Welcome to the Greatest Moment series at Last Word On Pro Basketball, where we’ll present to you each NBA team’s greatest moment of the 21st century. From draft lottery luck, to a franchise-changing trade, to the sweet taste of a championship, every NBA team has had its own special moment to look back on.
Greatest Philadelphia 76ers Moment of the 21st Century: Allen Iverson Steps Over Tyronn Lue
The shooting sleeve. The armband. The black 76ers jersey. The baggy shorts. And the cornrows. No one could ever forget the cornrows.
Allen Iverson marched onto the court wearing all his usual basketball attire on June 6, 2001. Just a few hours later, he sauntered back into the locker room and celebrated his Philadelphia 76ers taking a 1-0 lead in the NBA Finals. The victory, however, meant so much more than just a point in the win column. It featured the Sixers’ greatest moment of the 21st century to date.
The 2000-01 season was a special one for Iverson. Statistically, it was one of the best years of his career, as he led the league in scoring at more than 31 points per game, attempted more than 10 free throws nightly (making them at an efficient rate), and dominated the ball on a team devoid of scoring and playmaking threats. Iverson won his only MVP award that year, beating out the likes of Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber, Kevin Garnett, and Tim Duncan, among other current or future Hall of Famers. Somehow, listed at a generous 6’0”, Iverson managed to top these all-time great big men in their primes – even in an era where giants reigned supreme.
He led the Sixers to a 56-26 regular season record, finishing atop the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia then scraped through three grueling playoff series, including a first-round matchup with the defending East champions – the Indiana Pacers – and two seven-game bloodbaths. Finally, the Sixers reached the Finals, where they met O’Neal’s Los Angeles Lakers.
As Game 1 of the Finals approached, the Lakers were on the verge of making history. They entered the series 11-0 in the postseason, having swept through the entire Western Conference playoff bracket. Behind the prime versions of O’Neal and Kobe Bryant – two of the 10 best players ever – L.A. seemed unbeatable. The Lakers were aiming for a feat that no team had ever achieved: to finish the playoffs undefeated.
But Iverson was having none of it.
From tip-off to the final buzzer, he was locked in. Just like O’Neal and Bryant, Iverson played all but one minute of the game, which included an overtime period. O’Neal chipped in a monstrous effort with 44 points and 20 rebounds, but somehow, it was not enough. Iverson simply willed his team to victory. He poured in five boards, six assists, and five steals to go with a jaw-dropping 48 points. The Sixers hung with the Lakers and found themselves clinging to a two-point lead with less than one minute left in overtime. Philadelphia had possession and needed a basket to seal the deal; there was no question to whom the Sixers would turn.
Iverson came down the court. He caught the ball in the right corner, guarded by Tyronn Lue, a friend of his who had defended him well all game, despite Iverson’s superior offense. Iverson jabbed right, dribbled baseline, and pulled the ball back between his legs. He rose up and elevated, fading away for the shot over Lue.
But it was the moment after the shot that really mattered. After hitting what turned out to be the dagger, Iverson glanced at the Lakers’ bench, looked at Lue on the ground below, and stepped over him with disdain. It was unquestionably intentional.
Words can’t do the moment much justice.
Meaning of the Moment
One word says it all: iconic. 16 years later, silhouettes of Iverson and Lue are still being placed on t-shirts in the familiar freeze-frame. The play represented everything to do with Iverson’s smooth game, his ultra-quick crossovers and deadly finishes. But the step over Lue? It was more than that. It symbolized everything that people loved and hated about Iverson off the court. His swagger. His unwavering, defiant attitude. And for some people – who must be a blast at parties, by the way – sure, it showed some “disrespect for the game” or another expression used to hide that they dislike the culture and style that he brought to the NBA. Those people would surely harp on the fact that the Sixers lost the following four games and the series, but Iverson carrying Philadelphia to the Finals was impressive. Him stepping over Lue was the cherry on top, and somehow, it was more memorable than any Laker moment in the entire series.
Iverson was one of the most controversial NBA players in history, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. If he wasn’t controversial, he wouldn’t be himself. And going out of his way to step over Lue was as good an example of that as anything he ever did.
Legacy of the Step Over
Iverson was the living embodiment of the NBA’s best and worst looks from the early 2000s. He allegedly represented a generation of selfish young stars who chased gaudy point totals to earn large contracts. He even went to jail (albeit unjustly) for a few months before going to college and eventually the league. Iverson’s supposedly “thuggish” look was the reason for the NBA’s installment of a dress code.
But Iverson was also unapologetically himself, never changed his personality as he became richer and more famous, and competed as hard as anyone – even Bryant, his legendary counterpart. He wanted to win more than anything in the world, and he trusted himself more than anyone else to find a way to make it happen – sometimes, to his team’s detriment. He scored a ton while his efficiency lagged, but he was still the best option his team would ever have.
As the Sixers now, potentially, rise back to prominence, Philadelphia will not forget Iverson. So far, he has been the team’s greatest player of this century. In a career packed with unforgettable moments, Iverson’s step over Lue was just another one along the way.
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