Philadelphia 76ers (1996–2006)
After two seasons at Georgetown, Iverson was selected first overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1996 NBA draft. Listed at 6 ft 0 in (1.83 m) tall, Iverson became the shortest first overall pick ever, in a league normally dominated by taller players.
Coming to a Philadelphia team that had just finished the previous season with a dismal 18-64 record, Iverson was only able to help the Sixers to a 22–60 record in 1996–97. In a game against the 55-8 Chicago Bulls, Iverson scored 37 points and memorably crossed over Michael Jordan. He broke Wilt Chamberlain's rookie record of three straight games with at least 40 points, doing so in five straight games, including a 50-point effort in Cleveland against the Cavaliers. Averaging 23.5 points per game, 7.5 assists per game and 2.1 steals per game for the season, Iverson was named the NBA Rookie of the Year.
Aided by the arrivals of Theo Ratliff, Eric Snow, Aaron McKie, and new coach Larry Brown, Iverson continued to help the 76ers move forward the following season, as they improved nine games to finish 31-51.
The lockout-shortened 1998–1999 season would mark great improvement for the 76ers. Iverson averaged 26.8 points (which led the league, earning his first scoring title) and was named to his first All NBA first team. The Sixers finished the season at 28-22, earning Iverson his first trip to the playoffs. He started all ten playoff games and averaged 28.5 points per game despite being hampered by a number of nagging injuries. Iverson led the Sixers to an upset over the number three seeded Orlando Magic in four games, before losing to the Indiana Pacers in the second round in six games.
Prior to the next season, Iverson signed a six-year, $70 million contract extension. That year, the Sixers would continue to improve under Iverson's leadership, as they finished 49-33, once again qualifying for the playoffs (this time earning the fifth seed, one spot higher than the previous year's sixth seed). In the playoffs, Iverson averaged 26.2 points, 4.8 assists, 4 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game. Philadelphia would advance past the Charlotte Hornets in the opening round, but was eliminated by Indiana in the second round in six games for the second straight year.
That season, Iverson was selected to the Eastern Conference All-Star team for the first time of what would be 11 straight selections. He was the only player other than Shaquille O'Neal to receive a MVP vote that year. In the 2000 off-season, the 76ers actively tried to trade Iverson after his numerous disagreements with then-coach Larry Brown, and had agreed to terms with the Detroit Pistons before Matt Geiger, who was included in the deal, refused to forfeit his $5 million trade kicker. When it became apparent that Iverson would remain a member of the Sixers, Iverson and Brown put their differences aside to make another attempt at a NBA championship.
MVP season and trip to the Finals (2000–01)
During the 2000–01 season, Iverson led his team to a franchise record 10-0 start to the season, and was named starter at the 2001 NBA All-Star Game, where he won the game MVP. The Sixers posted a 56–26 record on the year, the best in the Eastern Conference that season, earning the top seed. He also averaged a then-career high 31.1 points, winning his second NBA scoring title in the process. Iverson won the NBA steals title at 2.5 a game. Iverson was named NBA Most Valuable Player; at 6 feet and 165 pounds, he became the shortest and lightest player to win the MVP award. He had 93 first-place votes out of a possible 124. He was also named to the All NBA First team for his accomplishments. In the playoffs, Iverson and the Sixers defeated the Indiana Pacers in the first round, before meeting Vince Carter-led Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Semifinals. The series went the full seven games. In the next round, the Sixers defeated the Milwaukee Bucks, also in seven games, to advance to the 2001 NBA Finals against the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, featuring the duo of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal.
Iverson led the Sixers to their first finals since their 1983 championship. In game one of the 2001 NBA Finals, Iverson scored a playoff high 48 points and beat the heavily favored Lakers 107–101; it was the Lakers' only playoff loss that year. In the game, he notably stepped over Tyronn Lue after hitting a crucial shot. Iverson would go on to score 23, 35, 35, and 37 in games 2–5, all losing efforts though the Sixers were not swept like many predicted. Iverson enjoyed his most successful season as an individual and as a member of the Sixers during the 2000–01 NBA season.
Iverson began using a basketball sleeve during this season during his recovery from bursitis in his right elbow. Other players, including Carmelo Anthony, and Kobe Bryant, adopted the sleeves as well, as did fans who wore the sleeve as a fashion statement. Iverson continued wearing his sleeve long after his elbow had healed. Some believed that the sleeve improved Iverson's shooting ability.
Early playoff exits and Larry Brown's departure (2001–2003)
Fresh off their trip to the NBA Finals, Iverson and the Sixers entered the 2001–2002 season with high expectations, but were plagued by injuries, and only able to muster a 43-39 record to just sneak into the playoffs. Despite playing in only 60 games that season and being hampered by injuries, Iverson averaged 31.4 points per game to earn his second consecutive scoring title. The 76ers lost to the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs 3-2 in the five game series. After the defeat, Brown criticized Iverson for missing team practices. Iverson responded by saying, "We're sitting here, I'm supposed to be the franchise player, and we're in here talking about practice," and went on a rant that included the word "practice" fourteen times.
