SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — The applause erupted before he even took the stage. As emcee Ahmad Rashad started his introduction by talking about swagger, the camera panned to Allen Iverson in his seat.
“There is no debating style" Rashad said as Iverson appeared on the monitors. Then he stopped. The crowd burst into a wild cheer, cutting off Rashad for the next 35 seconds.
So began Iverson’s Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremony, which 38 minutes later could have been headlined as “A.I.’s Special Night with his Fans.”
From the moment Iverson walked up to the podium, his speech was more than about basketball. It was a declaration of appreciation.
Iverson’s career is marked by his unique personal style, on and off the court. The gold chains, baggy jeans and T-shirts, cornrows, shooting sleeves — Iverson has been identified by his outward appearance.
He admitted on Thursday he was uncomfortable wearing the orange Hall of Fame inductee jacket, which he sported with a handful of necklaces and a Yankees cap. But on Friday, Iverson arrived in a simple, tailored, all-black suit, shirt and tie. No flash. No flare. When he stepped on to the stage and the bright lights shined down on him, the focus only was on his emotional words.
From his mother who insisted he attend youth practice to the coaches who poured themselves into molding him, his relatives who provided a solid foundation in the hectic world of a professional athlete to the fans who stood by him regardless of the circumstances, Iverson shared the special moment by giving thanks to those who helped him become a Hall of Famer.
He called out specific mentors in the basketball world, including his three presenters. Iverson began with former Georgetown head coach John Thompson, who he credited for saving his life. Next was former Sixers head coach Larry Brown. They didn’t always see eye to eye, but Iverson said once he began to listen to Brown, he became an All-Star and MVP.
Iverson then thanked Julius Erving for supporting him during his entire tenure with the Sixers. Later in the speech, Iverson called out former Sixers president Pat Croce, who drafted Iverson first overall in 1996, for recognizing his potential to lead a franchise. He noted, “I love you, Pat.”
There are so many people involved in the daily operations of basketball, and Iverson made sure to recognize those on court and behind the scenes. He praised handfuls of former teammates, basketball operations staff and broadcasters. The Sixers had front office and former players in attendance, including Eric Snow, head coach Brett Brown and president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo.
Much of Iverson’s time was spent talking about his family. Each member received a special message, and Iverson expressed how much the stability they give means to him.
“I thank y'all for being my crutch in my career,” he said. “When I had hard losses, didn’t play well, the media treated me like they did throughout my career, I always came home and forgot about all of that once I saw y'all.”
Iverson took the listeners through a journey of his life. There were somber pauses and tearful acknowledgements, and then there were jokes and humorous anecdotes.
In a speech that covered all aspects of his personality, Iverson drew a reference between meeting Michael Jordan to Chappelle's Show (see video) and thanked artists, including Michael Jackson, The Notorious B.I.G. and 2Pac for being the theme music of his career. He paid tribute to fierce competitors like Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, and shared comical exchanges between him and Tyronn Lue. He even closed his night by thanking the negative people he got out of his life. Regardless of the topic at hand, Iverson had the audience waiting on every word.
Some attendees showed their dedication by wearing Iverson jerseys, donning Hoyas, Sixers and Nuggets gear. Others stood and rooted while he spoke. It was only fitting that he gave a special shoutout to his supporters, a group that filled the balcony and was so loud the hall sounded like it was packed just for him.
“Philly fans!” Iverson called out. Nearly half a minute of cheers ensued, fans bowed, and some chanted “M-V-P” (see video).
“My relationship with the fans in Philadelphia is like no other,” he said. “Thank y’all for the support over the years. Y'all let me grow. Y’all let me make my mistakes. Never jumped off the bandwagon, continued to support me like true fans are supposed to.”
Iverson embodied the impact of his family, friends and fans in his induction speech. He was the one playing basketball, but made it clear he could not have done it alone. On a night that celebrated his personal achievements, Iverson made it about everyone else.
“The ones that stuck by me throughout my journey, I love y'all,” he said (watch speech). “I love the fact that now y'all can walk around and stick y'all chest out and say y'all Hall of Famers.”