There have been many memorable moments in Philadelphia sports history over the years. The Phillies winning the World Series. 4th and 26. The Stepover. The Flyers coming back from three games down to beat the Boston Bruins.
But few events made more of an impression and defined a player more than the infamous practice rant that Allen Iverson gave 13 years ago this week.
For those that may not remember, it was 2002 and the Sixers had just been eliminated from the NBA playoffs by the Boston Celtics. Trade rumors were swirling around the Sixers All-Star guard and head coach Larry Brown was making public comments about Iverson’s lack of work ethic and habit of missing team practices. The press conference was supposed to be about a meeting the two had to work things out and Iverson’s commitment to staying with the franchise. Instead, it became this:
It was a moment in time that followed Iverson for the rest of his career and he never quite lived down. Why would one press conference come to define Iverson more than his accomplishments on the court? Because one is directly related to the other and the irony of the whole thing still makes some Sixers fans laugh.
There was no question that Allen Iverson was a singular talent on the basketball court. He finished his illustrious career averaging 26.7 points, 6.2 assists and 3.7 rebounds a game, which is not bad for a player who was barley six feet tall and had only marginal talent around him most of the time. The Sixers trip to the NBA Finals in 2001 was all because of Iverson as he practically willed the team there.
The problem was that he could have been even better.
Iverson had one of the truly great basketball coaches of all time in Larry Brown. He had a natural skill set that you can’t teach and the ability to make the players around him better. All Iverson had to do was apply himself, watch film and, yes, practice. Which he couldn’t be bothered to do, for reasons that are now etched in everyone’s memory for all time.
When you think how amazing Iverson could have been, how he could have taken his game to another level, it can frustrate and even anger his most passionate fans. But that was Allen Iverson. That was the player the fans loved and every kid who played basketball in the playground wanted to be. The practice rant in a way showed everyone the qualities that made Iverson the player he was while at the same time showing why he would never be in the same class as Michael Jordan, Larry Bird or Julius Erving.
In Philly sports history, there have been plenty of memorable as well as notorious moments that will live on well past all of us. Iverson and the practice rant will inevitably be mentioned any time a couple of Sixers fans get together for a beer or the team is seen on national television. For the 76ers, it is their “throwing snowballs at Santa” moment.
But come on, we’re talking about practice…