Iconic Plays: Iverson steps over Lue

Published January 8, 2022, 7:00 PMJC Ansis

In overtime in Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals, Allen Iverson pulled off his signature crossover, knocked down the game-clinching shot, and stepped over Tyronn Lue.

Photos from Getty Images | Artwork by Melvin Rodas

To commemorate the NBA’s 75th anniversary season, NBA.com Philippines launched Iconic Plays, a series that dives into special moments from the league’s 75-year history. We've covered MJ's 'The Last Shot’Kobe and Shaq's alley-oopDr. J's reverse layup, Olajuwon's game-winning tip-in, and Kawhi's Game 7 buzzer-beater. In the sixth and final installment, JC Ansis puts the spotlight on Allen Iverson and his step over Tyronn Lue in the 2001 NBA Finals.

The Setup

I was enamored with the way Allen Iverson played the game because it was similar to how my generation approached everything in life during our teenage years: reckless, fearless, and full of energy. The time when the Iversons, Kobe Bryants, and Vince Carters came in and dominated the league (the mid-'90s to late 2000s) was the era of NBA basketball I am most closely attached to.

Iverson was a relentless scorer who had a lethal mix of outside shooting, flashy handles, and courageous efforts to attack the hoop. Despite his minuscule appearance, he was never frightened to go up against defenders who were bigger and stronger than he was. If there was an opening, he would take it head-on. That type of mentality established him as perhaps the greatest and toughest pound-for-pound player to ever play in the NBA.

He had been carrying Philly all by himself since he entered the league in '96. In 2001, Iverson had his lone MVP season by averaging a league-leading 31.1 points per game. He also carried the Sixers to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1983.

On the other side of the spectrum was the invincible duo of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal—the engine that drove the Los Angeles Lakers, who were now gunning for their second straight title.

Heading into Game 1 of the 2000 NBA Finals, the powerhouse Lakers steamrolled the Western Conference, sweeping their opponents in each round. On the other hand, the Sixers' path to the NBA Finals wasn't as easy. Everyone knew that the matchup between the Lakers and Sixers would be lopsided. There was no way that Philly would come out on top. Beating the in-form defending champs was an impossible task.

But Iverson and the Sixers came to play in Game 1. The game was tight all throughout, and an extra period was needed after regulation ended with the score tied 94-all.

Iverson, at this point, already had 41 points, but he only scored three in the fourth quarter. Lue had been in Iverson's grill since Phil Jackson plugged him in the game, denying AI the ball or forcing him out of his sweet spots and into contested jumpers.

O'Neal and Bryant opened up the scoring in overtime to put the Lakers on top by five with three minutes remaining. The Sixers went on a 7-0 blast, five points coming from Iverson, to grab a 101-99 lead. The Lakers tried to retaliate but they turned the ball over.

Then came the moment that everyone remembers.

The Moment

When the Sixers got the ball back and crossed half court, Iverson, who slid to the right side of the floor, received a pass from Raja Bell.

He held the ball for a few seconds with Lue right there in front of him. He sized him up, swaying the ball from side to side, strategizing how he'd attack.

In a matter of seconds, Iverson made a hard dribble to the right but immediately pulled the ball back, bounced it between his legs, gathered himself, and took a baseline fadeaway J.

Lue contested the shot but fell on the floor as the ball was going through the hoop. When the shot dropped, Iverson glanced at his fallen prey and stepped over him on his way back up the court. It was as if that entire sequence was a portrayal of Iverson calling "GAME".

Sixers went on to win Game 1 in overtime, 107-101, ending the Lakers' undefeated playoff run. Iverson finished with a line of 48 points, five rebounds, six assists, and five steals.

The Degree of Difficulty

Playing as the underdogs, the Sixers took it to the Lakers in Game 1. Iverson went toe-to-toe with Shaq and Kobe—the most unstoppable duo at the time. That's what made this moment so special.

Going mano a mano was Iverson's specialty. Unleashing a wicked crossover to create some space from his defender and hitting a fadeaway was nothing new to him—it was his go-to weapon.

The jumper was basic—a routine shot that any player could easily make. But it's impressive because it was done on the NBA's biggest stage against the strongest team inside a loud Staples Center with everyone rooting against him.

It was an ordinary play made by an extraordinary player. And stepping over Lue put the swag in it.

The Aftermath

Despite the Game 1 upset, Iverson and the 76ers never really had a chance against the defending champs. They lost the next four games and the Lakers eventually won their second straight title.

The Kobe-Shaq tandem went on to win one more chip in 2002 (sweeping Jason Kidd and the New Jersey Nets) before they disbanded in 2004 after a stunning NBA Finals loss to the Detroit Pistons.

Iverson, meanwhile, became one of the most influential players in league history but he never made it back to the NBA Finals. He had a few more solid years with the 76ers before he bounced around the league. He played his last NBA game in 2010 and had a quick stint in Turkey before retiring from professional basketball in 2013.

But no one can deny the monumental impact Iverson had on NBA culture. On the floor, Iverson was small, but he played big. And the step over Lue was the apex of his career and anointed him as one of basketball's all-time greats.