The building shook. That's what I remember most about Allen Iverson. Beyond the iffy shot selection and the cultural implications of becoming the NBA's resident superstar anarchist, Iverson made the damn building shake.
He would get the ball on the left wing, or more likely bring it up his own self, and rock his dribble back and forth a few times. That brought the crowd to attention because they knew as well as the poor bastard guarding him that something was about to happen. Iverson would shake a few times -- the signal that the crossover was coming -- and then he'd lay it on everyone: his man, his team, the Philly crowd.
Sometimes he'd attack the basket with so much ferocity and be met with so much resistant force that we'd wonder if he'd ever get back up again, even though he always did. Other times he'd pop that jumper, usually with his man somewhere between a step too late or face-down Ty Lue.
That's when the building would start to tremble. When Iverson really had it going like he did during the 2001 playoffs, the place would sway to his beat, building to an unholy crescendo of noise that came crashing down on whoever was supposed to be guarding Iverson. He'd play to it, of course, cupping his ear and flexing just a bit. But Iverson didn't need much help in those days getting the fans on his side.
Sure, there were some who didn't care for the act and all the baggage that came with it. They'd burn up WIP until the early morning hours complaining about this or that. But not in the building. These were his people and the building belonged to him.
I've covered better teams and better players. I've heard all kinds of insane playoff crowds from Boston to Los Angeles, but I've never heard anything like the sound Allen Iverson made when he made the building shake.
It didn't last. It couldn't, really. For about three years, the Sixers surrounded him complementary talents that were much greater than the sum of their average parts. George Lynch, Theo Ratliff, Aaron McKie and Eric Snow all knew the deal. Their job was to play defense and not complain about all those missed jumpers and skipped practices.
It worked because those players were as selfless as NBA players could be and because Larry Brown was a coaching genius. The Sixers tried unsuccessfully to pair Iverson with a secondary star and a different coach and none of it ever took. That was the time and after it was over it could never be the same.
It also worked because Iverson had no shame. He'd keep firing away until there was nothing left. It's already lost to the grainy history of YouTube videos, but his battle with Vince Carter in the 2001 playoffs was as a good as any that came before it, or after. That lack of a conscience was one of his better qualities. Until it wasn't.
"I play every game like it's my last," he'd rasp, and unlike so many others who have uttered some variation on that theme he actually meant it. This was perhaps his most underrated skill, but in the end it did him in as much as his refusal to alter his game for a role more in line with his talent later on in his career.
Iverson was a brilliant, albeit flawed anti-hero as our own David J. Roth wrote about here. He was the beginning of the argument about advanced stats and inefficient scorers, an argument that seems rather pedantic; like judging the "Let It Bleed" era Stones strictly on their musical chops.
What I'll remember most is that Iverson made the building shake. And for a brief period of time, there was nothing like it anywhere in sports.