The 2002–2003 season started off poorly for the Sixers, who had just traded defensive-standout Dikembe Mutombo to New Jersey, and saw a decrease in both offensive and defensive production from Aaron McKie and Eric Snow, all three of whom were key components to their Finals appearance two years prior. Iverson would once again put up stellar scoring numbers (27.6 points per game) however, and the Sixers regrouped following the All-Star break to make the playoffs with a 48-34 record. They were able to defeat Baron Davis and the New Orleans Hornets in the opening round of the playoffs. Iverson later described Davis as the most difficult opposing point guard to defend in his career. In the six-game second round series, the 76ers were eliminated by the Detroit Pistons.
Head Coach Larry Brown left the 76ers in 2003, following the playoff loss. After his departure from the 76ers, both he and Iverson indicated that the two were on good terms and genuinely fond of one another. Iverson later reunited with Brown when Iverson became the co-captain of the 2004 United States Olympic men's basketball team. In 2005, Iverson said that Brown was without a doubt "the best coach in the world".
Disappointment and frustration (2003–2006)
Randy Ayers became the next coach of the 76ers, but failed to develop any chemistry with his players, and was fired following a 21–31 start to the season. During the latter part of the 2003–04 NBA season, Iverson bristled under the disciplinarian approach of the Sixers' interim head coach Chris Ford. This led to a number of contentious incidents, including Iverson being suspended for missing practice, fined for failing to notify Ford that he would not attend a game because he was sick, and refusing to play in a game because he felt "insulted" that Ford wanted Iverson to come off the bench as he worked his way back from an injury. Iverson missed a then-career-high 34 games in a disastrous season that saw the Sixers miss the postseason for the first time since the 1997 season.
The 2004–2005 season saw Iverson and the Sixers bounce back under the tutelage of new head coach Jim O'Brien, and additions of their first round draft pick Andre Iguodala, and All-Star forward Chris Webber, who was acquired in a mid-season trade. A rejuvenated Iverson won his fourth NBA scoring title with 31 points and averaged 8 assists for the year, and helped the 76ers climb back into the postseason with a 43-39 record. They would go on to lose to the eventual Eastern Conference champion Detroit Pistons, who were led by Larry Brown, in the first round. In the series, Iverson had three double-doubles, including a 37-point, 15 assist performance in Philadelphia's lone win of the series.
Despite O'Brien helping the team back into the postseason, disagreements with players and management led to his firing after just one season. He was replaced by Sixers' legend Maurice Cheeks, in a personnel move Iverson praised, as Cheeks had been an assistant coach with the team when they reached the NBA Finals in 2001. During the 2005–2006 season, Iverson averaged a career high 33.0 points per game. The Sixers, however, missed the playoffs for the second time in three years.
On April 18, 2006, Iverson and Chris Webber arrived late to the Sixers' fan appreciation night and home game finale. Players are expected to report 90 minutes before game time, but both Iverson and Webber arrived around tipoff. Coach Maurice Cheeks notified the media that neither would be playing and general manager Billy King announced that Iverson and Webber would be fined. During the 2006 off-season, trade rumors had Iverson going to Denver, Atlanta, or Boston. None of the deals were completed. Iverson had made it clear that he would like to stay a Sixer.
Iverson and the Sixers began the 2006–07 NBA season at 3-0 before stumbling out to a 5-10 record through 15 games. Following the disappointing start, Iverson reportedly demanded a trade from the Sixers (although he would deny that). As a result, Iverson was told he would not play in any more games. During the following game against the Washington Wizards, which was televised nationally on ESPN, Sixers Chairman Ed Snider confirmed the trade rumors by stating "We're going to trade him. At a certain point, you have to come to grips with the fact that it's not working. He wants out and we're ready to accommodate him."
Iverson ended his 10-year Philadelphia tenure with the highest scoring average in team history (28.1), and is second all-time on the points list (19,583), and the Sixers did not win another playoff series after his departure until 2012.
Denver Nuggets (2006–2008)
On December 19, 2006, the Philadelphia 76ers sent Iverson and forward Ivan McFarlin to the Denver Nuggets for Andre Miller, Joe Smith, and two first-round picks in the 2007 NBA draft. At the time of the trade, Iverson was the NBA's number two leading scorer with new teammate Carmelo Anthony being number one.
On December 23, 2006, Iverson played his first game for the Nuggets. He had 22 points and 10 assists in a losing effort to the Sacramento Kings. In Iverson's first year as a Nugget they made the playoffs. They won the first game and lost the next four to the San Antonio Spurs.
