What better way to break down his return than to read Bill Simmons take on his career. Taken from The Book of Basketball, Simmons ranked A.I. the 29th best player of all-time.
29. Allen IversonAs the years and decades pass, both Iverson and no. 21 on the Pyramid will be picked apart by an army of statisticians looking for various ways to undermine their careers. And that's fine. Just know that Iverson passed the Season Ticket Test every year this decade (starting with his '01 MVP season): when season tickets arrive in the mail, the recipient invariably checks the schedule, marks the certain can't-miss games and writes those dates down on a calendar. The importance of those games is measured by rivalries, superstars, incoming rookies and the "I need to see that guy" factor. That's it. From 1997 to 2007, Iverson always made my list. Always. So I don't give a crap about Iverson's win shares, his ranking among top-fifty scorers with the lowest shooting percentage or whatever. Every post-Y2K ticket to an Iverson game guaranteed a professional, first-class performance (no different from reservations at a particularly good restaurant or hotel), and for whatever reason, he was always more breathtaking in perosn. He's listed at six feet but couldn't be taller than five-foot-ten, so every time he attacked the basket, it was like watching an undersized running back ram into the line of scrimmage for five yards a pop (think Emmitt Smith). He took implausible angles on his drives (angles that couldn't be seen as they unfolded, even if you'd been watching him for ten years) and drained an obscene number of layups and floaters in traffic. He had a knack for going 9-for-24 but somehow making the two biggest shots of the game. And he played with an eff-you intensity that only KG and Kobe matched (although MJ remains the king of this category). For years and years, the most intimidating player in the league wasn't taller than Rebecca Romijn. I always thought it was interesting that Iverson averaged 28 minutes of playing time in his eight All-Star Games and played crunch time in every close one; even his temporary coaches didn't want to risk pissing him off.Iverson's career personifies how the media can negatively sway everyone's perception of a particular athlete. There was a generational twinge to the anti-Iverson sentiment, fueled by media folks in their forties, fifties and sixties who couldn't understand him and didn't seem interest in trying. Nearly all of them played up his infamous aversion to practice (overrated over the years) and atypical appearnace (the cornrows/tattoos combination) over describing the incredible thrill of watching him play in person. They weren't interested in figuring out how an alleged coach-killer who allegedly monopolized the ball, allegedly hated to practice and allegedly couldn't sublimate his game to make his teammates better doubled as one of the most revered players by his peers. (Right before Philly dealt Iverson to Denver in 2006, the ex-players on NBA Coast to Coast (Greg Anthony, Tim Legler and Jon Barry) traded Iverson war stories like they were talking about a Mayan warrior.) They glossed over the fact that he was saddled with an incompetent front office, a subpar supporting cast and a revolving door of coaches in Philly. (Iverson only played with two All-Stars in Philly: Theo Ratliff and a becoming-decrepit Dikembe Mutombo. His prime was saddled with overpaid role players (Eric Snow, Aaron McKie, Kyle Korver, Kenny Thomas, Marc Jackson, Brian Skinner, Greg Buckner, Tyrone Hill, George Lynch, Corliss Williamson), overpaid underachievers (Derrick Coleman, Keith Van Horn, Sam Dalembert, Joe Smith), overpaid and washed-up veterans (Todd MacCulloch, Toni Kukoc, Chris Webber, Glenn Robinson, Matt Geiger, Billy Owens) and underachieving lottery picks (Jerry Stackhouse, Tim Thomas, Larry Hughes.) They didn't care that he was one of the most influential African American athletes ever, a trendsetter who shoved the NBA into the hip-hop era and resonated with blacks in a way that even Jordan couldn't duplicate. They weren't so interested in one of the most fascinating, complex athletes of my lifetime: a legendary partier and devoted family man; a loyal teammate who shot too much; a featherweight who carried himself like a heavyweight; an intimidating competitor who was always the smallest guy on the court; an ex-con with a shady entourage who also ranked among the most intuitive, self-aware, articulate superstars in any sport. If I could pick any modern athlete to spend a week with in his prime for a magazine feature, I would pick Allen Iverson in a heartbeat.And yeah, his field goal percentage wasn't that good and he took too many shots. Whatever. Fifty years from now, I hope people realize that Iverson had better balance than everyone else, that he was faster and more coordinated than everyone else, that he took a superhuman pounding and kept getting up, that he was one of the all-time athletic superfreaks. We already know that he was the best high school football player in Virginia history, but he also would have been a world-class soccer player, boxer or center fielder, someone who could have picked his sport in track and competed for an Olympic spot, and while we're here, I can't fathom how much ground he could have covered on a tennis court. (Tangent that's too important for a footnote: Every time the World Cup rolls around, I always find myself thinking about which NBA players could have excelled at soccer. Iverson would have been the best soccer player ever. I think this is indisputable, actually. Deron Williams would have been a great stopper. Josh Smith could have been a unstoppable soaring above the pack to head corner kicks. And can you imagine a better goalie than LeBron? It would be like having a six-foot-nine human octopus in the net. How could anyone score on him? Couldn't we teach Bron the rudimentary aspects of playing goal, the throw him in a couple of Cleveland's MLS games? LIke you would turn the channel if this happened?) Iverson wrecked his body on and off the court and somehow kept his fastball, which shouldn't be counted as an achievement but remains amazing nonetheless. (You could fill an entire chapter with secondhand Iverson stories of the "I heard he slept with ten women in one night" and "I heard he was out drinking all night, then played a day game in Boston and scored 49" variety. By all accounts, the guy doesn't sleep. He's a vampire. Might explain why his career came to a screeching halt in 2009.) And he deserves loads of credit for dragging a mediocre Sixers team to the '01 Finals when so many other scoring machines had failed before him. Unlike Gervin, McAdoo and Dominique, Iverson played with a swagger that pushed a decent team to a whole other level. He believed they could win, he killed himself to that end, and everyone else eventually followed. Watching Game 7 of the Bullets-Spurs series from '79 and Game 7 of the Bucks-Sixers from '01, the biggest difference between Gervin and Iverson - two spectacular offensive players - was the way they carried themselves. Gervin never gave the sense that the game was life or death to him, whereas Iverson went into foxhole mode, with his ferocity lifting his teammates and energizing the crowd.