MJ understood where rookie AI was coming from but only to a certain extent.
Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers faced Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls four times during his rookie season in the NBA. By all accounts, AI always came in with his brashness and overflowing confidence, while MJ welcomed him with his experience and competitiveness. As expected, the battles between the two were heated.
In fact, in their second duel that season, Jordan and Iverson had a brief exchange as the Bulls superstar tried to bring the cocky rookie to heel.
“He sure has some confidence,” Jordan told the Chicago Tribune of Iverson after the game. “At one point, I mentioned to him that he was going to have to respect us. If you don’t respect anybody else in this league, you have to respect us. He said he doesn’t have to respect anybody.”
MJ could relate to AI but only to a certain point
Jordan knew he wasn’t the nicest guy ever to grace NBA hardwood. But as he looked back at it, MJ reckoned that no matter how competitive and confident he was during his rookie year, he would’ve never acted up on a future Hall of Famer the way Iverson did to him.
“I was talking to Chief (Robert Parish) I said I could never tell Larry Bird or KC Jones some of the things he’s done thus far,” Jordan reflected.
The misunderstood rising star
Given Jordan’s stature, fans have viewed Iverson in a bad light since that incident. But the youngster tried to remain unfazed by the negativity. In the Sixers’ next matchup with the Bulls, Iverson pulled off his now-immortalized crossover move on MJ. People appreciated it, but AI knew that NBA politics and media were stronger than his game, especially if the person on the other end was the best player on the face of the planet.
Towards the end of the season, Iverson was the favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award, but he admitted that all the drama with MJ had made it less satisfying.
“I feel like I deserve it, and I want the award,″ Iverson told AP News in 1997. “But ever since that incident, the media has been on me. It’s like, ‘He said something to Michael Jordan, so let’s dog him.’ If something like that can cost me the award, then the award is not worth getting.”
“I don’t care what somebody says about me off the court,” he added. “Those guys don’t know me. They just judge me from what is in the paper and what they hear on the street. I think it’s unfair, but that’s life.″
After all, was said and done, Iverson was hailed Rookie of the Year, and for those who didn’t know, Jordan rooted for him.