13 Years Ago, Allen Iverson Delivered His “Practice” Rant
Thirteen years ago today Allen Iverson strode onto a podium and gave an end-of-season press conference for the ages. A year removed from the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and a trip to the NBA Finals, the Sixers finished 6th in the division in 2002. They rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the first round of the playoffs to force a winner-take-all Game 5 in Boston. They were routed, 120-87.
It was a quick fall for the team that had captivated Philadelphia the summer before, with “GO SIXERS” signs in every business window and non-sports fans suddenly captivated by the Sixers’ bench scoring after the Game 1 upset over the Lakers in the NBA Finals. Now, after a disappointing season, Larry Brown told the media Iverson had been missing practices that season. Reporters, naturally, questioned Iverson about his work ethic at the postseason presser.
This is what people remember about it: “We talkin’ ’bout practice.” He said “practice” 19 times in a span of a few minutes. It is now an established sports cliche: Here’s an article about NASCAR’s practice sessions at Talladega Superspeedway this weekend. It references Iverson. So does this story about the NFL Draft. Before the Kentucky Derby, War Story was compared to Iverson because of “he knows the difference between practice and the real thing.” (This comparison turned out to be incredibly unfair to Iverson; War Story finished 16th out of 18.)
Imitating the rant has even become a comedy staple. Here’s LeBron James doing it. And then-Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon. And a little girl. And Darth Vader. And Frank Caliendo doing Morgan Freeman doing Allen Iverson. And a Canadian burger chain. And an insurance company. And Santa Claus.
Erhm, maybe it’s safer to say it’s simply “a staple” rather than a comedy staple. What’s amusing is how quickly the cliche took hold: Even by the end of his original rant people in the back were yelling “practice!” along with Iverson.
Sportswriters and fans are experts at running cliches in to the ground — do not say the word “playoffs” near an NFL fan — but “practice” still always brings a smile to my face. I was a 19-year-old intern at Comcast SportsNet’s website, which was then part of the marketing department. My first night, I wrote a sidebar on the Sixers’ 83-81 win over the Celtics to force the Game 5 where the Sixers were destroyed. (I saw two employees at the arena that was then known as the First Union Center chest bump each other after Iverson gave the Sixers the lead with 23 seconds left. “We still have a job!” they said in unison.)
Obviously, I remember “practice” from that press conference. But what was also great was the first exchange:
Reporter: “Overall, Allen, tell us how the year ended for you as a team?”
Iverson: “We lost, man. It ain’t a whole bunch to that. Simple as that, we lost.”
Deadspin’s Dom Cosentino called the press conference “a rapid-fire burst of genuine emotion that lasted for roughly 30 minutes.” At one point, Iverson questioned Daily News Sixers writer Phil Jasner about his basketball career:
Reporter: “There are people that have suggested, myself included, that instead of shooting 40 percent, you…
Iverson: “What do you know about basketball? Have you ever played?”
Iverson: “I don’t know Phil, I don’t know you as a basketball player. I know you as a columnist but I have never heard of you as a player though.
Reporter: “Why is that an issue?”
Iverson: “Why is that an issue? Because we’re talking about basketball.”
Reporter: “Let me ask my question.”
Iverson: “Go ahead, Phillip.”
(Somehow, “We’re talking about basketball” and “Go ahead, Phillip” did not become well-worn cliches.)
As long as it remains an easy joke to make, Iverson’s “practice” rant will not go away. But at least we can look back at it, 13 years later, and find it amusing. So laugh — Allen Iverson can. After all, his “practice” rant has also been parodied by none other than Allen Iverson.
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