After an introduction from Los Angeles Clippers point guard/NBPA president Chris Paul and hip-hop star Lil Wayne that celebrated the former Philadelphia 76ers scorer as "a basketball supernova" who went past beyond pushing the envelope and instead "ripped the envelope apart," the 2000-01 NBA Most Valuable Player took the stage, credited Michael Jordan for giving him the vision to become a basketball player, and expressed his appreciation for the post-career love.
"This award is one of the most special awards I've ever received, because it comes from y'all, man," Iverson said to the players in attendance — few of whom were around for the heyday of the hard-charging guard who last played in the NBA in 2011 and officially retired in 2013 — at the Penn and Teller Theater at the Rio. "Y'all are the guys that brought everything out of me, night in and night out. It's been a great ride."
It has also, of course, been a bumpy ride at times.
Iverson's estimable on-court success — 11 All-Star appearances, seven All-NBA selections, four single-season scoring titles, 23rd place on the league's all-time scoring list, the brand of ferocious play that led those who followed him to revere him — came with quite a bit of trouble. With his coaches and co-workers, with each of his former employers, with his finances, with weapons, with alcohol, with gambling ... with just about everything, really.
But even in a post-playing period that appears to have seen more valleys than peaks, Iverson, now 40, continues to approach his day-to-day life with the same "me against the world" mindset that made him so electric, compelling and divisive on the court.
"When I leave out of the crib everyday, people always ask me, say to me, 'What's up, A.I.?'" Iverson said. "And I tell them the same thing 99.9 percent of the time. I tell them, 'The same fight, different round.' That's what it is. This world is a world title fight, you know what I mean? The rounds are days, and some days, you gonna get knocked down. Some rounds are gonna be good, some are gonna be bad. But the only thing that matters is getting back up, and fighting again."
Iverson thanked his family and friends for believing in him and helping him reach the heights he has in his life. He expressed particular gratitude for his ex-wife, Tawanna Iverson, with whom he has had a famously volatile relationship over the years before more recently finding solid footing, and their five children.
"My kids, I want to thank y'all for being that crutch," he said. "When everything is not going so well in my life, I get to come home and see y'all and use y'all as a crutch. I want to thank Tawanna Iverson. I mean, I met her at 16 years old, and, um, we're still here, baby."
Where Iverson goes from here remains unclear; he's expressed interest in joining the 76ers' front office, but thus far, owner Josh Harris and general manager Sam Hinkie have yet to take Iverson up on the offer of his "basketball genius." Whatever comes next for "The Answer," it was cool to see subsequent generations show their appreciation for the impression he made on them, on the basketball world and on popular culture in general, and to see him get to bask in that glow one more time.