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Larry Brown: Allen Iverson told my SMU team that he was the best player of all time

Sixers coach Larry Brown (left) and Allen Iverson embrace in 2001.  (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Sixers coach Larry Brown (left) and Allen Iverson embrace in 2001. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

LeBron James made some waves earlier this month when he said that he will be on "Mount Rushmore" of all-time basketball greats "for sure" once he returns, but the Heat forward isn't the only NBA MVP with a healthy respect for his own place in history.

Allen Iverson is set to have his No. 3 jersey retired by the Sixers on Saturday, and HBO's "Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel" recently caught up with Iverson's old coach, Larry Brown. The Hall of Fame coach manned the sidelines for the Sixers from 1997 until 2003, overseeing The Answer's 2001 MVP season, Philadelphia's 2001 Finals appearance, and Iverson's infamous "practice" rant in 2002.

Now the coach at Southern Methodist University, Brown reflected on Iverson's greatness and influence in an interview with Gumbel, passing on a vignette about Iverson telling Brown's collegiate players that he was the best player of all time.

Larry Brown: “[Allen Iverson was the] greatest competitor of all time, toughest kid of all time, maybe the greatest athlete I've ever seen. I can't walk in an airport, walk into a gym where the kids in the gym don't come to me and ask me about Allen and tell me he's their favorite player of all time.  And everywhere I go in airports, people look at me and they, ‘You're Allen's coach.’”

Bryant Gumbel: “When's the last time you talked to him?”

Larry Brown: “He was here about a month ago. He spoke to our team, Bryant, and it was the most unbelievable talk I've ever heard.  Our kids were spellbound.  And he was so open and honest with 'em.  He talked about the good things he did and the things he'd like to change, which weren't a lot.  But the one thing that stuck out in my mind, one of the kids said, ‘Who's the best player to ever play?’  Who do you think he said?”

Bryant Gumbel: “Himself.”

Larry Brown: “Allen Iverson.  And he said, ‘I'm not disrespecting Michael [Jordan] or Magic [Johnson] or Julius Erving or any of those guys.’  He said, ‘I couldn't have done what I did at my size if I didn't feel that way.’”

Back in October, Iverson formally retired from professional basketball, even though he hadn't played in an NBA game since Feb. 2010. During the press conference announcing that decision, Iverson thanked Brown for his guidance and for helping him "mature into an NBA basketball player."

“I always had the physical talent, I always had the physical ability, I could run with the best of them, I could jump with the best of them, but I just didn’t know the game," Iverson said. "Earlier in my career, I didn’t take criticism the right way. But it was always constructive criticism coming from coach Brown, it was always love that he had for me and I had to mature and understand that he was there, trying to [help me] become the player I ultimately ended up being. Once I took hold to everything he had to share with me, as far as the mental aspect of the game, that’s when it took me from here to here [raises hand] and took me to MVP status."

RELATED: Remembering Allen Iverson's Career

Iverson holds career averages of 26.7 points, 6.2 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 2.2 steals. The No. 1 overall pick in the 1996 draft, Iverson was the 1997 Rookie of the Year, a seven-time All-NBA selection and an 11-time All-Star. The 6-foot, 165-pound guard ranks No. 21 on the league's all-time scoring list -- he is the shortest player to appear in the chart's top 25 -- and No. 12 on the NBA's all-time steals list.

ESPN.com reported last fall that James declared that Iverson was, "pound-for-pound, probably the greatest player who ever played."

Iverson, 38, will be eligible for induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015. 

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