Fifteen years ago, a little man reached the mountaintop.
On June 6, 2001, Allen Iverson netted 48 points—along with five rebounds, six assists, and five steals—in a huge Game 1 upset over the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. With a 107-101 victory, and on a night when Shaquille O'Neal had 44 and 20 at home, the Philadelphia 76ers ended the Lakers' 19-game winning streak while keeping their own "Fo' Fo' Fo'" 1983 forefathers from becoming a footnote. The game is best remembered, however, for a singular overtime play that in so many ways epitomizes Iverson's career.
Clinging to a two-point lead with just under a minute to go, Iverson had the ball in his hands on the baseline, the Staples Center going bananas. He was being smothered by Tyronn Lue, a little-used reserve who had been AI's doppelgänger at Lakers practices leading up to the Finals. On a wing and a prayer, Phil Jackson inserted Lue in the third quarter after Iverson torched Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher for 30 in the first half. What's oft overlooked is that Lue played fantastic defense on AI, holding him to three measly points through the end of regulation.
Then came overtime. Iverson reasserted himself, scoring seven of the Sixers' 13 points, and his last bucket lives on forever in NBA lore. The ball held high, the jab step, the crossover, the fall away, the 16-foot swish, and the most Iverson moment of Iverson's career: the take-no-prisoners step-over. The MVP marching to his hoops Valhalla.
The Lue play was the zenith of Iverson's NBA life. The 76ers would go on to lose 4-1; AI would never even reach another Conference Finals.
Iverson's career was both storied and checkered, but his legacy is secure. On September 9, the Answer will be officially inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. VICE Sports spoke to ten notable Philadelphians about the biggest moment in Allen Iverson's remarkable run.
Pat Croce, 61, former 76ers president and minority owner, restaurateur, salooner, pirate scholar: That year was remarkable. In the off-season, Larry Brown wanted to trade Allen Iverson to Detroit, but Matt Geiger wouldn't wave his trade kicker. Thank God. Allen promised he would show up and work hard in practice, and I told Larry he'd be fine. Allen did everything he said he'd do, so Larry built that team around Bubbachuck. We started out 10-0. By season's end we had the MVP, Defensive Player of the Year in Dikembe Mutombo, and Sixth Man in Aaron McKie. The stars aligned, but our playoff run wasn't easy. We lost the first game to Indiana; won by one point in Game 7 against Toronto, in that sick outrageous series where Iverson and Vince Carter traded off 40-plus-point games; then, again, we went seven against Milwaukee, and Allen even missed a game with an injury.
So, we weren't the Lakers, but I still didn't expect us to lose. I truly thought we could win in seven because all the pressure would be on LA. It was David vs. Goliath, black and blue vs. glamour and glitz. Game 1, I was behind the Sixers bench, maybe ten rows up, with my family and crew. Everyone around knew who I was, a basketball fan who hit the lottery. When AI hit that shot over Lue, I remember jumping out of my seat screaming and pointing directly at Sharon Stone.
People love to sling mud at Iverson, but they don't know him. In five years with Allen, I never once heard him say anything negative or belittle anyone, never blamed a loss on a teammate, never talked shit on the court, in pre- or post-game. Sure, I had to take him out of a game for missing a shoot-around in Boston—Larry wouldn't deal with it—and Allen would get pissed off for a few hours, but he knew it was his fault. He was a son, friend, employee, and little brother all rolled into one. Our relationship was based on mutual respect.
On court, Bubbachuck was a stone-cold killer. I know when he stepped over Lue, he was really stepping over the NBA, a league that gave him shit for his tattoos, cornrows, baggy clothes, whatever. It was like that Grateful Dead "Keep On Truckin'" sticker, Allen stepping out and doing his thing. You can't hold him down. We don't talk often—he's always changing his cell phone—but I texted him when he made the Hall of Fame, said I was proud. Within an hour, he got back to me: "Never Could've Done It Without You!!!!!!" He could've just said thanks. I'll be in Springfield. I love the guy.
