September 30, 2019
Ask almost anyone under 40 whether Allen Iverson is a top 50 all-time NBA player, and they would probably look at you like you're crazy for questioning it.
Even with a sound methodology and a full review of the history of the NBA, any and every player ranking is ultimately going to have a high degree of subjectivity.
Late last week, Bleacher Report's Andy Bailey published his list of the Top 50 NBA players of all time. The ranking's analytics-heavy approach rubbed many the wrong way, not least because it omitted players such as Iverson, Chauncey Billups, Vince Carter and Alonzo Mourning.
All of those players — and more than a dozen others — were given honorable mentions on the list as a show of respect.
The most notable shocker was Kobe Bryant's placement outside the top 10 (he was No. 14) while Stephen Curry came in at No. 10. There were also debates about other household names who lost the "eye test over numbers" consideration, as Bailey called it in his piece.
Iverson is a seemingly obvious "eye test" guy, even if statistical arguments could and should be made to put him toward the back end of such a list. In an Instagram post on Sunday, Iverson lamented the fact that he didn't make the cut. He also questioned Kobe Bryant's placement.
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I was discouraged when I seen that @kobebryant wasn’t top 10 on the all time on this @bleacherreport list and I’m not even on it. What’s the criteria?? Is it based on stats, cultural influence, a personal preference, or what because it can’t be about basketball.... How’s a MVP, 11x All Star, 2x All Star MVP, 7x All NBA, Rookie of the Year, 3x Steals leader, 4x Scoring Champ, 76x 40 point game scorer, 11x 50 point game scorer, a career high 60 point game, career scoring average of 26.7, 2nd leader in playoff ppg average not on this list???? It has to be something else because I don’t understand it. Name me 49 nba players that has this on their resume??? LOL #HelpMeMakeItMakeSense!!!
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After a weekend of backlash, Bailey discussed the controversial list at length Monday on his "Hardwood Knocks" podcast with Dan Favale.
"I had multiple people tell me to kill myself," Bailey said of Twitter's response to the list.
The podcast reviews Bailey's methodology and how he reached his decisions on particular player comparisons that have caused a stir among NBA fans. Bailey also discusses how certain groupings in the list can all be seen as variable and subject to argument within a range of five players.
"People's personal opinions are far more important to them — almost frighteningly important to them — than evidence is," Bailey said "It's very, very strange."
Toward the end of the podcast, Bailey was asked specifically about players who were omitted that he had a hard time keeping out. Iverson — whose Instagram post Bailey saw — was first among them.
I knew people were going to be mad about that. I think in his case, it's pretty understandable. His peak — for his ten-year peak — he was comfortably below average in true shooting percentage. And that was big to me. But he had a different sort of offensive responsibility than a lot of guys on this list. I think he's still, over the course of that ten-year stretch, I think he was the leading scorer in the league. That's huge. He's got a lot of accolades, as he pointed out on Instagram when responding to this list. He was a hard one to keep off.
Bailey added that despite Iverson's gift for stealing the ball, his size made him subject to bullying as a defender.
It's fairly clear that cultural significance and league influence were among the least important factors Bailey considered when putting together his list. While it shouldn't be enough on its own to elevate Iverson, he undoubtedly would have made it had it been given greater weight.
At least A.I. got the explanation he was looking for when he took his disappointment to social media. No one would seriously diminish his place among the best and most important to ever play the game.