Iverson pound for pound
Allen Iverson isn’t the greatest pound-for-pound player in NBA history, and it likely isn’t the player or players you think it is. (Ezra Shaw | Getty Images)

Allen Iverson Isn’t the Greatest Pound for Pound Player in NBA History

Eight years ago, LeBron James said that Allen Iverson was “pound for pound, the greatest player ever.” James’ sentiment is agreed upon by many.

Iverson was an electric guard that didn’t care about practice or what you thought about him. He’d hit you with a low crossover then bury a 21-foot jumper in your face before staring at you as he backpedaled down court. Hand always in the cookie jar, his index finger potentially over his mouth shushing the crowd, your team’s bench, your mom, whomever he felt disrespected him. And at six feet tall – let’s be honest, he was probably 5’10” or 5’11” – he absolutely tore you apart for 48 minutes.

But as great as A.I. is, James and so many are others are wrong. Hampton, Virginia’s crowned prince isn’t the greatest pound for pound player in league history.

It’s Kareem Abdul-Jabaar.

You may be thinking to yourself: “Well c’mon now Alex, Kareem is the league’s all-time leading scorer.” But objectively, by doing a simple points scored divided by weight calculation, Allen Iverson’s P-4-P (my scientific denotation for pound-for-pound) is 147.7 – I round up because, unlike your 7th grade English teacher, I’m a nice guy.

There are several all-time greats that have higher scores. The GOAT – Michael Jordan for all of you who needed clarification – has a score nearly two points higher at 149.5 and Kobe Bryant slots in at 158.7 P-4-P.

Kareem’s score is a whopping 170.6. And you can certainly poke a few holes in my argument, especially since Abdul-Jabaar is a foot taller and played at that height for his entire career. Still, by that simple statistical measure, Iverson isn’t the greatest pound-for-pound player ever.

Now I’d like to clarify and say that in no way is this post meant to be Iverson slander. He’s equally great in his own right. A top 25 all-time scorer, a cult icon, and he gave us some of the most disrespectful and memorable moments in league history. But for all you folks who still don’t agree with my objectivity, I’ll predict what a one-on-one between Kareem and A.I. would look like at 7’2″ and 225 pounds.

The Context

Both certainly played in eras of NBA basketball that required vastly different skillsets from each position on the floor. In Kareem’s time in the 70s and 80s, we saw the ball enter into the low block or paint, and it would be a drop step or back down plus a quick turn into the ever famous skyhook. Iverson’s late 90s and 2000s basketball saw the evolution of individual playmaking and scoring, with ball-dominant guards taking over the league. The then-Sixer was certainly at the forefront of that movement.

Abdul-Jabaar killed people in the paint with a shot that kissed the stars before floating effortlessly back to earth and into a net of nylon. Iverson liked to toy with you before going in for the kill. Similar to how a leopard will mess with an antelope just because they can, Iverson will have you locked in a defensive stance, hitting you with any number of moves before blowing by you. So, inevitably, this match-up would be in an interesting battle of skills.

Let’s put it to the test, though. Kareem vs A.I. in an empty gym. Just two 7’2” giants at half-court preparing to settle the debate once and for all. Each retained their skills of yesteryear. Now they play. 

The Game

They shoot for the ball, obviously. Iverson makes it, so the Georgetown legend gets the rock first. He’ll likely hit Abdul-Jabaar with a jab before getting the ball in his favored right hand and using the same move that he used to leave Jordan in space: a low cross at the top of the key. He elevates, but one of the greatest defensive players to walk the earth gets a finger on his jumper. This certainly comes as a shock considering Abdul-Jabaar’s defensive prowess came from his dominance inside of 12 feet, but we carry on.

I should clarify that there are no second chance shots, no offensive rebounds. It’s one-and-done like all one-on-one games should be played.

Kareem gets the ball now. He backs the former Hoya into the paint, and using the same move he used for 20 seasons, he gets a bucket. And then another. And another. Even on a man of the same height, the most un-guardable shot to ever grace the league can’t be stopped in this game. The skyhook stays undefeated whether it’s 1971, 1991, or 2021. 

I know that doesn’t likely take into account the deep bag of tricks that Iverson possessed. I may get some gripe for this, but it would be similar – not the same – to how Kevin Durant may have played Kareem. But once again, I do believe that Abdul-Jabaar’s work in the post would be too much in a drawn-out game with Iverson.

Final Score

For the sake of brevity, we skip a few moments and end on the final possession. Abdul-Jabaar has the ball at the top of the key after his opponent missed a three. Iverson is locked in, and despite a late flurry of mid-range jumpers, he still finds himself trailing by four points. The UCLA legend palms the ball with his right hand, takes two dribbles, and gets Iverson with his back towards the basket. At this point, the former Buck and Laker fakes a spin and turns 180 degrees into a short 14-foot fadeaway jumper. He cans it.

Kareem wins 21-16.

So objectively, and subjectively in the eyes of Alex Cervantes, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar is pound-for-pound the greatest player in NBA history. Still, Allen Iverson isn’t far behind in second.

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