DJ Jazzy Jeff, 51, hip-hop legend, world traveler, Uncle Phil tormentor: For 2000-01, I had season tickets. Will bought a block of four seats on the floor, which was split between myself, his mom, and his dad. That year, you knew something was different. The Sixers clicked from the jump. Iverson and Marbury went crazy at the All-Star Game, they traded for Dikembe Mutombo, and it took off. Philadelphia went crazy.
The Sixers were kings of East, but we all knew what Shaq and Kobe were capable of. Deep down, did I think we could beat them? I wouldn't say no, because of Iverson. Will was in L.A. at the first game, and he was saying people showed up with brooms. When you're Philly through and through, you felt disrespected. The step-over on Lue felt different to me, because I knew the level of disrespect people had, to bring a broom to the arena to say we're getting swept out? We have Allen Iverson, show a little more respect than that. Nobody on the Lakers took the hard fouls and hits Iverson did. After he crossed over Lue and hit that shot, there are so many things Allen could have done and it wouldn't have had the same impact. Like if he stood there five seconds longer. The little glance made it even more of an arrogant step-over, a Sixers exclamation point.
I became friends with Allen over the years. One of the first nights he was in town, he came into a club, walked right over, and shook my hand. I've played Allen's birthday parties and he's been to a bunch of my shows. When he came back to the Sixers, he gave me a hug before the game. He marched to his own beat.
Everyone knows about the NBA changing its dress code, but what they might not know is before Allen got town, everyone had to be dressed up at the Philly club. You had to wear shoes, not sneakers. The whole town had a dress code. One of the big spots had a "Dress Down Thursday," just so Iverson could bring his twenty guys in Tims and T-shirts. Within a few weeks, every club dropped its dress code. He about turned a T.G.I.Friday's on City Line Avenue into a club—a thousand people would show up if he was hanging out. Those were good times.
The Sixers having the first pick is deja vu. I can't believe it's been twenty years since we drafted Allen Iverson. He came to Philadelphia and is now an adopted son. We stunk and he brought hope, which is where we're at right now. The funny thing about getting older, I was at Allen's draft party and his retirement party. I saw him come in and saw him come out... Wow. That's deep.
Marc Lamont Hill, 37, professor of African American Studies at Morehouse College, CNN political commentator: The quote that best sums up Iverson is from Larry Platt's book: "He's Tupac with a jump shot." That's who he is. He was edgy, controversial, a bad boy, hip-hop on the basketball court, but also the most accessible athlete of my lifetime. And not just because he hung out at T.G.I.Friday's. He's 5'11" and skinny; you felt like you could do what he could do. Of course, we couldn't. He was faster baseline to baseline than anyone who ever played, and his pain threshold was extraordinary, but he had a regular person's body.
Iverson went into the Staples Center and played with more heart than anyone else in the building. His will was stronger. Leading up to the Finals, Phil Jackson had Tyronn Lue mimicking Iverson in practice, because he was the one guy in the NBA who could somewhat keep up with him.
People forget Iverson wasn't a big trash-talker. He wasn't Gary Payton. If you got on him, he'd clap back, but he let his effortlessly cool game do the talking. When he stepped over Lue, he was saying, "What did you try and put in front of me? This is my court."
It's crazy that was fifteen years ago. Allen Iverson seems forever young. A lot of years have passed, but that play is still fresh in my mind.
Peter Capolino, 71, founder of Mitchell & Ness Nostalgia Co.: I'd say the hip-hop community had the most influence, but as far as athletes go, Allen Iverson was the best representative we had, an informal ambassador all over the world. He embraced everything we did, not just basketball but football, baseball, and, well, not much hockey. I used to sit at games next to his mother; Ann and I became close friends. We made all of her "Sixers Mom" jerseys.
Our attire was part of a big change in the NBA. Iverson was the force for David Stern mandating coats and ties on the bench. The commissioner didn't like it when Iverson wore our Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Bucks jersey on the bench, and a lot of Philly fans—not me, of course—didn't appreciate him sporting a Bill Russell Celtics throwback after a game in Denver.
I was at the game where Allen crossed Michael Jordan, sitting right on the sideline when he made MJ look silly. I think that shot gave him cache that no other NBA player had. It kickstarted his career, and then the Lue crossover was when he reached the pinnacle. When he hit the [shot] and the Sixers beat the Lakers, the mighty Lakers, at home? It was a total shock. I loved it. Easily the highlight of the year, of Iverson's career. And of the fifteen seasons since.
