephon Marbury scored the final six points with two spectacular three-pointers in the last 53.9 seconds. Toronto's Vince Carter blocked a baseline jumper by San Antonio's Tim Duncan with four-tenths of a second remaining. Atlanta's Dikembe Mutombo swept 22 rebounds, eight in the fourth quarter.

And Brown, the Sixers' coach, was on the All-Star bench for the first time since 1977. Two of the players he had on the floor as the East came back from a 21-point deficit - Marbury and Orlando's Tracy McGrady - hadn't yet been born the last time.

"This whole weekend has all been about the direction of our league," Brown said. "I've been with the Dream Team, been around Duncan and [Minnesota's Kevin] Garnett. . .we have so many special young talents.

"I think this game today is a statement. Anybody watching this game on national TV had to feel good about the NBA. Anybody who has seen Allen - a lot of these kids - grow has to be thrilled to death. Anybody who wants to be a coach, this is the greatest testimony for that.

"One, the greatest players tried to win an All-Star Game. Two, the greatest players didn't give up. Three, the greatest players played the right way. Four, the youngest so-called maverick stepped up and showed just what he's about. "

Save all your questions about what's wrong with the league for another day. When Iverson stepped back on the floor with Mutombo and Carter with 10:46 remaining and his team down 91-72, he transformed the MCI Center into his personal showcase. The first question he heard in the postgame news conference was whether he was now "the face of the NBA. "

"I'm one of them, but I think there's just so much great talent in this league," Iverson replied. "You know, it's not easy to win a war like this when you have so many great players on the court at one time.

"It's special, and it's a tribute to my coach and my teammates - especially my teammates - because without them I would not be here.

"My family, my friends, everybody that's just been with me through my struggles and pain know it's a tribute, and I think that it is going to be beautiful for years to come, because every year it seems like we get somebody else with a different kind of God-given ability to add to this league. "

The West was supposed to be bigger, stronger, deeper, even without injured Los Angeles Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal. The East was supposed to be in dire straits without the Sixers' Theo Ratliff, Orlando's Grant Hill, both injured, and Miami's Alonzo Mourning, battling a kidney disease.

"You can't measure the size of anyone's heart," Iverson said. "The best feeling is to win, to be the MVP in front of my mom, my friends, coach Thompson [former Georgetown coach John Thompson], the people in D.C., who have been fighting for me from Day 1. I don't have words to describe how I feel. It still feels like a dream. "

To Mourning, it was simply the Iverson he has always known. To the West, it had to be a nightmare.

"You saw all the answers out there," Mourning said. "Allen is Allen. His game speaks for itself. At one point, he got a little stagnant out there, hurrying his shots, but he stayed at it, eventually broke through. . .

"I think this helps everybody develop more respect for his game, what he's capable of doing, the impact he's capable of having. Everybody thinks he's a ball hog and a scorer.

"The bottom line is, when he has the ball in his hands, you want the ball in his hands. He made a concrete attempt to make more plays through penetration and the attention he draws. But when the game gets tight, if he was on my team I'd want it in his hands. Allen is Allen, you've got to take his game for what it is. He continues to amaze me every time he steps on the floor. "

To Mutombo, it was a matter of blinding speed.

"Something Allen brings [to] the table is his speed," Mutombo said. "It's so fast, it makes it hard for any defender to stop him, especially a team who does not have that much speed. . .That's why they call him 'The Answer. ' We had so many questions there on the bench, and he just came out and he responded. "

Iverson essentially did what he has been doing all season, offering the type of performance that has led the Sixers to the league's best record (36-14) and the best road record (21-6). This time, he unfurled his skill on a national stage.

"Seeing the kid up there [accepting the MVP], you know how far he's come," Brown said. "That makes a lot of things worthwhile. "

But the idea of a victory last night didn't germinate in the fourth quarter. It was there all the time.

"I mean from the beginning, when we first threw the ball up, because we knew everybody was saying we could not win. . .because of our [lack of] size," Iverson said. "But it is not about the size on paper. . .

"Coming into the fourth quarter, I think [Detroit's Jerry] Stackhouse and Vince and a couple of the other guys, Dikembe, we were all sitting on the side and we kept saying, 'Why not us? Why can't we be the ones to come back from a 19-point deficit in an All-Star Game? '

"They just kept on playing, playing hard, and we turned it on in the fourth quarter and we hit some shots and then we started to feed off the crowd, the momentum was there for us and we were able to do it. "

Still, Iverson heard someone along the sideline say the East would do well if the West only won by 10.

"I kept telling them, 'Bet everything you've got on this game right here,' " Iverson said. "And, you know, I thought we were going to win it. They thought we were not going to win, and none of them wanted to bet. So, obviously, they knew something that God knew. "

Phil Jasner
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