As a little guy in a sport for the big guys, young, small T.J. Ford drew inspiration by watching what he felt was an older version of himself at Georgetown University.
The small man out-racing, out-shooting and out-thinking the basketball giants was Allen Iverson.
"I wanted to follow his footsteps," Ford, 23, said yesterday as his Raptors prepared for a home game tonight against Iverson, 31, and his surprisingly good Philadelphia 76ers, who entered play last night as the only undefeated team in the Eastern Conference.
"I wanted to go to Georgetown University. He set a trend there. He made basketball popular in the way of having style and using the killer crossover and taking it to another level. He's definitely somebody that's a trend-setter. He's definitely somebody that is a big part of the reason basketball is so global today."
There are obvious similarities between the point guards. Both are listed at 6-feet, 165 pounds, though those are generous numbers. Both could beat 99.9% of the world in the 100-yard dash.
But there are equally important differences.
"We're the same height, we're pretty much the same body," said Ford, who calls Iverson one of favourite players in the NBA. "Just different personalities, different looks. But we kind of have a lot of similarities in our game. When I look at him, I feel that I'm looking at myself and the things I feel I can do. But I'm just not that type of player."
Iverson likes to shoot and Ford likes to pass.
Both use their speed to make them effective at what they do best. Iverson leads the league in scoring and Ford's assist average (7.7) is not too shabby.
Ford was asked yesterday why he didn't emulate Iverson in his shoot-first style.
"I always had a good team," Ford said.
"My high school team, we had a lot of guys that were able to go to Division I and so we had to share the ball. The shots were limited, so I didn't have to do everything myself. We all respected each other and (everybody) had the ball. I think that's allowed me to change my game and not be much of a scorer."
Ford said he wishes he could play against Iverson "every day" even though A.I. is almost impossible to stop.
Ford never will be the world's greatest defender, but there is something else he can do to slow down Iverson.
"We've got to try to make him work at the other end of the court," said Raptors coach Sam Mitchell, who hasn't had a point guard in the past who could keep up with Iverson. "That's something you've got to do. You can't just let him play offence the whole night. We're going to do some things to try to keep him involved playing defensively."