Who is the Most Influential NBA Player Ever?



SIXR JUNE 6, 2001 — NBA FINALS GAME 1 –76ERS AT LAKERS –Sixers Allen Iverson steps over a Tyronn Lue, who fell attempting to guard Iverson, after draining a three point shot from the corner to put the Sixers up 103-99 with 39.2 seconds left. Iverson hit two three pointers in the closing minutes of overtime and scored 48 points in leading the Sixers to a 107-101 upset victory. PHOTO BY JERRY LODRIGUSS

Amir Clato-Day, Sports Editor

ESPN recently put together a list of the top 100 most influential NBA players of all time. The list of players “who have done the most to change the way we play the game, how we talk about the game, and the culture of basketball,” was created based on votes from various ESPN NBA personalities.

The majority of names in the top 10 were obvious – MJ, LeBron, Stephen Curry, Magic Johnson, etc. Virtually none of the rankings were neither incredibly baffling nor downright ridiculous.

That is, except for one:

“13. Allen Iverson”

The fact that this group of NBA TV and radio personalities, writers and editors placed Iverson outside of the top 3, let alone the top 10, is nothing but offensive and severely discredits the heavy influence Allen Iverson has had on the game of basketball.

These rankings are based on influence both on and off the court and Iverson’s impact in both areas should be obvious to anyone is a fan of basketball.

Just as every youth basketball player nowadays wants to pull up several feet behind the three point line like Stephen Curry, every kid in the early-mid 2000’s wanted to be able to do AI’s signature Iverson crossover.

Even “The Professor”, an internationally famous street ball player who many consider to be the best ball handler in the world has talked about how he always tried to do the Iverson crossover because of how popular it was when he was a kid.

These words from The Professor also show how Iverson brought the AND1 streetball culture to the NBA. Sure, there were great ball handlers before him, but AI is the player who made flashy dribble moves a popular thing.

Iverson’s incredible ball handling is just one of the reasons why he is widely considered, pound-for-pound the greatest basketball player of all time. The confidence and swagger he played with was unlike anything we’ve seen before.

One could argue that Iverson was the first “small” player who could single handily take over games. Just look at the team he took to the 2001 NBA Finals. Iverson was forced to take on Shaq and Kobe with a supporting cast that was virtually non-existent. The 76ers only win in the series was mostly thanks to AI’s 48 point performance.

The “killers” at the point guard position today – Kyrie, Damian Lillard, Kemba Walker, etc. – all exhibit confidence, swag and fearlessness. AI was the first player of his stature to display these qualities at a high level.

Speaking about Iverson, Chris Paul said, “I just loved the grit that he played with. He always played with a chip on his shoulder. I feel like I sort of do the same.”

Even with this all in mind, it wouldn’t be so crazy to say that Iverson’s cultural impact is even larger than his impact on the court.

The hip hop and rap culture heavily associated with the NBA today was introduced to the league by Allen Iverson. The cornrows? The tattoos? In-game accessories? “Thuggish” dress?

All thanks to Iverson.

LeBron James even said in an Instagram post after AI got his jersey retired that Iverson is “the reason why [James] got tattoos, wore a headband and arm sleeve.”

Because of AI, so many people in the basketball world during the early-mid 2000’s, ranging from kids to players, wore cornrows, jewelry and the baggy clothing that AI wore as opposed to more “professional” attire.

Allen Iverson influenced the off-court dress of NBA players so much that during the 2005-06 season, commissioner David Stern issued what some called the “AI rule” which was a mandatory dress code. It was considered by many as a direct response to Iverson.

The rap culture Iverson brought to the NBA was something that the league had never seen at the time. Thanks to Iverson, the association between the rap game and basketball is incredibly strong.

From Drake’s partnership with the Toronto Raptors to ESPN using the the hottest rap songs in their NBA promos to the most popular rappers referencing the best NBA players in their songs, the overlap between hip hop culture and basketball is clear.

The source of all of this is one person and that is Allen Iverson.

It is obvious how influential of a player Allen Iverson was. He has had a tremendous impact on the game of basketball itself and the culture surrounding it.

As SWHS History teacher Mark D’Amato said, “he was the Steph Curry of the early-mid 2000’s with a greater cultural impact on and off the court.”

Iverson was simply a one-of-a-kind player. Both his unique confidence and tenacity as a player and his social influence on the game have been recognized time and time again by the entire basketball world.

AI once said, “I don’t wanna be Jordan, I don’t wanna be Bird or Isaiah, I don’t wanna be any of those guys. I wanna look in the mirror and say I did it my way.”

And he did just that.