Over the course of the team’s history, the Philadelphia 76ers have seen no shortage of legends suit up for the City of Brotherly Love.
Each era has its greats: Dolph Schayes in the ’50s and early ’60s who turned the reins over to Wilt Chamberlain in the socio-political turbulence of the late ’60s. Chamberlain was followed by Darryl Dawkins, Moses Malone, Julius Erving, Maurice Cheeks, and Andrew Toney during Philadelphia’s excellent run in the late ’70s and ’80s. The next generation saw Jerry Stackhouse, Charles Barkley, Allen Iverson, and Hersey Hawkins lead the charge to Y2K. And while the lead-up to The Process years might have been light on superstar talent (Andre Igoudala and Jrue Holiday, anyone?), the years-long pursuit of tanking yielded fruits like Joel Embiid and, by extension James Harden.
Even though Harden’s played fewer than 40 games with the Sixers, he has the opportunity to join Philadelphia’s pantheon should he help the team secure its first championship title since 1983. But to date, Harden’s playoff resume looks less like Chamberlain’s and more like Iverson’s — a player who came up just short time and again.
And according to Ben Rohrbach of Yahoo! Sports, that might not be the only thing Harden has in common with Iverson.
“Philadelphia hopes Harden is more willing and able to accept a supplementary role than Iverson was late in his career. Embiid is the MVP candidate now, and that gives Harden a decent shot to extend his career as a setup man, so long as he is not already the hobbled and aging Scottie Pippen of 1998 to Embiid’s Jordan,” Rohrbach wrote on October 6.
Is Harden facing an Iverson-esque downturn? If so, it could doom the Sixers this season. A closer look at Iverson’s demise reveals the seriousness of the small guard’s cliff dive.
A Look Back at Allen Iverson’s Demise
In Iverson’s prime, which we’ll stake between 1999 and his final full season in Philadelphia in 2005-06, few players scored quite like the former Georgetown Hoya. In that span, he led the league in scoring three times, with an average over that seven-year stretch of 29.9 points per night.
It was a stretch where Iverson could single-handedly carry a team well past its ceiling, as Iverson did in 2001 when he left the Los Angeles Lakers with its only blemish in an otherwise stellar postseason run. In a losing effort, Iverson managed 35.6 points per game on 40.7% shooting from the field. Even more impressive? The 6’0 guard gobbled up 5.6 boards per game against a side that featured 7’1 Shaquille O’Neal.
But Iverson’s decline was swift; after he was traded away from Philadelphia, he never averaged more than 27 points per game and by 2008 wasn’t even getting up to 20.
Harden’s decline promises to be slightly less severe. But the two players both made careers off their quickness and first step to burst past the opposition.
And as Rohrbach pointed out, the source of Harden and Iverson’s demise might share a strong commonality: lifestyle.
Harden and Iverson Have Well-Publicized Lifestyles
During his career, Iverson was regularly the target of unfair public scrutiny over his lifestyle away from basketball. In a similar vein, Harden’s been the regular target of criticism over his life off the court.
“Less has been made of 33-year-old Harden’s fall from top-five MVP candidate for the Rockets from 2017-20 to outside the All-NBA picture for the Nets and Philadelphia 76ers the past two years, if only because his decline is not so precipitous. Yet, anyone who has seen Harden’s decreased levels of commitment and health during a two-year period in which he has requested multiple trades can attest to a concerning trend,” Rohrbach explained.
Fortunately, Harden enters the new season having taken his fitness and conditioning seriously this summer.