76ers

Allen Iverson's famous rant was about more than just 'practice'

Allen Iverson's famous rant was about more than just 'practice'

Fifteen years ago today, Allen Iverson went on a rant that forever changed how we hear the word practice.

When someone says the word, whether or not you're a sports fan, a trigger goes off in your brain, and you say — at least to yourself — like Iverson said it back then.

Practice.

But when I think about that press conference — and I was there, right outside the CSN control room, in the same area where Brett Brown speaks after games — I remember how there was so much more to that press conference than just practice.

Iverson was raw and vulnerable. He wasn’t up there to give the boilerplate season wrap-up responses. Not that he ever did. But this was different. 

Let's set the stage.

A year earlier, in 2001, the Sixers were in the midst of their magical run to the NBA Finals.

Four days earlier, on Friday, May 3, the Sixers were blasted by the Celtics, 120-87, in a winner-take-all Game 5 at what was then called the FleetCenter.

Iverson’s relationship with head coach Larry Brown had been tumultuous and a constant topic of discussion. Brown clearly didn't approve of Iverson's truant attitude toward practice — and unlike his predecessors, Brown made his feelings known.

One day after being eliminated by Boston, Brown said Iverson had to attend practice like the rest of the team. Iverson wished Brown had kept his mouth shut. (Not one of Brown’s strong suits.)

So the two held a meeting.

Then on Tuesday, May 7, Iverson held his historic press conference. Brown was scheduled to speak the following afternoon.

So let's take a look at what else Iverson discussed besides practice. He said plenty more, and I bet most of you reading this don’t remember much of it.

When Iverson took the podium, the two topics of interest were Iverson's relationship with Brown, and whether or not one or both would be with the Sixers the following season. 

"Hell yeah I'm coming back," Iverson said. "I'm not going anywhere, and Coach Brown isn't going anywhere.

"I don't have any problem with Coach. I love Larry Brown. People may not believe it, but I do. He's done so much for me. If there's no Larry Brown, there's no MVP Allen Iverson.

"I just let him know that I'm the pit bull in his yard," Iverson added. "If anybody tries to intrude, I'm going to be the one that's going to bite and protect his home. It's the same thing I've been saying since day one."

A year earlier, Iverson was the MVP. Brown was Coach of the Year. Crowds packed the then-First Union Center to see The Allen Iverson Show.

Iverson twice scored in the 50s as the Sixers eliminated the Toronto Raptors. Then he had three straight 40-point games as the Sixers ousted the Milwaukee Bucks to reach the Finals.

But now they were coming off a brutal loss to Boston. Brown had opened his mouth. And Iverson didn't like it.

"No question about it," Iverson said. "This is what happens when you lose, though. When you lose, there's a whole bunch of room for negativity. I don't do any talking. I don't run my mouth. If coach has any issues with me, I believe they're things I can control.

"I love him as a man. The coach — that's totally different," Iverson said. "Yeah, I like him as a coach. He's the best coach in the world. I can't say it enough. He's the best in the world.

"I love Larry Brown. That's my man. But in this situation right here, we're not as tight as I thought we were by this [stuff] happening right now.

"You go to the Finals, and then the next year, you're out in the first round. This is what happens. Everybody takes shots at Allen Iverson. It's unfortunate that I can't punch back.

"When we lose, this is what happens. When you win, everything is cool. When we win, I get the praise and Larry Brown gets the praise. When we lose, it's on me and Larry Brown. And that's something that I have to accept and deal with."

But Iverson felt he shouldn't have to deal with it. Everyone considered him the franchise player, but franchise players shouldn't have to be interrogated like this.

"You all wonder why I'm not the franchise player?" Iverson asked. "I don't feel like I'm the franchise player — look at this press conference. Look at what we're talking about. I'm the best player. I feel like I'm the best player in the world, but franchise players don't go through this. Franchise player's daughters don't have to go to school and hear, 'Is your daddy coming back? What's going on with your daddy and Coach Brown?' She's 7 years old, and that's what she's got to deal with.

"It hurts, because I know I'm better than that. I do all I can for this city, for this team, for this franchise, for my teammates. I don't think anybody in the world plays harder than me. For me to go through this is tough. I'm tired.

"Everybody in Philadelphia knows that I want to be here — that isn't a secret. Everybody knows I want to be a Sixer for the rest of my career. But I'm tired, and I'm hurt too."

He was hurt because he, as he liked to say, “played every game like it was my last.” (Which is why he sometimes didn’t practice.) 

He was hurt because the Sixers’ season had just ended. 

And what’s more, he was hurt because his best friend had recently died.

