The Calculus of a Crossover

You know how Allen Iverson tends to spend a lot of time noodling with the ball on the perimeter, teasing his defender?

Don't you wonder what's going through his mind at that time? I think a lot of people suspect he is merely trying to embarrass his opponent with tricks, but I suspect that's not so. He's far too competitive, and respectful, to think like that.

I think he's setting different things up. Working the mind of the defender.

And I just ran across a little video clip from the archives where Iverson talks about doing just that. In this clip about the famous 1997 play where he crossed up Michael Jordan, Iverson describes his first crossover merely as an attempt to see how Jordan would react. Armed with that information, Iverson launches his scoring move.

It has long been an NBA mystery how somebody as tiny as Allen Iverson has been able to score so much against bigger players. Speed is part of it. Having a lot of possessions to play with is another. Shooting ability. But more than anything, it's about his skillful and careful application of his extraordinary creativity.

An interesting little sidenote: Iverson started crossing people over at Georgetown. According to Larry Platt's 2002 book Only the Strong Survive, this is how it happened:

... at Georgetown, [Iverson] often stayed after practice to play one-on-one against walk-on guard Dean Berry. Berry had known Iverson since the eighth grade, having played against him in AAU tournaments. Now, Iverson was clearly the better player, but one who, in Berry's estimation, got by on pure talent alone. He was so quick he never had develop moves in order to get to the basket. He could just get there, period. But that would not be the case forever; as the level of competition rose, so, too, did the challenge to invent ways to succeed.

Berry, with his limited skills, had spent years developing his game. A cerebral player, he started studying tapes in the seventh grade of great ball handlers. Over and over again, he'd watch Tim Hardaway's crossover dribble, commonly referred to as the "UTEP Two-Step." (Hardaway had gone to UTEP.) He watched Isiah Thomas's unique version of the same move. He saw John Stockton remove all the bells and whistles and confound opposing guards with it. ...

Berry adopted facets of every crossover he studied. ... The reason Iverson kept playing Berry after practice was that he couldn't stop Berry's crossover -- even when he knew it was coming. He'd tell himself not to go for the fake, and he knew he was quicker his teammate -- the twelfth man on the team! -- but then Berry would drop a cross on him and the next thing you knew, the walk-on was around him.

"Man," Iverson finally said, "you gotta show me that s---."

From then on, Berry taught his superstar teammate his favorite move.