June 23, 2016
Earlier this year, former Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson was selected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in his first year on the ballot.
But when you hear him talk about the honor, it's not a personal one. Rather, it's one that should be shared by everyone who, according to Iverson, helped get him to that point.
“It’s a great feeling because these people right here get to walk around and say they’re Hall of Famers," Iverson said, pointing to the fans walking around the Sixers Draft Party on Eakins Oval Thursday evening. "These people — and my family, my girl, my kids — they get to stick their chest out and say they’re Hall of Famers, because, without them, it wouldn’t have happened.
"I honestly think it’s a tribute to all the people who helped that [dream] come true — and I would say the critics as well," the 41-year-old said. "If I didn’t want to prove them wrong, it wouldn’t have been possible."
"Those 20,000 people in that arena, without them, Allen Iverson is not a Hall of Famer. So they should walk around with their chest out knowing that they’re a Hall of Famer because they helped create one.”
It wasn't just his supporters that helped make Iverson the player he became. In 14 NBA seasons, The Answer averaged 26.7 PPG and 6.2 APG -- not to mention the countless other things he did on the court that didn't show up on the stat sheet.
And while he ultimately became a beloved figure in this city, he wasn't without his detractors, who also played a vital role on his path to the Hall of Fame.
"I honestly think it’s a tribute to all the people who helped that [dream] come true — and I would say the critics as well," the 41-year-old said. "If I didn’t want to prove them wrong, it wouldn’t have been possible. My family, my friends, my teammates, my coaches, the fans, all my trainers. Everybody that helped me, that helped me become a Hall of Famer. And I couldn’t have done it myself.”
But the start of Iverson's pro career will have something in common with presumed No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons. Iverson was also the first overall pick 20 years earlier. And if the realization that 1996 was 20 years ago is shocking to you, don't worry. You're not alone.
“Damn. How long ago was that?" Iverson said with a laugh. "[It doesn't feel like 20 years] at all. I just remember being nervous, you know what I mean? Knowing that I wanted to be a Sixer and knowing that I was going to be picked first, but at the same time, not actually knowing. That doubt was in my head because I’ve seen stranger things happen in my life. It was just a nervous energy, and once they called my name, I knew how it would feel to the rest of the guys that didn’t get called.”
It's anything but a given that your first-overall pick will go on to have the kind of career -- let alone impact on the game -- that Iverson had with the Sixers.
All the prospects picked by the Sixers on Thursday night will have a lot to live up to. But with the kind of legacy left behind by team's previous No. 1 pick, none will face the kind of pressure Simmons will.
“That would be excellent [if Simmons wound up being a Hall of Famer]," Iverson said. "I did an interview today, and I was just saying to feel, like Wilt Chamberlain played here. Bobby Jones, Andrew Toney, Maurice Cheeks, Doc, Charles Barkley. All these great players. And then somebody else has to come in and try their best to fill those shoes when they’re some big shoes to fill.
"And it’s not going to be anything different for Ben Simmons. You’ve got to come in here, and you’ve got some big shoes to fill, and we all want to cheer you on and hope and pray that you succeed and bring this city back to [basketball] prominence.”
It's not a stretch to say that Simmons could have a great career and still not live up the expectations that come with being the first pick. Especially when you're following in the footsteps of someone like Iverson.
Or should I say, "first-ballot Hall of Famer Allen Iverson?"
“Ah, you gave me chill bumps just saying it," The Answer added.
Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin