Where credit is due
This article was originally published in the Inquirer on May 16, 2001.
Some people can only dream about becoming the best, but Allen Iverson has never been one of them.
From his days as a youth in Newport News, Va., through two years at Georgetown and four seasons in the National Basketball Association, Iverson had no doubts about his standing among basketball's elite - just about where others believed he deserved to stand.
Yesterday, the 76ers star found out.
The NBA's reigning scoring champion and the All-Star Game's most valuable player took home another award, the Maurice Podoloff Trophy as the league's MVP for the 2000-01 season.
Iverson received 93 of a possible 124 first-place votes, finishing with a total of 1,121 points in balloting by a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters in the United States and Canada. San Antonio's Tim Duncan, with 18 first-place votes, was a distant second with 706 points. Last year's MVP, Los Angeles Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal received seven first-place votes and finished third.
Iverson, who is barely 6 feet, became the shortest player in NBA history to win the award. He also is the lightest MVP at 165 pounds.
He was the only player named on all 124 ballots.
Although he thanked a plethora of family members and close friends, the Sixers guard saved most of his affection for his teammates and coach Larry Brown.
"I want to thank my teammates, because without my teammates, I wouldn't be standing up here right now," Iverson said as Eric Snow, Aaron McKie, Dikembe Mutombo, Sixers coaches, and other staffers stood nearby. "For a long time, I was the only real big name on my team. In this league, you deal with a lot of egos, jealousy - all kinds of stuff go on with different teams. I'm just proud to say that I never had to go through that with this squad that I'm with right now.
"Those are the guys that give me the ball where I need it. Those are the guys that set screens for me. They play every game like it's their last.
"I always tell them when I'm in the foxhole, I look to my left and right, I always see the same faces. Eric Snow. Aaron McKie. George Lynch. Tyrone Hill. They've just been with me through so much. Especially with everything that went on [last] summer, they didn't care about anything but the agenda at hand. "
Yesterday, the agenda was the presentation of an award the 25-year-old superstar had waited for all his young life. It was an event, and treated as such.
Sixers minority owner Ed Snider was there with other officials from Comcast-Spectacor, which owns the team. After Iverson entered, smiling like a kid in a candy store, Brown sat on his lap, as the coach had promised to a week earlier, when McKie won the league's Sixth Man Award.
Iverson's coach at Georgetown, John Thompson, spoke eloquently and with pride about his former pupil. So did Moses Malone, the last Sixer to win league MVP honors (in the 1982-83 season).
A video accompanied by Tina Turner's song "Simply the Best" showed some of Iverson's stellar performances, including his 46-point explosion against Sacramento and his mid-air catch-and-shoot baseline shot in February's All-Star Game. Afterward, he received a standing ovation.
Averaging 31.1 points, Iverson ended the regular season as the NBA's scoring champion for the second time in three years. He also led the league in steals per game (2.51) and minutes played per game (42.0), and was the first player since Michael Jordan in 1992-93 to lead the league in points and steals per game.
He did all that despite suffering a multitude of injuries, including a severe hip bruise earlier in the year. With the Sixers plagued by numerous injuries, Iverson continuously carried the team. He and his teammates got off to a franchise-record 10-0 start, put together a 13-game road winning streak, and won their first Atlantic Division title in more than a decade.
"I'm extremely proud of everything that he did this year, and I think this is an award that is very much deserved," said Thompson, who relayed his congratulations in a video. "And I'm really, really glad that those people who voted for him can appreciate and see the things that he did this year, because that young man has come a very, very long way and had a very difficult path.
"I think he's a perfect example of what courage and determination can achieve. Some of you will never know what he has overcome in order to place himself in this position. "
Rewind to last summer, and it's not too difficult to surmise.
Iverson, primarily because of his tardiness and Brown's propensity to publicize it, was not getting along with the Sixers' coach. As a result, the Sixers were looking to ship him out of town. They nearly succeeded in a deal with the Detroit Pistons, until Matt Geiger nixed it by refusing to waive a 15 percent salary escalation clause in his contract that would have made the trade feasible.
So Iverson returned, determined to remain in Philadelphia and reestablish himself as an untouchable commodity in the organization. It appears he has been successful.
"I wanted the same relationship with [Brown] like Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan had," Iverson said, initially evoking laughter because he said pop star Michael Jackson's name instead of the Lakers' head coach. "It might not be the same relationship, but it might be better at this point. Now I can look in his eyes and he can look in my eyes and see the same thing. We've got the same agenda on our mind. "
Brown gave the credit to his star player.
"He's made all the changes. He was the one that decided to be the best teammate, to be the best player, to carry us on his back and give us a chance to win a championship," he said. "This award speaks about that. And I'm really grateful for the opportunity to coach Allen; I never thought I'd say that. "
Then Brown got serious as he looked at Iverson.
"I'm so proud of what you've done," he said. "I don't think it really hit home until I heard Coach Thompson say what you've had to overcome to win this award. And how proud your teammates are of you. It's an incredible thing. And just to hear what you say about your friends, that just tells a little about who you are. I'm proud of you. "