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The Answer to the NBA MVP Question IS…The Answer
NEWARK, NJ—Much of the debate regarding who should win the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award has centered around two guys: Shaquille O’Neal of the Miami Heat and Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns. Although compelling arguments can be made for both players, the most deserving player this year is Allen Iverson.
An eight year NBA veteran, Iverson has compiled a long and impressive list of professional achievements. The 1996-97 NBA Rookie of the Year Award winner, Iverson has started the last five All-Star games, won the 2001 NBA MVP Award, was named MVP of two All-Star games, and last summer was named co-captain of the US Olympic basketball squad. However, this year may be Iverson’s best season yet on several levels.
On an individual level, Iverson has simply been brilliant. In addition to averaging his usual 30+ points (30.7) per game, Iverson also averaged a career high 7.9 assists and joined Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson and Nate “Tiny” Archibald as one of only three players in NBA history to average over 30 points and 7 assists per game in a single season. Defensively, Iverson was equally brilliant, averaging 2.4 steals a game, second only to Larry Hughes of the Washington Wizards. One of the toughest guys in sports, it bears mentioning that Iverson put up those numbers while battling an assortment of injuries (e.g. right elbow contusion, right ankle sprain, left shoulder sprain, dislocated thumbs on both hands) that would have sidelined most athletes.
However, if we can put aside Iverson’s individual achievements for a moment and consider what Iverson has meant to his team, his efforts in this regard illustrate his true value. While Nash and Shaq enjoyed All-Star caliber support in the form of Amare Stoudemire and Dwayne Wade respectively, the 76ers begin and end with Iverson. Let’s face it, outside of Iverson, the 76ers have a collection of players which suggested that the only drama Philly fans would be experiencing this spring would more likely involve bouncing NBA lottery ping pong balls rather than a bouncing ball inside the Wachovia Center. Iverson spared Philly fans such a fate by single handedly refusing to allow the 76ers to fade out of the playoff picture. In fending off the surging New Jersey Nets during the month of April, Iverson led the 76ers to an 8-3 record while averaging 32.8 points, 9.1 assists, and 4.1 rebounds per game and shooting .473% from the field.
How valuable is Iverson? So valuable that Iverson is perhaps one of three players (Shaq & Tim Duncan being the others), who you could add to any team in the NBA and almost guarantee that team a playoff spot. Think about it, if you switch Iverson with New York Knicks point guard Stephon Marbury, is there any doubt that Iverson would have led New York to the playoffs? Put another way, the Knicks were 9-13 in games decided by four points or less, the Sixers were 12-7. What was the difference? Iverson.
Many of Iverson’s critics have recently begun to begrudgingly credit him with showing signs of growth and maturation. I however submit that Iverson’s apparent evolution is not so much a byproduct of Iverson’s growth – he’s just grown on us. Mainstream America has finally began to see past the cornrows, the tattoos, the game day scowl and have grown to appreciate the spectacular effort, toughness and authenticity of a 6-0 165 pound athlete who consistently dominates opponents twice his size. Hopefully, basketball writers who cast their MVP votes will show the same appreciation.