"I'm upset for one reason — because I'm in here. I lost my best friend. I lost him, and I lost this year. And then I'm dealing with this right here," Iverson said. "[Philadelphia] is where I want to be. I love this place. I love my teammates. I don't have any problems with Coach Brown at all.

Except Brown had problems with him.

"Coach has problems with me as far as lifting. I don't know what this thing is about me coming to practice — because I haven't been missing practice. But he has a problem with me. I don't have any problems with Larry Brown. I don't have a problem with this organization. I just don't want to go through this. I don't want to lose, and then, all summer, have to go through this. I lost. Me and my teammates and my coaching staff, we lost. But I'm the only one going through it. It's me. When we lose, I have to deal with it.”

And everyone else was on the beach or playing golf. Doing anything else but dealing with this.

"All of the rest of my team, all of the soldiers that went to war with me, are enjoying their summer. But look at me. Look what I'm going through.

"It's not just me. Yeah, I have some [stuff] that I need to take care of, but everybody does. But you don't talk about anybody but me.”

And franchise players -- Most Valuable Players -- players who “go to war for Philadelphia” shouldn’t have to go through this. 

"I'm the MVP, and I have to worry about trade talk. I was honored with the MVP,"  he said. "The MVP — the best basketball player in the world. And when I lose, this is what I have to go through? When I lose? I can't win them all. I'm human. I'm just like you. I'm just like you.

“I'm not going to do it all right all of the time. Michael Jordan is the greatest player in the world. He didn't do it right all of the time. But he tried. He gave his effort, and that's all you can ask for."

The MVP topic begot another great quote. Asked whether it would behoove him to add some muscle to his frame, Iverson scoffed. 

"If I build myself up and get a whole lot of muscles and look like Arnold Schwarzenegger, you're going to give me the MVP award automatically?” he said.

"I've been the MVP bony as hell. So, what do I have to do?"

One thing he shouldn’t have to do is answer questions about trade speculation.

"You're calling me the MVP," Iverson said. "The world called me the MVP. What are you talking about getting rid of the MVP for? To make the team better? If it's to make the team better, then I'm cool with it. I'm going to win wherever I go. I don't care where I go. I'm going to win regardless. You talk about making your teammates better — I'm going to make them better. Wherever I go, I'm going to win."

"That's all I care about. I've been in the league six years, and I have no title. [I have] a bunch of individual awards that don't mean anything. Yeah, I can tell my son I was an All-Star, but I never won a championship, and that's all I care about. I don't have a selfish bone in my body. I just want to win. That's all I want to do.”

Sixers' NBA draft decisions should serve as a warning for Markelle Fultz

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Sixers' NBA draft decisions should serve as a warning for Markelle Fultz

The Friday after any NBA draft is a crowning moment for all of the league’s franchises. They trot out the previous night’s selections and hold introductory press conferences with smiles all around.

The Sixers were no different as they showed off first-round picks Zhaire Smith and Landry Shamet at their training complex Friday morning.

However, make no mistake that this one was a little bit different. 

While the event was all about the new faces joining the organization, it also served as a direct warning shot to Markelle Fultz.

Brett Brown sat at the podium sandwiched between the two players he selected in the first round of his initial foray as Sixers interim general manager. Both guys happen to be bigger guards and each possess a particular top skill (athleticism for Smith and shooting for Shamet) that the Sixers thought they were getting right from the start in Fultz.

“The real reason they’re here is their talent,” Brown said. “Their ability to grow into NBA players, to play a modern style of basketball. The ability we felt that their base foundation had so much more room to grow. 

“The notion of how we play here in Philadelphia. The values that we have on defense, how we want to play offense. How we all look into a crystal ball and suspect the sport is going to be played in 2025. When you added those up, it made perfect sense and aggressively targeting these two players that sit on my right and sit on my left.”

It was just a year ago that the Sixers made an aggressive move to the top of the 2017 draft for Fultz. And while the franchise isn’t ready to give up on him after a rocky rookie season, it certainly sounds more and more like the team has settled on him becoming just a piece and not a cornerstone.

“When we started looking at the players available and I especially start looking at how we want to play and who can be sandwiched in between Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, we’re looking for that modern-day type of player,” Brown said when asked whether taking two guards in the first round meant something about Fultz’s status. “To say position-less basketball, it’s really not that. To me, it might give you better vision of what I’m trying to say. I just think that the skill and things that we require, these two have, especially as you look sandwiched in between. And whether that’s Markelle, T.J. (McConnell) or Cov (Robert Covington), I would tell you the same thing. 

