On the 20th Anniversary of “The Stepover,” Some Desperately Needed Context

The Stepover

Admittedly, the timing of this story is terrible.

We’re not here to dump more negativity on Sixers fans after a tough Game 1 loss in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, but this weekend marked the 20th anniversary of Allen Iverson’s famous “Stepover,” which is worthy of a post. We have to re-visit one of the most meme’d and beloved moments in Philadelphia sporting history.

Unfortunately, I have to say that I somewhat agree with Russell when he says this:

Now, for some background here, Russ is an Iverson hater. He was something like six years old when Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals was played, and he didn’t watch prime Iverson back then, when A.I. was mandatory viewing on a nightly basis.

But Russ is right that this specific moment is overrated, and here’s why I think that is:

  1. Tyronn Lue actually had a good game and played great defense on this sequence.
  2. The Sixers went on to lose 4-1 after stealing Game 1.
  3. The Stepover glorifies one singular moment and ignores Iverson’s larger, macro-level performance in the game.

Let’s start with bullet point #1 –

If you watch the sequence again, you notice that Lue stays with Iverson the entire time. It’s a brilliant crossover, and Iverson put so many guys on their rear ends with his handle over the years, but in this case Lue recovered well to contest the field goal. When the shot went up, he turned around, stepped on Iverson’s foot, and then fell over.

People point to the Stepover as a savage moment of disrespect, and it was, but it’s not like A.I. put Lue on skates. Lue was looking at the rim and then tripped over Iverson and landed on his butt. You actually cannot defend that play any better, and this sequence showed just how damn good Iverson was on the night. I think a younger generation glorifies the Stepover in a way where they want to clown Tyronn Lue and act like he got roasted, but that’s not what actually happened.

Bullet point #2 –

It’s hard to watch that video clip in a vacuum, knowing that the Sixers went out via gentleman’s sweep in the series. They played hard but were overmatched, and really didn’t have any business being on the same floor as the Lakers. One of best moments in Philadelphia sports cannot be the precursor for four straight losses. It just tarnishes the moment when you remove it from the vacuum and look at the series in totality.

Bullet point #3 –

It’s annoying that everybody blathers on about the Stepover when there are so many Iverson highlights worth showing in this game. For those who remember, Lue didn’t even start guarding him until later in the game, after A.I. had cooked Kobe for the entirety of the first half. Lue was a change of pace off the bench, and he was draped all over A.I., holding and grabbing and getting up in his face, long before the days of cheap NBA foul drawing and contact initiating. Right before the Stepover, Iverson made a good defensive play on Lue and then got out for a transition three to put the Sixers up in overtime, which was just as big of a bucket, in the grand scheme of things. The next possession was the Stepover, which was part of a 7-0 individual run.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that there was so much more to that game than the Stepover. Iverson scored 48 points on 41 shots and played 52 minutes. LA tried everything they could to stop him. When you boil that game down and only come out of it with the Stepover, it feels like it’s doing a disservice to the overall performance. And Lue honestly played well. He was a +9 off the bench, hit two of his three shots, logged three assists and had five steals. He actually had the best +/- for the Lakers in Game 1, if you can believe it. Only Lue and Rick Fox finished with positive numbers. Shaq and Kobe logged a -6.

That’s the context everybody should recognize when talking about the Stepover. Was it an iconic Philadelphia sports moment? Absolutely. But the bigger takeaway should be Iverson’s macro-level performance in that game and less about one meme moment that took place only because a guy stepped on the opposing player’s foot and fell over. It was a symbolic moment, but only a singular moment.