Back in the summer of 1991, the Los Angeles Lakers were a mess, trapped in a miasma of mediocrity and mired by a 37-year-old coach who, despite his age, was still revered by the media. When Phil Jackson took over, he didn’t mince words, declaring that he wanted to win a title, and that the only way to do so was to have a new face on the roster.
In 1998, the Los Angeles Lakers had a promising young point guard in a rookie named Kobe Bryant. However, the team also had one of the league’s all-time greats leading the bench in a veteran named Phil Jackson. Jackson had been a bench player his entire career, but he quickly realized that he could be a valuable asset as a coach as long as he’d be willing to coach as a coach. Jackson was not a big fan of rookies, so he decided to do something about this.
The Lakers are often regarded as the kings of the basketball world, but if you think about it, that’s not true. The Lakers would be out of the playoffs if it weren’t for the 11th seeded Portland Trailblazers, who beat them in their first-round matchup. Let’s be honest, the Lakers should probably give this year’s NBA finals MVP to the team that would’ve won if their season hadn’t been interrupted by the damn lockout. But I digress, why are the Lakers so revered? Well, they are the defending NBA champions, but they are also the most successful expansion team of all time. The Lakers are the only team to win 5 NBA championships in a row. They are also the only team to
When the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers met in the NBA Finals in 2001, there were two significant storylines. To begin with, how would Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant do in their second straight Finals appearance? Second, who do you think could stop Allen Iverson?
The Los Angeles Lakers’ head coach, Phil Jackson, was particularly concerned about the second storyline. In 2000-01, Iverson was named league MVP after virtually single-handedly guiding the Sixers to the NBA Finals. The Los Angeles Lakers knew they’d have their hands full defending Iverson, even with two All-Stars of their own.
So, in the days leading up to the Finals, the Zen Master sought help from an unlikely source in the hopes of finding a solution to… The Solution.
As the NBA’s Most Valuable Player, Allen Iverson had a fantastic season.
Iverson was better than Shaq and Kobe in 2000-01. The six-foot guard from Georgetown led the conference in scoring for the second year in a row, averaging 31.1 points per game. It was the first of four seasons in which A.I. averaged 30 points or more, a feat previously achieved only by Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, and Oscar Robertson.
Iverson’s regular-season accomplishments were notable, especially given his small stature in a league dominated by big players. But it was his playoff performance that really showed how good The Answer was that year.
Iverson scored 54 points in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Toronto Raptors, after a home loss in Game 1 of the series. To help his team survive and advance, he scored 52 points in Game 5 and 16 assists in Game 7. A.I. set the tone in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals with a 34-point performance. However, it was in Games 6 and 7 when Iverson scored 46 and 44 points, respectively, to bring the Philadelphia 76ers to their first NBA Finals since 1983.
Larry Brown, the 76ers’ coach, described him as “one of a kind.” “He was the most outstanding player I’ve ever had on a team.”
To prepare for Iverson, Phil Jackson enlisted the help of an undrafted rookie.
Mike Penberthy #12 of the Los Angeles Lakers impersonated Allen Iverson in practice leading up to and during the NBA Finals. | Mandatory Credit: Robert Laberge /Allsport
Mike Penberthy of The Master’s College (now The Master’s University), a 6-foot-3 point guard, was a member of the NAIA’s private Christian school. His NBA career lasted two seasons, with him appearing in 53 of the Lakers’ 56 games as a reserve. Before spending the most of his career overseas, Penberthy averaged 4.9 points per game in two NBA seasons.
At one point, he was Allen Iverson.
Despite missing the playoffs, Penberthy continued to play an important role for the Lakers. During practices, Jackson had the kid mimic the point guards LA would face in the playoffs. For the last few weeks, Penberthy has been mimicking the routines and demeanors of Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damon Stoudamire, Sacramento Kings’ Jason Williams, and San Antonio Spurs’ Avery Johnson.
With one series left, Jackson had Penberthy mimic Iverson in order to assist his teammates prepare for the league MVP (h/t Jeff Pearlman is a writer who lives in New York City, author of New York City’s Three-Ring Circus: Kobe, Shaq, and the Crazy Years of the Lakers Dynasty).
On the first day of Iverson 101, Jackson said, ‘Mike, I’m giving you the green light.’ ‘Get out there and shoot,’ says the narrator. Like a whirling dervish, Penberthy spun with intensity and passion. All of the triangle’s rules may — and should — be abandoned. He stomped on [starting point guard Derek] Fisher, then stomped on [Tyronn] Lue before pulling up on Kobe and firing.”
Penberthy was soaking up the attention, while the Lakers were getting a crash course in defending the MVP.
“Guys would say, ‘Mike, you’re a fantastic player!’” Penberthy afterwards thought about the event. “Breaking out was a lot of fun.”
Penberthy played a key role in the Lakers’ win against Iverson and the 76ers.
“Iverson 101” did not completely neutralize Iverson. A.I.’s 48 points in Game 1 gave Philadelphia an early lead in the series. The Lakers, on the other hand, restricted Iverson to under 40% shooting from the field over the next several days, winning four straight games to claim their second consecutive title.
In the end, Penberthy returned to Los Angeles. In 2020, the former Laker won a championship while serving as an assistant under head coach Frank Vogel. Before returning to Los Angeles, he served as an assistant with the New Orleans Pelicans and Minnesota Timberwolves, as well as a private trainer.
The former Master’s College All-American is still on Vogel’s bench, and he has a chance to add to his trophy collection. Few memories, though, will ever compare to the day in 2001 when he dressed up like Allen Iverson for a few photo shoots.
All statistics were supplied by Basketball Reference.
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