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The Legend of Allen Iverson Began 20 Years Ago Today

Every great NBA player has had that moment. The one that happens relatively early in their careers, but is nevertheless a clear indicator that there’s a Hall of Fame next couple of decades ahead of them. For example, there was LeBron’s 2nd half against the Pistons, or Dwyane Wade’s performance in Game 3-6 of the 2006 Finals. They’ve each done great things since then, but chances are if you ask any basketball person about their pre-prime signature moments, those two will be in the conversation.

Of all such moments involving Hall of Fame or Hall of Fame-bound players, Allen Iverson may be able to lay claim to the best one in NBA history. On March 12, 1997, A.I. was a wily 18-year-old rookie for the Philadelphia 76ers, having been taken with the 1st overall pick in the 1996 draft. Despite his controversial collegiate career, Iverson was highly tauted coming out of Georgetown University, and it was no secret that coming into the league, he’d trained his eye on a showdown with the day’s best living player: Michael Jordan.

Though Iverson would lead a stellar pro career of his own, in 1997, Michael Jordan wasn’t just the biggest thing in the NBA, he was the biggest thing in sports. His Bulls had just won a record 72 regular season games the season before, and in the 1996-1997 season, they’d go on to win a second consecutive title, giving Jordan his 5th career ring. Jordan and Iverson’s respective trajectories intersected at the most poetic of junctures. A.I. wanted his moment with MJ to prove that he was much more than a hyped draft pick, and Jordan was looking to diffuse the moment, do away with A.I. like the rookie he was, and continue on the path to another championship.

So in the 3rd quarter of the Bulls vs. Sixers game in Philadelphia on March 12, 1997, A.I. caught a pass at the top of the key, dribbled himself into position, and looked up to find Michael Jordan staring him down.

It was a moment that transcended that game, that night, and certainly that season. A skeptic might watch that footage and say, “Hey, Iverson’s had way better crossovers,” and they’d be correct. But this was less about the crossover, and more about the idea that in that moment, at the top of the key on the Sixers home floor, a quick match between David and Goliath broke out. And David won. And that analogy is one that sums up Iverson’s entire career.

And it’s even sweeter to discuss now that he’s officially a Hall of Famer.

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