Allen Iverson Is All Grown Up

By Eric Williams
Updated: April 9, 2006

PHILADELPHIA—A few weeks ago, one of my colleagues, creative paginator and computer genius, Donnell Harvey, asked me a question that made us both laugh heartily – and later – talk seriously.

Harvey asked me, “Hey Eric, when are you going to write a column giving Allen Iverson some props?”

We both burst out in laughter, because Harvey knows firsthand from laying out my columns for the past few years that Iverson hasn’t been what I would call one of my favorite basketball players in the NBA.

At any rate, I sat down with Harvey and shared a snippet of my most current feelings on Iverson, which, I promised, would be shared with the entire world when I wrote the column.

Now that I’ve gotten that long-winded diatribe out of my system, let me get down to doing what I get paid to do.

First of all, I’ve always told my children, that when they do wrong, they will get punished by me accordingly, but I also tell them that when they do well, they will most certainly be rewarded as well.

Parenting advice aside, having said that, I have to give Iverson credit for finally growing up and maturing into the person the public sees today. Constant drama has a way of making a person change (I know that lesson from firsthand experience myself, but that’s a story for another day).

At any rate, I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve ripped Iverson on more than one occasion for several of his perplexing incidents and selfish acts, but I call things like I see it – and the way I see Iverson now is the polar opposite of how I viewed him when he first came into the league as a talented but severely immature 20-year-old who thought he knew it all.

I don’t know whether the departure of Hall of Fame head coach, Larry Brown following the 2002 season, with whom Iverson had a bewildering love-hate relationship with, caused a change in Iverson’s way of thinking or whether it was some of the aforementioned personal drama or just plain, old, growing up, but Iverson has been a totally different public figure the last couple of seasons; contrasting the militant one who entered the league with a chip the size of Mount Rushmore on his shoulders.

Personally, I think it was a combination of things that caused Iverson to reevaluate his public image – but whatever the case – the new and improved Allen Iverson is as good a teammate and leader than he’s ever been.

Iverson’s newly found maturation has also been evident on the basketball court as well.

Last season, Iverson enjoyed what many basketball experts think was his best professional season ever and has been even more impressive this season.

Incredibly, Iverson, who will turn 31 in a few months, may have taken his popularity to new heights nearly a decade after his Hall of Fame bound career began.

Not only is he now loved by the same infinite number of Generation X kids and many of their parents, but he has also changed his prior perception as someone who constantly rocked the boat – whether deserved or not – in the eyes of some of the most respected names in the game.

“He has matured, absolutely, unequivocally,” Miami Heat coach Pat Riley says.

“His approach to people, to the game, is totally different,” said head coach Maurice Cheeks, who was an assistant with the Sixers when Iverson arrived in Philly as the top pick of the 1996 draft. “He’s figured out how to be successful, what he needs to do to grow and get better as a player and person.”

Even Iverson himself acknowledged in a recent interview that his maturation has helped him both on the court and off.

“It’s always been in me as a player physically, but once you make yourself a better person, it helps you become a better basketball player because you concentrate on things that better yourself.”

Iverson, like many adults who become parents at a young age, has come to realize as he’s gotten older himself, the importance of portraying a positive image that his children, who are also growing up quickly, can be proud of.

“My daughter is older and can read the paper, and she does know what’s going on. My son, as well. You don’t want to do anything to harm them or embarrass them or not be the type of role model you want to be for them. “That’s what I concentrate on now, trying to do things the right way, so I can be able to discipline them.”

Iverson’s maturation has also had a profound effect on Iverson’s game on the court. Yes, he’s still a scoring machine, but Iverson relies on his teammates more than ever and has improved at making his teammates better individual players.

The four-time NBA scoring champ is averaging a career-best 33.1 points and challenging his career best in field goal percentage, which is a sign that his shot selection has improved as well.

Iverson is also leading the league in average minutes (43.3) and free throw attempts per game (11.3) and is third in steals (2.0) and eighth in assists (7.5) — all on a team that is mediocre at best.

Iverson related his mental growth on the court and his new style of playing to one of the game’s greatest players ever.

“It’s just learning the game more,” Iverson says. “Just trying to approach it in a John Stockton-type of way, to where you don’t play so much with your physical ability all the time. You have to think the game out a lot more. That’s where I’m a lot better. I know the game a lot more. I see things before they happen a lot.”

Although I’m just getting around to writing this column, I must admit Iverson’s maturation wasn’t an overnight accident. It has been an ongoing process that the world saw firsthand at the 2004 Olympics.

Playing with several young players on the U.S. team that year, including LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, Iverson seemed to instantly realize that he was becoming one of the league’s elder statesmen and adjusted his behavior and attitude accordingly. A now modest Iverson admitted that he had some growing up to do and said that many of the problems he went through with Brown were a product of his own actions.

“Looking back on everything that happened with me and coach (Brown), 99 percent of the time it was my fault,” he said. “I see that now, definitely. Now that he’s gone, you understand you lost a lot. A lot of the bad perceptions that people had of me were because of the things I can control — and things I let get out of control. Not being mature enough to understand it back then, I went through the things I went through for all those years.”

I always say that it takes a big man to honestly admit when he’s made a mistake and to try to make amends along the way. Iverson has done that and his growth as a person and player have been nothing short of eye-opening.

The one thing I have always liked about Iverson is his openness and honesty. Although he could have obviously used a little more candor, Iverson has never been afraid to call it like he sees it, which is a sign of a strong man.

Whether you like Iverson or not, the fact is, the man has grown and changed for the better. He is finally the role model many of his critics – myself included – said that he would never become.

However, as I said, it takes a big man to admit when he’s wrong and Iverson has proven me – and a lot of other people – wrong, in a big way.

He may never be some people’s perfect role model, but that’s another thing I like about Iverson – he doesn’t live his life to please others. Whatever the case, if this is as good as Allen Iverson gets, I’ll take him on my team everyday of the week.