Chris Webber, 43, NBA on TNT analyst, five-time All-Star, former 76ers teammate: I was a big AI fan before we ever played together. He was incredible. The Lakers were huge favorites; the Sixers shouldn't have even been there, to be honest. The talent on Iverson's team as compared to other teams in the league? He was the only one that team who could score. He was a Steph Curry type without a Klay Thompson or a Draymond Green. No disrespect, but that Sixers team was all defense. What Iverson did in Game 1, especially after hitting the [shot] and stepping over Lue, gave fans hope it was going to be a crazy series—it's not going to be a sweep, AI is gonna' go off, this is what we all wanted, and who knows what could happen...
I respected that moment, but I respected it so much more after I got to play with Iverson. Watching him throw his body out there night in and night out. You could take stuff away for him, but there were a lot of nuances to AI's game that I didn't recognize until we were teammates. I was in awe. I never played with anyone who left it all on the court like he did. Every. Single. Game. Controversial or not, I hope fans remember that you have to include Allen Iverson in the conversation of best point guards of all time. You have to.
Edwin Moses, 60, two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 400m hurdles, chairman of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, chair of the USADA board of directors: I lived in Philadelphia in '74-75. I was an engineering intern at Lukens Steel Co. in Coatesville, and I trained at Franklin Field. This was two and a half years before I convinced myself I could be a world-class athlete. I was basically a high school hurdler with one year of college eligibility behind me. Franklin Field was an iconic facility and I loved walking into a giant stadium every day.
In 1976, I ran at the Penn Relays—my first really big meet, to be honest—and that's when everything started to happen: the Bicentennial, the same year Dr. J joined the Sixers. So I've always had affection for the city of Philadelphia. I followed the Sixers, Celtics, Lakers, Bucks, Pistons—all the big dogs—throughout the 1980s. When you're young, everything is more real. I travel all the time, so I miss a lot of the sports I used to follow closely, but I remember that Iverson play.
It was a heck of a move, one hell of a crossover when crossovers were becoming a real part of the game. Iverson was feeling his oats and no one could've defended it. The direct route he took down the court, stepping over Lue, it was such a bad-ass move. I thought it was fantastic. His step-over was efficient and used minimal effort. That's the key. There was a guy I used to compete against from Auburn, James Walker, who was maybe 5'8" who was running the 400 in close to 48 seconds flat. He was small, but a great hurdler. Size doesn't really matter—the hurdles are only 36 inches, so it's not like you have to leap into the air. The objective is to project yourself in a horizontal position with the least amount of verticality. There's guys at AI's size running world-class. With his speed, Iverson probably could've been a great hurdler.
Robert DeVitis, 54, a.k.a. "the Young & Witty Ben Franklin": Allen Iverson was a breath of fresh air for Philadelphia. It just always seemed like he was playing twice as hard as anyone else. One of Benjamin Franklin's famous sayings is "Energy and persistence conquer all things." Who represents that better than Allen Iverson? I think if he and Franklin sat down for a beer together, they'd have a lot to talk about. Franklin came to Philadelphia from nothing at 16 and made himself into something. What gave Franklin his drive was to outwork everybody and to keep pursuing his passions when others weren't. All of Franklin's inventions and endeavors were never about him; they were for the communal good. In the same way, Iverson played basketball for the fans of the Philadelphia 76ers.
The team is named for the year 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia. To put it in Colonial terms, when Iverson stopped over Lue he was making a statement: "Don't tread on me."
Dell-P, 33, hip-hop artist (latest album: To the Moon and Beyond, featuring "Justice or Else"): The only two Philadelphia games that stand out to me are when the Eagles scored on DeSean Jackson's punt return to beat the Giants, and that one. We haven't had many.
