INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- It’s a basketball moment that occurred nearly 15 years ago and remains frozen in time.
There was a little less than a minute left in overtime of Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals between the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers and the league’s reigning MVP was sizing up a little-known reserve guard.
Allen Iverson had the ball in his hands with the Sixers clinging to a two-point lead in L.A. and Tyronn Lue was tasked with trying to stop him to keep the Lakers’ undefeated postseason intact.
What happened next became one of the most recognizable sequences in the history of the sport. After a series of jab steps, Iverson broke out his patented right-to-left crossover dribble to free himself of Lue just enough to launch a 16-foot pull-up jumper. The shot found nothing but net, giving Iverson 48 points for the game and Philly a four-point lead with 48.2 seconds left.
Iverson punctuated the play by stepping over Lue, who had fallen to the floor after contesting the shot. It was as disrespectful as it gets, with Iverson leering down at his victim as he essentially sealed the upset win.
Even though the Lakers would go on to win the Finals, beating the Sixers in five games to capture their second straight championship, the sight of Iverson stepping over Lue in Game 1 remains the most iconic image associated with the series.
(Full disclosure: I grew up a Sixers fan. Philly made that run to the Finals during my senior year of high school, and some of my friends and I celebrated the Game 1 win by jumping in our cars and driving around the neighborhood honking our horns. Later, when I worked at NBA.com and had access to the official NBA Photos collection to decorate my cubicle, I requested a printout of Iverson stepping over Lue.)
And so, a decade and a half later, Iverson certainly caught people’s attention when he tweeted a congratulations to Lue after he was named as David Blatt’s replacement as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers last week.
Congratulations to Tyron Lue. Well deserved and good luck. Love you
— Allen Iverson (@alleniverson) January 23, 2016
Was it just another example of time healing all wounds?
“We became really good friends after that,” Lue said after practice Tuesday. “Like, after the Finals, probably four or five years after, we hated each other. But then after the careers went along, we became pretty close and had a good bond. He’s really a good friend of mine.”
Lue is at peace with the play. Even though he actually had five steals in that Finals game and went on to carve out an 11-year NBA career, he knows that he’ll always be known as the guy that Iverson literally walked all over.
“It definitely created buzz,” Lue said. “When I was going places it was, ‘Oh, that’s the guy Allen Iverson stepped over!’ Well, if you know that, then you know me. So that’s fine. I don’t have a problem with that. He’s going to arguably go down as probably the best player under 6-foot in NBA history, so I don’t have a problem with that at all.”
When the Cavs were booed by their hometown fans in Lue’s coaching debut, a 96-83 loss to Chicago, he said it hardly fazed him, alluding to the history with Iverson.
“I’ve been booed before, along with a lot of these guys,” Lue said. “Every time I go to Philly I get booed, so, you know, that’s not a big deal."
He has a good sense of humor about it by now. When Cleveland played in Philadelphia earlier this month, Lue even posed for a photo with a fan wearing a sweatshirt that had an artist rendering of Iverson stepping over him printed on it.
But that doesn’t mean he won’t defend himself by explaining what actually happened during that play.
“I mean, if you look at the image, I played good defense,” Lue said. “He snatched it back, I contested his shot, I’m looking (at the trajectory of the ball), I fall down and he steps over me. People act like I got crossed over and I fell and he stepped over me. So, it doesn’t bother me. We won the championship. That’s all that matters. It’s all about winning.”
After Iverson’s Game 1 outburst, the Lakers won the next four games of the series to finish the postseason with a 15-1 record. Iverson averaged 32.5 points in those four games, but shot 39.7 percent from the field in doing so.
“That’s something they cherish,” Lue said of Philadelphia fans. “They cherish that moment of going to the Finals. I don’t know why they hate me so much. It’s like it was 3-3 and in Game 7 we won the championship. Like, it was 4-1! It wasn’t even close. It’s like, you mad that we won the championship, but it wasn’t even close. They still love that moment, so I don’t have a problem with that.”
The image recently resurfaced as an Internet meme with Lue's face photoshopped on Iverson's body and Blatt's face photoshopped on his.
Now in charge of coaching LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and the Cavs, Lue has a chance to become known for something that could become even bigger than that play with Iverson: helping to squelch a 50-plus year championship drought in Cleveland.
“I think it meant the same thing it kind of means right now with getting this coaching job of not really being anybody and getting a chance to perform on a big stage, in the NBA Finals,” Lue said when asked what the Iverson connection has meant to his career. “And going against, at that time, the MVP -- one of the top three best players in the NBA -- and just have a chance, coming out of nowhere, to try to take on that challenge has kind of been my life story, being the underdog.”