The date was June 6, 2001. Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal had just led the Los Angeles Lakers in a furious comeback to tie Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals at 94 as the fourth quarter clock expired.
Then the dynamic duo spotted LA a 99-94 lead early in the overtime period, sending the Sixers into disarray and seeming to break the hearts of nearly every Philadelphia 76ers fan watching the game from home.
But then something—or someone, to be exact—amazing happened. That someone was Allen Iverson, who hit the biggest three-pointer of his career—which capped off a 48-point night—as the Sixers rallied to win 107-101 and take a 1-0 lead against the reigning NBA champions.
Even though Philly lost the next four games, nobody will ever forget the year Allen Iverson nearly led the Sixers to the promised land. 76ers Nation has never seen anything quite that exciting since then, with constant struggles and lackluster performances leading to a continuing decline in interest and attendance.
It was Iverson’s passion, fearlessness and audacity that won him over as a player; not only did Sixers fans fall in love with the six-foot guard, but the entire NBA showed up to watch games when A.I. was in the building. He just had this aura around him that commanded attention and a certain level of respect.
Since Iverson left town, the Sixers have made numerous attempts to re-kindle the “Allen Iverson effect” (a.k.a the “Charkles Barkley effect”), some of which included drafting Andre Iguodala, signing Elton Brand and bringing back Iverson himself a couple seasons ago.
The latter two were complete failures, but people point to the branding of Iguodala as “the Other A.I.” as a slight success. He is viewed favorably around the league, they say. He made this team look respectable and dangerous when they were, in fact, a bottom-tier squad. To those folks who think you can even put Iguodala and Iverson in the same sentence, let alone use the same nickname for both, I say, “Blasphemy.”
Finding a player like Allen Iverson isn’t easy. They don’t grow on trees, and they definitely don’t come around every year when you draft in the mid-first round annually.
Free agency, alas, won’t be the solution.
Iverson was a homegrown product, drafted and developed by Larry Brown and his staff. The team’s next big superstar will have to be handled in the same manner, because as has been shown by players like Blake Griffin, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose and others, drafting and developing the right kind of player can go a long way to sparking interest.
That said, the Philadelphia 76ers are holding themselves back when it comes to revitalizing a town that was once called the “hub of American basketball.”
This team hasn’t drafted all too badly over the last several years, taking impact players like Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Nikola Vucevic, Moe Harkless and Arnett Moultrie. What they’ve been hesitant to do, however, is throw the young guys out there and see whether they’ll sink or swim, something they did with Iverson who played over 40 minutes per game in his rookie season.
Sure, none of those guys were as highly touted as Iverson, but limited playing time has stunted the growth of Evan Turner, delayed Nik Vucevic’s career basically by one season and could threaten to hurt the development of 2012 draft picks Arnett Moultrie and Maurice Harkless in the coming season. Jrue Holiday, in fact, has been the most successful of the bunch because he was given the reigns earlier than the rest.
To make a long answer short, I think the Sixers will find their next “Allen Iverson,” but whether it is next year or in a decade remains to be seen. If the front office is willing to roll the dice on one or two big-time picks starting right away, it could be sooner rather than later.
If they don’t, the Sixers will remain a barely above-average team at best and the Philadelphia fanbase might just have to wait a little longer until the Sixers become relevant once again.