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Philadelphia 76ers

How Allen Iverson's legendary NBA Finals moment connected two young fans from over 5,000 miles away

Over 5,000 miles separate Buenos Aires and Charlotte, NC.

On June 6, 2001, that distance was rendered meaningless thanks to one game.

It was on that night that a 10-year-old in Buenos Aires and a seven-year-old in Charlotte both found themselves fixated on what was happening in Los Angeles, CA: Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals between the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers.

Nearly 20 years later, this classic game - and its most unforgettable play - still serves as a common thread between these two.

This is the story of how the game of basketball first connected NBA.com's Juan Estevez and Gilbert McGregor, long before we would even know it would one day bring us together.

Background

Juan Estevez: Like many people born in the early 90s, my first contact with basketball was through Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. To be honest, being in a country like Argentina, where football is the first, second and third sport, MJ was the only option we had regarding the NBA. Young Argentinian kids were either Jordan/Bulls fans or just didn't watch the sport at all.

I was in the first group.

If I had to summarize my view of the NBA as an eight-year-old, it would be something like this: A league where Jordan and his teammates played against different opponents. I didn't see the teams as equal.

It was the Bulls against the rest.

To me, it felt almost like a TV show, where the good guys face a new villain each week.

So when Jordan announced his second retirement, it felt like literally the end of the league. I remembered I tried to remain a fan of the Bulls for a couple of games of the 1999-2000 season only to find out that none of my heroes were there anymore.

No Jordan, no Pippen, no Rodman, no Harper, no Kerr. Not even Phil Jackson.

I gave up probably after two weeks. And with that, I disengaged completely from the NBA.

I have absolutely no recollection of watching any game of the 2000 or 2001 Playoffs. Zero, blank.

And then, 2001 came.

Gilbert McGregor: I was born in May 1994, 10 months before Jordan would return from his first retirement.

My dad worked for as a broadcaster for the Charlotte Hornets and as a result, basketball was all I really knew early on.

Or so I thought.

I always knew the names of big players: Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Shawn Kemp, Dikembe Mutombo, you name em. I could point them out and tell you about them.

When I was four, the Hornets faced Jordan and the Bulls in the 1998 Eastern Conference Semifinals but honestly, I didn't really know much of what was going on. I really only remember a sold-out Charlotte Coliseum and a crowd captivated by Jordan in what would be his last year as a Chicago Bull.

It wasn't until the turn of the century that I became truly aware of what was going on.

By 2001, I was still a fan of the stars - Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter, Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson to name a few.

But still, it was the Hornets - and Baron Davis - over anyone else.

So when the 2001 Finals came around, I was still bitter about my Hornets dropping Games 6 and 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals to the Milwaukee Bucks.

I was sure we could've beaten the Sixers or the Toronto Raptors. We should have been in the 2001 Finals.

Estevez: I didn't watch any of the previous series. Or if I did, I have no memories of them. But the Finals were a different story.

I recall being in the living room of my house in Buenos Aires with my big brother Rodolfo. It was late, after dinner and no one else was there. Just me and Rodolfo. I was sitting on the floor, he was still on the table. And the TV was on ESPN as usual, given that both of us were sports fans (in my case, just football at that point).

On June 6, 2001, apparently two teams called Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers were playing for the NBA title. Until that night, I had no idea of their existence. I only knew about the Bulls and the two rivals I previously saw them play in the Finals: the Seattle SuperSonics and Utah Jazz. I knew who John Stockton, Karl Malone, Gary Payton and Kemp were, but I´ve never heard about Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe or Iverson.

At least not until that game started.

McGregor: Bitterness aside, I still had to watch. It was the NBA Finals, after all, and besides, two of my idols in Kobe and AI were set to take the floor.

Naturally, I had to pick my side before the series began and my seven-year-old logic coupled with adoration of Kobe led me to go with the Lakers. It also helps that I was 100% sure they'd win; I was trying to celebrate with the winners by the series' end.

My parents? They decided to roll with Philly, mainly because of their appreciation of head coach Larry Brown.

Here we go, Wednesday night. School is out. The NBA on NBC theme is going and I'm in my living room prepared to obnoxiously cheer my heart out after my parents made the silly choice of cheering for the 76ers.

In my mind, this one was bound to be a sweep. I was wrong but hey, I was seven.

Estevez: I was lucky enough to have my reunion with basketball on a night where Allen Iverson was at his absolute peak.

Had AI not played the way he did in Game 1, my life might not be the way it is now.

I've been covering basketball as my main job for nearly eight years and I´ve made great friends working on those jobs. I even met the love of my life on a radio show about basketball!

Most of the things I am, I can trace them back to that night and that classic performance.

But, of course, it wasn't just the 48 points that instantly made me a fan of Iverson (and the Sixers). If that was the case, maybe I could have been interested in that giant named Shaq, who finished with 44 points and 20 rebounds.

It was Iverson himself that caught my attention, not his game.

His hair, the sleeve, the black jersey, the long shorts, the speed, the height, the tattoos, the handles. To me, as a 10-year-old, he was the definition of cool.

