On this day in NBA Finals history: Allen Iverson steps over Tyronn Lue
The moment from the 2001 Finals created a bond between the players
On June 6, 2001, one play connected Allen Iverson and Tyronn Lue for eternity.
With less than a minute left in overtime of Game 1 of the NBA Finals between the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers, Iverson put a dagger in the hearts of his opponents with a sequence regarded as one of the greatest moments in Finals history.
Iverson caught the ball on the right wing and sized up his defender, Lue, with a few jab steps. He then drove right and employed his trademark crossover (the same one that put Michael Jordan in the mix in 1997) before putting up a 16-foot fadeaway jumper, which Lue leaned in to contest. As the shot swished through the net, Lue lost his footing and fell to the floor beneath Iverson, who emphatically stepped over him before making his way back down the court.
From the play, Iverson emerged as the victor and Lue as the conquered — a dichotomy that continues to be felt, even 16 years later. Lue remains somewhat the butt of jokes surrounding the moment, which became a cultural phenomenon. The iconic photo of Iverson’s “step over” has found its way onto paintings, T-shirts and hats. It’s also become a go-to meme for any instance imaginable when someone prevails over another (during the beef between Drake and Meek Mill in 2015, Drake’s head was photoshopped onto Iverson’s body, and Meek Mill’s onto Lue’s).
If it were up to Iverson, all of the jokes and memes would stop. They’re funny, he admits, but in his mind, Lue doesn’t deserve them.
“I don’t like it because I love him. I don’t like people joking on him and all that, because that’s my man,” Iverson told Rachel Nichols of ESPN’s The Jump in April 2016.
Yet Lue, who’s now the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, has taken the jest of the step over in stride. He’s even talked about the play more than Iverson.
“It definitely created buzz,” Lue told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin in January 2016. “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.”
What often gets lost in the aura of the step over is Iverson’s complete performance in Game 1 of the 2001 Finals. Iverson, the league MVP at the time, dropped 48 points in the series opener against the defending NBA champion Lakers. Another gem that night was actually Lue’s defense on Iverson, before his overtime barrage of seven straight points for the 76ers that climaxed with his legendary fadeaway to help seal the 107-101 win. After Iverson scored 38 points through 2 1/2 quarters, Lakers head coach Phil Jackson inserted Lue into the game to guard The Answer. And Lue strapped him up, holding Iverson to just three points until he got hot in the extra period.
But everyone can only seem to remember the step over, which Lue is at peace with. In a unique way, he still feels indebted to Iverson, who unintentionally carved out a role for Lue in the 2001 Finals as one of his primary defenders. Lue still wonders about his fate in the Finals had the Milwaukee Bucks, not the 76ers, emerged as Eastern Conference champions.
“If Milwaukee would have beat Philly, I wouldn’t have played,” Lue told Bleacher Report in June 2016. “So that could have possibly been my last year in the NBA. People don’t understand that. …
“The step over definitely made me famous. The thing with Allen Iverson is, he made me.”