Iverson was fined $25,000 by the NBA for criticizing referee Steve Javie following a game between the Nuggets and Iverson's former team, the Philadelphia 76ers, played January 2, 2007. During the course of the game, Iverson committed two technical fouls and was ejected from the game. After the game, Iverson said, "I thought I got fouled on that play, and I said I thought that he was calling the game personal I should have known that I couldn't say anything anyway. It's been something personal with me and him since I got in the league. This was just the perfect game for him to try and make me look bad."
Former referee Tim Donaghy supported the claim that Javie had a longstanding hatred for Iverson in his book, Personal Foul: A First-Person Account of the Scandal that Rocked the NBA, which a Florida business group published through a self-publishing arm of Amazon.com after it was dropped by a division of Random House, who cited liability issues after reviewing the manuscript.
In a December 2009 interview with 60 Minutes, Donaghy said he and fellow referees thought the punishment was too light. Before Iverson's Nuggets played the Utah Jazz on January 6, 2007, Donaghy said he and the two other officials working the game agreed not to give Iverson favorable calls as a way to "teach him a lesson". Iverson attempted 12 free throws, more than any other player on either team. On 12 drives to the basket, he drew five fouls, three of which Donaghy whistled himself, and did not receive a call on one play in which he was obviously fouled by Utah's Mehmet Okur.
Iverson returned to Philadelphia on March 19, 2008 to a sell-out crowd and received a standing ovation in a 115–113 loss.
Detroit Pistons and Memphis Grizzlies (2008–2009)
On November 3, 2008, Iverson was dealt from the Denver Nuggets to the Detroit Pistons for guard Chauncey Billups, forward Antonio McDyess and center Cheikh Samb. Iverson, who had worn a #3 jersey his entire NBA career, switched to number 1 for the Pistons, which Billups previously wore for the team.
Iverson scored at least 24 in four of his first five games with Detroit (They won 3 of the 5), and would score 20 or more and 6 or more assists on a consistent basis, but as the season wore on he would lose playing time to Rodney Stuckey. Some have speculated that Pistons President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars did not envision a long-term role for Iverson on the team, but traded for him to make Stuckey the point guard of the future and free cap space with Iverson's expiring contract.
On April 3, 2009, it was announced that Iverson would not play the remainder of the 2008–09 season. Dumars cited Iverson's ongoing back injury as the reason for his deactivation, although two days prior Iverson stated publicly that he'd rather retire than be moved to the bench as Pistons coach Michael Curry had decided.
On September 10, 2009, Iverson signed a one-year contract with the Memphis Grizzlies. Iverson stated that "God chose Memphis as the place that I will continue my career", and that "I feel that they are committed to developing a winner."
However, Iverson again expressed his displeasure at being a bench player, and left the team on November 7, 2009 for "personal reasons". On November 16, the Grizzlies announced the team terminated his contract by "mutual agreement". Iverson played three games for the Grizzlies, averaging 12.3 ppg, 1.3 rpg, and 3.7 apg in 22.3 mpg.
Return to the 76ers (2009–2010)
On November 25, 2009, analyst Stephen A. Smith published on his blog a statement attributed to Iverson announcing plans for retirement, which also said, "I feel strongly that I can still compete at the highest level."
Less than a week later on November 30, Iverson and his representatives met with a Philadelphia 76ers delegation about returning to his former team, and accepted a contract offer two days later. General manager Ed Stefanski declined to go into the terms of the agreement, but an unnamed source told the Associated Press that Iverson agreed to a one-year non-guaranteed contract at the league minimum salary. Iverson would receive a prorated portion of the $1.3 million minimum salary for players with at least 10 years of experience, and the contract would become guaranteed for the remainder of the 2009–10 season if he remained on the roster on January 8, 2010. Stefanski said the team made the decision to pursue Iverson after starting guard Louis Williams suffered a broken jaw and was expected to miss at least 30 games.
On December 7, 2009, Iverson made his return to Philadelphia, garnering a thunderous ovation from the sold-out crowd, in a loss against his former team, the Denver Nuggets. He finished the game with 11 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, a steal, and no turnovers. Iverson's first win in his return to Philadelphia came one week later, in a 20-point effort against the Golden State Warriors, ending the Sixers' 12-game losing streak (which stood at 9 games before Iverson returned). He shot 70 percent from the field in the game.
On January 3, 2010, he returned to Denver to face the Nuggets; Iverson scored 17 points and had seven assists in the 108-105 win. He was voted as a starter for the All-Star Game for the 11th straight season. He scored a season-high 23 points (on 56% shooting from the field) in a 99-91 loss to Kobe Bryant and the defending champion Lakers.
On February 22, 2010, Iverson left the 76ers indefinitely, citing the need to attend to his 4-year-old daughter Messiah's health issues, which he revealed years later as Kawasaki Disease. On March 2, Ed Stefanski announced Iverson would not return to the 76ers for the rest of the season to deal with the personal matter. His final NBA game was a loss against Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls on February 20, 2010.