Degree of Difficulty

Without making the extravagant claims of the Iverson-bashers (that he’s frequently been a below-average player, for example) I do think there are a lot of folks out there who overrate the Answer. Bill Simmons, for example, thinks he’s “one of the best 30 players of all-time” which I’m really not buying. He does, however, offer up an interesting riposte to Iverson’s detractors:

Well, ask yourself one question: How could a coach-killer who allegedly monopolizes the ball, hates to practice and can’t sublimate his game double as one of the most revered, respected players in the league? Why did the ex-players on “NBA Coast To Coast” (Anthony, Legler and Barry) trade Iverson war stories last night like they were trading stories about Keyser Söze? Why are Philly fans overwhelmingly heartbroken that he’s leaving town?


I think part of what’s going on with Iverson is simply that there’s a difference between being one of the most impressive basketball players of all time and actually being one of the best. Iverson’s small for an NBA player and isn’t an especially impressive spot-up shooter. Consequently, to score he needs to do things that you wouldn’t think were possible. And he does score. A lot. By doing things that are seemingly impossible. As Simmons writes, “He takes implausible angles on his drives — angles that can’t be seen as they’re unfolding, even if you’ve been watching him for 10 years — and drains an obscene number of layups and floaters in traffic.” Above and beyond the sheer brilliance of the spectacle, there’s something wonderful about watching a human-sized individual in the NBA. These are the qualities that make him one of — if not the — most enjoyable players in the league to watch and perhaps the post-Jordan Associations more enduringly popular player. They don’t, however, make him one of the top-thirty players of all-time.