It’s one of the most famous interviews in history.
Today marks the ten year anniversary of The Answer’s famous rant, and with it marks one of the most misunderstood moments in basketball history.
Allen Iverson’s Misunderstood Moment
Iverson was one of the most vilified players in the game at that point. Of course, the juxtaposition of his clean cut coach who seemingly stood against everything that AI represented made Iverson come across even worse.
Larry Brown knew how to talk to the media. Iverson didn’t.
Larry Brown had a way with words. Iverson didn’t.
Iverson repeated the word “practice” ad nauseum during a minute and a half of barely understandable English. Larry Brown quipped that he said “practice” more times than he had actually attended it that season.
Quite simply, Iverson looked the fool.
His haters had the perfect sound byte to ridicule him with. For the last ten years, simply imitating him while saying “practice” has earned an easy laugh in any friendship that appreciates sports.
But here’s the thing: if you cut through all the external nonsense and Iverson’s lack of political eloquence, he was actually RIGHT.
Iverson answered the insinuation, not the actual question…and it cost him dearly.
Here was the actual question that the reporter asked ten years ago:
Could you be clear about your practicing habits since we can’t see you practice?
Of course, anyone with an IQ above 60 can easily see what the insinuation was: Coach says you are slacking off and missing practice. Why aren’t you going to practice? You are being paid to play basketball…shouldn’t we see you at practice?
Now think hard.
Think real hard.
Did you ever once see Allen Iverson slack off during a real game? Did you ever once see Iverson “dog” it on offense or defense? Had Allen Iverson ever given you one reason to doubt his heart on the basketball court?
I have personally seen a lot of great NBA players in person. Not one of them, not Reggie Miller, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, or anyone else was as hard of a worker as Allen Iverson.
The guy was smaller than everyone else, but he relentlessly attacked the basket, injuries be damned.
The only thing more comical than his injury list was his lack of good teammates. Because of Allen Iverson, a team whose second and third best players were a washed up Dikembe Mutombo and Aaron McKie made the NBA Finals.
Seriously. Look at this team. That’s an Allen Iverson injury away from battling the 2012 Charlotte Bobcats for the title of Worst Team of All Time.
To Iverson, it truly was all about the game. Not practice.
Iverson’s Reputation, Legacy Unfairly Tarnished
How many times have we let other guys miss practice?
When Tom Brady and Brett Favre miss practice all week, and then “heroically” tough it out for the game, we praise them profusely.
When Kobe Bryant and Derrick Rose fight through injuries, we call them warriors. I never once remember hearing anyone criticize them for missing practice.
That’s all that was going through Iverson’s mind that day. The question he was trying to ask (but failed) was simple: ”Have I ever dogged it during a game?”
There are a lot of justifiable reasons that you might have to hate on Allen Iverson.
Maybe you weren’t a fan of him as a person. The struggles in his personal life have been well-documented, and he might be the most notorious partier in NBA history.
You also might dislike how he played the game. Maybe you think he was a ballhog. Maybe you think he was selfish. (Although, I would ask you to look at that roster again and tell me who you think should have been shooting the ball.)
But hating on the guy for missing practice? Come on.
From 1996 to 2004, Iverson averaged 41.4 minutes per game. Nobody else averaged more than 40. During the 2002 season (the season of the famous press conference), The Answer played an astonishing 43.7 minutes a night. This occurred during a season in which he missed 22 games due to injury.
In 1999, after missing ten games with a broken thumb, he tried to speed through his recovery by taking off the cast himself. Another time, before a game in New York, the 76ers equipment manager tried to hide his jersey to keep AI from playing. Undaunted, Iverson was found in the NBA store buying his own jersey to play in before his team kept him from suiting up. In 2004, he broke the thumb on his shooting hand and sprained some ligaments. AI didn’t miss a single game.
Oh, the tragedy that is Allen Iverson’s legacy.
According to several figures in the sporting industry, Iverson is one of the most self-aware men in sports. Ironically, the world will remember Iverson for something that is tragically false about him.
On May 7, 2002, Iverson was fighting against a lot of judgments. He knew that.
Many people would never like his tattoos.
Just as many hated his cornrows.
Most fans thought he was a selfish ballhog.
Others hated the swagger with which he played.
But the one thing he thought he would always have, and that he hoped people would always respect him for was his heart. He played the game hard.
Iverson didn’t care if we liked him. He just wanted our respect.
Unfortunately, because of one reporter’s words and Iverson’s poor response, he lost that as well.