I had found my new MJ. The NBA - and basketball - was alive again.

McGregor: Now that I think back, that decision to cheer for the Lakers was a little bit harder than I'm making it seem.

As Juan's description should tell you. AI was much bigger than a basketball player.

He wore Reebok Answer IVs in Game 1. I had gotten the blue colourway of that same sneaker for Christmas but unfortunately grew out of them before I could even get enough wears in. I had NBA 2K and 2K1 with him on the cover. I even wanted braids but my mom didn't oblige. Given how goofy I would've looked, it was probably for the best.

But the sleeve. Man, it seems like every other player wears one now but back then … it was a phenomenon.

My cousin and I would plot on how to cut long socks, stockings, anything to recreate that look. It was something we had never seen before.

All that being said, I was still rolling with who I figured would be the winners. I mean, they hadn't lost in over two months.

So, of course, I got a bit nervous when the game wasn't going how I expected it to. Philly took the lead in the second quarter and didn't look back for a while - it led by as many as 15 points in the third.

Once LA clawed back it was a good one. As the game wound down, the seven-year-old in me just wanted to see a game-winner, I didn't care from which team. It was a series after all.

I actually remember Eric Snow missing the potential game-winner more vividly than anything else from this game. It wasn't a terrible look, either.

But oh well, overtime it is.

That's where AI would do the unforgettable.

The Play

Estevez: Even though I remember the game itself, I would be lying if I said that I can recall the specific plays or scores by AI with the exception of two.

They just so happened to occur within a one-minute span.

I remember celebrating the Iverson 3 that put the Sixers up 101-99 with 1:20 remaining. And, of course, the play of the night: A jump shot over Tyronn Lue to almost seal the deal.

McGregor: LA hadn't lost in over two months and now that it was in overtime, I didn't think that would be changing.

The Sixers had missed out on their chance.

I counted out the league's MVP a bit too soon.

The Lakers went up 99-94 before the Sixers would close the game on a 13-2 run fueled by Iverson and … Raja Bell?

As a quick aside, I remember being frustrated at the inaccuracy of NBA 2K1. Iverson was on the cover but Bell was nowhere to be found on the game. This was long before the days of online roster updates, so I remember creating Bell in the game.

That he made the shot to begin this run is even more interesting.

Bell made a crucial bucket but it was AI that did the heavy lifting. Despite fatigue and the pesky defence of Lue, he found a way.

The shot. And the step over. Man … I remember how awe-struck we all were as we saw AI make the statement that while Lue might have made things difficult … he wasn't going to stop Allen Iverson.

48 points. Game 1 upset. Book it.

Estevez: Staying with my naive view of the sport as something with good and bad guys, that night I saw Ty Lue, not Shaq, as the main villain. He had a similar height and hairstyle, but, of course, he wasn't Iverson. He was just someone who was trying to stop MY guy.

And for some time, he was having success with that.

Lue was a pest on defence. He was shadowing every Iverson move, denying the ball and forcing turnovers and bad shots. The three points (on 1-for-5 shooting) that No. 3 scored in the fourth quarter while mostly defended by Lue are an example of that.

So when AI not only made that shot, but then stepped over a fallen Lue, I saw it as the happy ending of the movie. The hero had prevailed. The good guys were going to win.

Just as Jordan and the Bulls always did.

Lasting Impact

Estevez: That game, that performance and especially that play hooked me again to basketball. And I never gave up on it.

Of course, there were others factors, like the emergence of the Golden Generation in my country (interestingly enough, one month after that Sixers-Lakers, I watched the tournament that gave birth to that team, the qualifiers for the 2002 FIBA World Cup).

Before Manu, before Scola, before Nocioni, there was Iverson. Everything (re)started with AI.

Even though the Sixers would lose the next four games to one of the most dominant basketball teams of all time, we will always associate that Finals with Iverson stepping over Lue. It was probably the most iconic moment for one of the biggest icons of 2000s NBA.

I don't think there is a more global league than the NBA and the fact that those two kids that were watching that Finals game, distanced by thousands of miles, are now adults working on the same project, shows you exactly that.

McGregor: And here we are. Because of my background and the way I gravitated to the game at an early age, I knew I wanted to stay around basketball once my playing career ended. To be able to cover the league I grew up around has been a dream come true.

In 2020, both Juan and I work tirelessly to continue the growth of the same sport that united us nearly 20 years ago.

Amazingly, it took just one conversation to realize that.

When I learned about Juan's fanhood, he drew back to his memories of Jordan as well as how he was captivated by Iverson in 2001.

My eyes lit up when I heard his recollection of those Finals as I was immediately taken back to that Wednesday night at home with my parents.

As he and I talked about our history with the game and why we gravitated towards it, Juan's description of this game's importance to his journey immediately brought me back to where I was as it all unfolded.

Those shared experiences and feelings are part of the beauty of basketball.

That we were once united from over 5,000 miles away is a reminder of just how powerful this game can be.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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