I remember Iverson hitting that jumper and beating the Lakers vividly. We were celebrating in West Philly like we won the damn championship. Iverson stepping over Lue was like a subliminal message to us. Let Jordan and Kobe wear the suits, Iverson was straight from the 'hood with do-rags and chains, and he played a unique of ball. I know he's from Virginia, but he brought a lot of pride to Philadelphia, made it his home. He's still a huge figure here, I saw him at a nightclub a few weeks ago, everyone crowding around him like it was his MVP season. A legend. Back in the day, everybody had an Iverson rhyme. I don't even remember what punch line I had for the Answer.
Growing up, my favorites were Run-DMC, A Tribe Called Quest, Biggie, Nas, and, of course, Black Thought from our hometown Roots. They inspired me and so did Allen Iverson. The type of hip-hop I'm doing is not really the popular choice—I'm not glorifying drug use and violence—but Iverson lets you know being yourself wins. That's how I am with the music. I don't sell myself short to fit in the industry. I'm totally opposite of what they want. Funny thing is, people come to my music because I make it for myself. It's highly appreciated by a lot of true hip-hop fans. Just like AI standing over Tyronn Lue, that's me looking at the naysayers. I am winning doing what I do.
Phillip Atiba Goff, 38, president of the Center for Policing Equity, Franklin A. Thomas Professor of Policing Equity at John Jay College: Besides being one of the greatest one-on-one players of all time, Allen Iverson is the most culturally influential basketball player since Julius Erving. In the way Dr. J was so cool with his blackness, with the sexy Afro, AI brought hip-hop to the league. There weren't do-rags in the NBA. He wore a skullcap to pick up his Rookie of the Year award. It scared David Stern, which is why you'll never see footage of Iverson accepting the trophy.
People wanted to be like Mike on the court; people wanted to be like Allen everywhere. He broke all the rules and made the game better, but he still didn't get the credit he deserved. They said he shoots too much, but when he distributed the ball, he didn't shoot enough. Even when he won, he lost. A lot of black people feel that way. His successes felt like our successes like no other athlete. You could see the emotion on his face. AI was truly his authentic self, which is in itself an act of political rebellion in black America. The NBA made a lot of money off of Allen Iverson, part of a long history of exploiting what black people are up to, and they thanked him by instituting a dress code.
In 2001, I was at an academic conference filled with terrible people—and by that, I mean Lakers fans—and they were all about how the Sixers were a one-man team and we weren't going to win a single game. The whole time he covered Iverson, Lue was grabbing, clutching, holding him. AI couldn't get a decent shot off. In overtime, he said enough was enough and took it to another gear. The shot and step-over on Lue was the most gangsta thing I've ever seen in a sports context. There are kids today copying that move out on the blacktop who weren't even alive to see it happen.
On my website, it says that I hope to one day teach a course on the intersections of Allen Iverson, Prince, and Sonia Sanchez. I'm joking, but I am totally serious about how those three brought their whole selves, and their passion, to a public space and made the world more possible and beautiful. Only one is an athlete. Professional athlete, I should say. Prince could ball, but not like Allen Iverson.
Tzvi Twersky, 28, head of basketball at Stance, Slam editor and writer: I interviewed Allen when he came back from his stint in Turkey. It was such a great moment for a Philly kid. He took a shine to me and we've been working together ever since. We signed him to Stance, and the dude is a real artist. If he didn't play basketball, he could have been a cartoonist. He designed socks based on his tattoos that are coming out when he goes into the Hall of Fame. Iverson's socks are impossible to find, they always sell out. They're unique. On his cartoon sock, we came up with technology so that AI's braids are fuzzy. His picture sock is different, too. On the picture socks, we put the shine on the player—everyone else is Photoshopped out. Except for Iverson. It's a shot of him hitting that bucket. We had to keep Lue on the sock.
I was in eighth grade when the Sixers went to the Finals. No team captured the city's imagination like that squad. It didn't matter if you were black, white, suburban, from North Philly, West Philly.... Some store was giving out flags for car windows and they were everywhere.
The Lue play was quintessential Philadelphia. The Sixers were huge underdogs to begin with and they were banged up. Iverson was boxed into a corner, he hits that shot and then steps over this motherfucker? He looks down at Lue in disgust. "Welcome to my world. We're here and we're going to enjoy it." It's that Rocky mentality come to life. Like everyone else in Philly, I went out and reenacted that play dozens of times that week.
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