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Will Allen Iverson Have to Wait to Get in Hall of Fame?

The NBA announced last week that it’s disregarded Allen Iverson’s playing stint in Turkey, which means AI is eligible for the Naismith Hall of Fame sooner than expected in 2016.

The Hall requires a full five-year retirement from professional basketball, and apparently Iverson’s brief time overseas in 2011 failed to qualify. He left for Turkey following his final season in the NBA during 2009-10, when he played three games for the Memphis Grizzlies and 25 games for the Philadelphia 76ers. In his own terms, Iverson didn’t announce his retirement until 2013 –– long after teams stopped having an interest in him, sadly.

As a former MVP and 11-time All-Star, Iverson would be a sure first-ballot Hall of Famer if he were almost anyone besides Allen Iverson. But The Answer’s legacy is obviously much thornier than the story his individual accomplishments tell, and it’s ridden with all types of off-court controversies that can polarize voters and mar campaigns for the Hall.

It’s a complicated candidacy, and while there’s no question Iverson will find his way into the HoF at some point, it had Tom Ziller over at SB Nation considering the possibility that Iverson may miss out on his first go-around. From the end of a daily newsletter:

“Much has been made about Allen Iverson being eligible for the Basketball Hall of Fame next year, and how that makes for a very interesting induction ceremony — A.I. as a public speaker is raw, passionate and enthralling. I agree. But why are we assuming that the academy will induct Bubba Chuck on the first ballot? One MVP, no titles, three first team All-NBA nods, low efficiency numbers and (most importantly) disastrously few boosters inside basketball.

…Right now, I’d bet that A.I. doesn’t make it in on the first ballot.”

While being a first-ballot Hall of Famer doesn’t carry any explicit distinction, it does carry an implicit sort of honor, and for someone as influential and accomplished as Iverson to miss out on that would be significant. Yet basketball people have never been able to agree on how to regard the controversial Iverson, whose on- and off-court habits helped him build up quite a cache of haters during his career.

As such, it’s not hard to imagine a situation where such voters might hold the worst parts of Iverson’s legacy against him, at least during his first ballot. Incidents with Iverson weren’t always his fault, but troubles off the court plagued him anyway, beginning when he was a highly-touted high school recruit and following him into the twilight of his retirement.

Those issues –– bankruptcy, domestic abuse, gambling and alcohol addictions, to name a few –– don’t and shouldn’t factor into the election process for the Hall, however, for a player who’s already so polarizing, they could have sway over judges’ perceptions, especially since some of the incidents featured the kind of intense racial overtones that send people’s defenses up and prevent any real conversation from occurring.

For many, Iverson still evokes memories of the NBA’s maligned post-Jordan era, when fan interest and ratings were falling, and the troubled, tatted guard with a killer crossover unwittingly became the face of that league. He was the implicit catalyst behind former commissioner David Stern’s strict dress code in the mid-00s, and his irreverent rant about talking about practice became one of the league’s most timeless sound bites. Fair or not, there are people who view Iverson’s tenure as more of a curse than a blessing for the NBA.

How all of this plays into Iverson’s bid for the Hall will be interesting, since the process consists of three steps: one to be nominated by the screening committee, two for the “screening committee” to approve finalists, three as the entry for finalists is voted upon by an “honors committee.” During both the nomination and final process, the Naismith website indicates that “news clippings, magazine articles or other informative, factual data about the candidate” will be considered, which could make things difficult for Iverson. As Ziller pointed out, the volatile former player doesn’t have a ton of boosters within the league, and the final steps of the process are quite secretive, so it’s hard to tell just how heavily these factors will weigh.

Ziller also made another key point, which is that Iverson’s basketball accomplishments have already started to pale when considered in the context of what we now know about the importance of efficiency and team play. AI was a chucker who shot less than 43 percent overall and less than 32 percent from three in his career, plus led the league in turnovers as many times as steals (twice). Today, his shot selection would make Nick Young’s look timid. If someone wanted to hold Iverson back but didn’t feel like his off-court reasons were enough, inefficient numbers like these could offer an alternate foundation for their argument.

Again, the question is not whether Iverson will get in. Every NBA MVP has been inducted into the Hall, and Iverson deserves the same. The question is whether he deserves to get in on his first attempt.

This writer believes he should, but also that it’s very possible he won’t. Iverson torched many of his relationships within the NBA, which is crucial for HoF candidacies, and his personal sins might be too great for some to overlook at first, even if that’s not fair.

Still, it would be nice to see him get in as a first-ballot member. Speaking strictly in basketball terms, Iverson was practically a one-of-a-kind player, a relentless attacker who was half the size he should’ve been for how much he produced, who was athletic, exciting and unpredictable. He influenced not just the way young fans played the game, but what they wore while they were doing it, with his tattoos, cornrows and shooting sleeve becoming iconic pieces of the basketball wardrobe that trickled down and can now be witnessed on the players of today.

In simple terms, he deserves it. Iverson was a great-but-flawed player who put up great-but-flawed numbers on teams that ranged from very bad to very good. The essence of Iverson has been learning to embrace him in spite of all of his flaws, because they’re part of what makes him so unique.

That’s a lesson that’s easy to apply to Iverson on the basketball court, but much harder when considering his personal life and all the upsetting news we’ve learned about him since retirement. It’s hard to talk about Allen Iverson, the great basketball player, without discussing Allen Iverson, the far-less great person and family man.

If for no other reason, then, let’s allow the Hall of Fame voting process to be just that: a final avenue to embrace the on-court version of Iverson and all of his faults, to celebrate him as a talented and influential basketball player who’s worthy of first-ballot admission into the Hall of Fame.

After all, this is how we got to enjoy Iverson for years, and we’ll have the rest of his life to watch him try and pick up the pieces of everything else he lost along the way.

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