“When you look at the league, the league switches defensively a lot. When you look at the league, the league drives, dishes, needs three-point shot-makers and playmakers a lot. So whether it’s apples for apples is fine by me, but probably what you should hear the loudest is I don’t think there’s overlap. I think that they can play together.”

Playing together is completely different than playing around. It’s pretty clear the Sixers now reserve that status for Embiid, Simmons and whatever stars they plan to chase in free agency or via trade.

That doesn’t mean Fultz can’t reclaim the standing within the organization he was seemingly destined for when the Sixers called his name at No. 1 last year. After all, he just turned 20 years old last month (he’s actually 14 months younger than Shamet).

It all starts during this crucial summer for Fultz, which apparently is already going well (see story). But Smith and Shamet will have the chance to make impacts of their own coming up in the next few months as well.

“If you just base it on math and you look at percentages of what does a 10th player do and what’s a 26th player do, rarely do you see people immediately come in and claim a large role in rotations and heavy minutes. That historically isn’t the trend,” Brown said. “I say that from a factual base more than something that might be challenged. I expect these guys to challenge that. 

“Where this ends up, the expectations in relations to role and minutes and all of that, they’re going to tell me. We’ve got a summer league coming up. They will have ample opportunities to draw their own line in the sand.”

Fultz better be focused on drawing his too.

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Brett Brown embracing a difficult job as Sixers' interim GM

Brett Brown embracing a difficult job as Sixers' interim GM

Heading into the NBA draft, there was some uncertainty about how the Sixers would make decisions. Nobody seemed willing to say whether interim GM Brett Brown would have the final say, or whether it would be a truly collaborative process.

Thursday night, Brown confirmed he’s the man in charge.

“I was the one that approved the final decision,” Brown said after the Sixers’ first-round trade for Zhaire Smith and a 2021 unprotected first-round pick. “We have many people in that room that are aggressively speaking to people. We have information, we put it on a board and we discuss it. At the end of the day, (managing partner) Josh (Harris) looked at me and I did what I did. I approved the deal.”

Brown made sure to credit the people around him who made a difficult job easier. As Brown put it, “This has been a really different June” for him. There’s no way he could have expected he’d be pulling the trigger on draft night when the season ended, but he’s taken leadership of another team, this one in the front office.

“There is an incredible amount of teamwork that is required in that room,” Brown said. “You’re on the clock. I thought (vice president of basketball operations and chief of staff) Ned Cohen did a fantastic job helping organize this. The analytics side with Alex Rucker and Sergi Oliva, those guys were awesome. And then I think (vice president of basketball operations) Marc Eversley, delivering the group, you know, ‘These are the players with our scouts,’ it was a very collaborative process. It was a systematic process where you felt like you were a part of a team.”

Separating the head coaching part of his job from the GM duties he’s been thrown into hasn’t been painless for Brown. He acknowledged he felt the “human side” of trading away a high-character local kid whose mom works for the organization in Mikal Bridges (see story).

“The torment of trying to do my job in the very limited role I have for a moment as the general manager versus the role that I have as the head coach of this program, it’s a toggle,” Brown said. “And this is where we arrived.”

It’s obviously not a job Brown wants to do long term. At some point, he’ll be able to return his full focus to coaching. For now, though, he says he’s enjoying his new role. He’s always loved preaching about his program and cultivating a positive culture. Persistently optimistic, Brown looks at the aftermath of the Bryan Colangelo saga as an opportunity to fully embrace those passions.

“I said right when I accepted the responsibility that I have no intent of doing this,” Brown said. “I’m a basketball coach. When this came up, I felt a responsibility to do the best that I could under the circumstances to help move us forward. ... Down deep, I love it, because you just bleed for the program. You’ll do whatever you can to bring a championship to this city. That’s the bottom line. As we corral the analytics people, the scouts, my coaching staff and the people that work in the building and try to hold us together and move us forward and show daylight, that’s my job.”

There’s still no official timeline from the Sixers on when Brown’s tenure as interim GM will end. But free agency starts on July 1, and Brown is ready to recruit. He also sounded prepared to go all-out in pursuit of possible trades for stars (see story), including a hypothetical example that seemed to very closely resemble Kawhi Leonard, who wants out of San Antonio and has expressed his desire to return to his hometown of Los Angeles.

“When you talk about what are you going to do to show the program the way we want it to be seen, sometimes it’s in-house, sometimes you have to travel,” Brown said. “Whether we have to go mobile and, as an example, go to Los Angeles and deal with a family, an agent, the player. Whether we can attract him to come here to the city of Philadelphia.

“The whole strategy of how we do that, the presentation of information, we’ve been talking about that for a while. I feel completely that we will not miss a beat now that the draft is done, that we can focus in when free agency kicks in on July 1.”

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