- The Washington Times - Monday, January 16, 2006

Maybe everyone has missed the greatness that is Allen Iverson because so much attention is paid to trivialities and minutia that ultimately morph into inconsequential news stories.

Or maybe it is because so many simply have never become comfortable with Iverson being who he is.

Who can forget his screed about practice? And who can claim they don’t notice the tattoos, cornrows, shelved rap album and the all-things hip-hop persona?

He has been mocked over and over again for, as he says, “keeping it real.”

But whether you love him or hate him, for the rest of his career — and the downside is approaching — don’t continue to view this iconic athlete the way he has been purveyed by so many curmudgeons since he first appeared on the radar as a superstar at Bethel High School in Hampton, Va.

More appropriately, accept the way history inevitably is going to look back on “The Answer” — the best little man ever to play the game.

Better than Isiah Thomas, better than Bob Cousy, better than any other player shorter than 6-foot-2 in the history of Dr. Naismith’s game.

No, Iverson, now 30, hasn’t made it easy to love him. There was the bowling alley incident that sentenced him to prison for five years before he received clemency as a teenager. There were the gun and marijuana possession charges in 1997. He pleaded no contest and was sentenced to community service.

And last but not least, there were the 2002 allegations that he threw his wife out of the house and brandished a gun, but ultimately those charges were dropped.

The chip on his shoulder has never disappeared, but maybe that’s because he is never allowed to move beyond his past.

Perhaps he sees Chicago Bulls coach Scott Skiles and wonders why the felony cocaine and misdemeanor marijuana possession charges, or the drunken driving charge a year later when he was a student at Michigan State, hardly pop up and how Skiles — who pleaded guilty to the marijuana charge to have the cocaine offense dropped — has his transgressions virtually ignored.

No one who covers the NBA can say honestly that any player gives more or plays through more pain than Iverson does. Maybe minus the cornrows and the tattoos it would be easier for some to credit an undeniable dedication to his profession.

Most likely, Iverson sees the same double standards, hence the chip.

However, what can not be ignored is his march toward greatness and the Hall of Fame, a place even his detractors must admit he will wind up in if he retired before today’s game against the Wizards (16-19).

Impossible to ignore is that his career scoring average (27.4) is the third highest in league history. A four-time scoring champ, one-time league MVP and two-time NBA All-Star Game MVP, Iverson is one of six players — Wilt Chamberlain (118), Michael Jordan (31), Elgin Baylor (17), Rick Barry (14) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (10) are the others — who has scored 50 points or more in a game 10 times.

Iverson is the only player to lead the league in steals in three consecutive seasons.

Critics say he has never won a championship — which puts him in some pretty good company — but what they won’t acknowledge is that the best players he has played alongside are Jerry Stackhouse, a past-his-prime Glenn Robinson and now a diminished Chris Webber.

This season, he’s at it again. He’s first in minutes played (43.4), second in scoring (33.7), fourth in steals (2.4) and seventh in assists (7.4). The 76ers likely will make the playoffs again, and if they do, little will be expected of them.

They are miles away from being great. The same, however, can not be said about Iverson, who will be missed dearly when his phenomenal career comes to an end.

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