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April 04, 2016

Now a Hall of Famer, Iverson reflects on teammates, toughness and even practice

Sixers NBA

HOUSTON – When he was thrilling Philadelphia basketball fans on a nightly basis, Allen Iverson wanted to push today back as far as humanly possible. The way he figured it, induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame meant that his playing days were over.

Reflecting on his action-packed 14-year NBA career on Monday morning at the Hyatt Regency in Houston, the 40-year-old former Sixers star didn’t mince words about his time being up.

“I can’t even touch the backboard [anymore], it is over,” Iverson said.

Iverson was officially announced as part of the loaded Class of 2016, along with Shaquille O’Neal, Yao Ming, Tom Izzo, Sheryl Swoopes, Jerry Reinsdorf, Zelmo Beatty, Darrell Garretson, John McLendon, and Cumberland Posey. He will be enshrined into the Hall of Fame on September 9th in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Just like Shaq, A.I. was elected on his first ballot. Seeing those two in the same room instantly brought back memories of the 2001 NBA Finals, when Iverson’s underdog Sixers pushed O’Neal’s historically great Los Angeles Lakers in a competitive five-game series.

On the 2001 team that got the most out of their talent, Iverson said that his teammates “were always in the foxhole with you.” Philadelphia has never been -- and probably won't ever be again -- more appreciative of a team that didn’t win the title.

“I’m so proud of the guys that played with me, because we knew that we gave it all we had every night,” Iverson said. “So we were cool with the fact that we couldn’t get it done, because we knew we gave everything we had and got beat by a better team.”

Iverson’s college coach John Thompson, who he acknowledged “gave him a chance at life,” was in attendance for the announcement. Larry Brown wasn’t there, but Iverson expressed regret for not taking constructive criticism from Brown sooner instead of “being a certified a**hole for nothing.” 

The bond between Iverson and Brown is both an unlikely and special one. Today, the former called the latter “the best coach ever.” The two hadn’t spoken yet this morning, but Iverson already knows how the phone call with Brown will go.

“I know that it won’t be conversation; it will just be crying,” he said.

A hugely polarizing player, Iverson’s impact goes far beyond his career 42.5 field goal percentage and 26.7 points per game. He mentioned there will always be criticism — “The ones that hate you, what do you care about what they think anyway?" — and some of it is warranted. Not for how hard he played, though. 

Despite Iverson’s small stature and constantly being banged up, his motor never stopped running. He was a warrior. Even on days when Iverson “woke up walking like Fred Sanford,” he would drive right into the teeth of opposing defenses at 100 miles per hour.

Everyone, including Iverson’s family, friends, and fans, looks at him as the little warrior. 

Except him, that is.

“I just looked at it as I was trying to win,” Iverson said. “Like, it’s not a whole bunch to it. All I was trying to do is give my teammates everything I had. So I didn’t look at like you were going ahead with the giants, this, that, and the third and trying to analyze my whole game or whatever. I was just playing basketball.”

“You put the ball in the basket and you try to stop the other team from putting the ball in the basket. I was the worst defensive player in the whole world on the ball. Away from the ball, passing lanes and all that, I was cool.”

Even if he doesn’t think much about the characterization, Iverson was as tough they come on the basketball court. Off it, he admitted that the media could get to him and hurt his feelings.

“I’m human, I hurt like you,” Iverson said. “I hurt the same way you hurt. When somebody says something about me that’s not true, that sh*t hurt.”

Iverson will always be linked to the media through one word. CSN’s Neil Hartman was there on Monday, and he helped instigate the practice rant.

While Iverson has a sense of humor about it, having one ridiculous moment brought up for the rest of your life is clearly tiring.

“I wish I could take it back because my kids tease me about it,” Iverson said. “It makes me so mad. I’m a Hall of Famer, and I could go outside today and go to a restaurant or wherever and someone will come up to me and say, ‘Practice!’"

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann