I was in ninth grade when Allen Iverson had his most memorable season with the Philadelphia 76ers, culminating in an NBA Finals appearance. Iverson turned 26 that year, his birthday coming a day after he gave himself the best birthday present anyone could’ve wished for: a 48-point performance that headlined a shocking Game 1 victory in those finals.
That was my third season watching the team, and I was the only one in my family who watched. So as you can imagine, their opinion of Iverson wasn’t quite the same as mine.
But his polarizing personality only added to the thrill of rooting for him. It was rebellious. It seemed as though half would appreciate his toughness, athleticism, and talent, while the other half defined him by his off-court habits that represented a maturity of about my age.
Needless to say, my parents, particularly my dad, didn’t appreciate how he was taking away time from my schoolwork.
“You think Allen freaking Iverson cares that you watch his games?” my dad would say after turning off the TV.
My parents did the best they could to enforce a rule of no 76ers during school nights, but I would sneak to the basement to catch a few minutes before I heard footsteps and turned off the TV. My excuse for being down there would always involve getting a textbook or notebook for school, and it was always something I’d place there on purpose earlier in the day. What can I say, I guess Iverson’s rebellious attitude was rubbing off on me.
But by the time the 76ers were about to make their big playoff run, my dad had eased up to the point where he was willing to buy playoff tickets to all their home playoff games. “How far could they possibly go?” he figured.
We all know what happened from there. The Sixers fell one game shy of maxing out all the possible home games they could’ve played. More importantly, after seeing Iverson fearlessly attack the basket against players as big as Shaquille O’Neal and risking injury diving for loose balls, my dad joined everyone else at the First Union Center in giving the Sixers a standing ovation, filled with chants of, “Let’s Go Sixers!” as the clock winded down in the season’s final moments.
With Allen Iverson turning 40 years old Sunday, it’s fitting how his birthday has become an annual reminder of the time he won the respect of doubters, even if it was for a short while.