Stephon Marbury and Allen Iverson are the kind of players that are intensely loved and defended by one set of basketball fans, and loathed and derided by another.
Sadly, the two former all-stars’ NBA careers have seemingly ended in precipitous falls from grace. Marbury is playing in the Chinese Basketball Association, and his last few years Stateside are remembered mostly for his contentious tenure with the Knicks and bizarre Internet videos that showed him eating Vaseline and crying while listening to a Kirk Franklin song.
Iverson had a short-lived retirement before a return to the Philadelphia 76ers. However, he lasted only 25 games before personal issues ended his season. One of the toughest players in basketball history is dealing with his daughter’s serious illness, a looming divorce, and alleged gambling and alcohol addictions.
In more innocent days when they seemed to be the future of the game, Iverson and Marbury played against each other once in college —in a Preseason NIT semifinal on Nov. 2, 1995, at Madison Square Garden.
This was a homecoming game for Marbury, the Coney Island prodigy and heralded freshman who was the latest in a premier line of point guards at Georgia Tech (Mark Price, Kenny Anderson, Travis Best). But it wouldn’t be a cakewalk for Marbury against Iverson, the sophomore who came back to Georgetown after being named the Big East’s top freshman and defensive player of the year.
This was the kind of game where reputations are cemented, and the two players went at each other with reckless abandon. Their bodies weren’t worn down by all the basketball miles yet, and the pair still had all their springs. ESPN’s camera crew had a hard time keeping up with the quick-as-a-hiccup guards.
Iverson got to Marbury first, forcing a turnover that lead to a breakaway layup by the Georgetown star. That started an impressive game of one-upmanship that lasted the whole first half.
Iverson would go coast-to-coast at breakneck speed for a tough layup. Marbury would get the ball right back and go into the teeth of the Hoyas’ defense, getting fouled on a tough shot between Georgetown big men Othella Harrington and Boubacar Aw.
Marbury had a great no-look feed for a dunk by Matt Harpring. Iverson got a steal and one of his signature one-hand-transforms-into-two dunks. Marbury displayed a wicked crossover that caught Iverson flat-footed on three occasions. Both players played vicious on-the-ball defense.
A late surge gave Georgetown a 46-38 lead at halftime. Marbury had nine points, four assists and six steals. Iverson had 15 points, two assists and two steals.
But like their NBA careers, Iverson’s greatness had a little more longevity. “The Answer” set the tone for the second half by blocking Marbury’s driving shot for a jump ball with 17:30 left in the game.
Iverson, already with 19 stitches in his forehead, displayed his trademark toughness by playing through shoulder and thumb injuries. He attacked the rim full-tilt, finishing with 23 points, six assists and five steals as Georgetown won going away, 94-72.
Marbury forced the issue after halftime, getting lost in the one-on-one battle with Iverson. It was a sign of the coming years, in which Marbury would be labeled as a player who put his stats above team play. Still, the freshman scored 13 points (on 4-of-14 shooting) with eight assists, seven steals and six turnovers against the pressing Georgetown defense. He missed out on several assists as teammates botched easy buckets.
Iverson was the first pick in the 1996 NBA draft by the 76ers. Marbury was drafted three picks later by the Milwaukee Bucks, who traded his rights to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Marbury bawled in front of the television cameras that night, his dream of making it to the NBA finally realized. Getting there was probably the high point for Marbury, and his time in the NBA after draft day seemed to frustrate fans, coaches and teammates who wanted him to live up to the massive hype of his teenage years. Add in the pressures of a demanding family, newfound wealth and a coterie of freeloaders, and that’s enough to make a man start acting erratically.
Early in his career, Iverson grew an ardent army of supporters with his fearless forays to the basket. He earned just as many detractors with each new tattoo and scrape with the law. The featherweight is the undisputed, pound-for-pound toughest player in NBA history. That all-in mentality doesn’t seem to have an off-switch after he leaves the court, and he allegedly partied and gambled as hard as he attacked the rim. Hopefully, Iverson can get a handle on his life before something really tragic happens.