The Iconic Soul of Allen Iverson

76ERS IVERSON REACTS TO FOUL CALL IN GAME WITH KNICKS

Be peace bro. Thanks for doing what you do…

It’s Friday night and the much hated Celtics are in town. This is the 2000-01 season and the Sixers are rolling. You’ve had these tickets for a while, yet somehow got stuck at work causing a short delay driving to the arena, but simply couldn’t miss the introductions and more importantly the tip-off.  You and your friends are rushing to the First Union Center from all points — whether it be the blue route, regional rail line, Broad Street bullying, coming in after being frustrated in traffic off 1-95 or having a few brews on South Street. You park and running up to the building, almost trip through the front door…shivering from the winter cold and just make it into your great seats and crack a smooth smile…excited to finally see Allen Iverson and his Sixers face the arch-rival Boston Celtics squad featuring Antione Walker and Paul Pierce. Because it’s Friday night, the arena is already loud and anticipating Sixers public address announcer Matt Cord to set it off: “A six…foot…guard from Georgetown…number threeee Allllllen Iverrrrrrrrsoooooon!”Yessssssss! These were the great ole days where the stars in The Answer’s eyes and the courage in his style simply made this evening shine that much greater…

The memories…

If you are a fan of Allen Iverson, why did you initially choose to follow his career so closely? Was it his raw appearance or his super talented game? Was it his emotional personality or an unapologetic desire to score the basketball? Was it his natural athleticism or an innate ability to remain on the floor no matter how many times he picked his hoops worn body off the hardwood? Was it his place in a cultural time where rebellious music and fashion were fresh, unique and true to the streets? Corn rolls were everywhere for a time and it can all be traced back to the one they call Bubba Chuck. Was it the flaws he allowed the world to see, his clashing at times with the media, his love of family or his athletic bravery? Now that he is gone from the game officially, how should history remember The Answer’s basketball career, and should the human side of him take precedent over a gifted will enabling him to accomplish what few have accomplished in the sport? Who should be the writers of his life and who should benefit from a narrative that currently is more interested in speaking about his finances more than his tremendously influential spirit? A spirit every kid alive could see as personally beneficial. What about the kid waking up every day and seeing Allen Iverson’s poster on his wall? Doesn’t he count as well? Yes, of course, for one day that Iverson fan might be the teller of a culturally iconic Iverson legacy.

Even in the age of social networking where few things stay in the dark, the perceptions of some athletes remain inexplicably misunderstood. Black athletes in particular are criticized for their athletic talent as if their athleticism somehow becomes a negative in an ever becoming more athletic sports landscape. Coupled with tremendous athleticism, even more are castigated for brash, yet very natural personalities having as much a hand in creating the professionals they’ve become as anything else in their lives. Inaccuracies depicting a lack of maturity follow them well into their 30’s and becomes a question in every press conference, whether spoken or implied, while their white counterparts escape a line of media fire wearing on souls throughout careers affecting many aspects of their professional and personal lives. Why must this be a part of us and what else am I to write if this is what my eyes see and my soul feels? Allen Iverson was his own man the same as any professional peer who did it his way in any other sport. Kids of all races light up when they see Iverson from Crenshaw Ave. and Malcolm X Boulevard to the upper east side of Manhattan and every street in Tokyo, Turkey, China and Africa. If Iverson earned 200 million, how many hundreds of millions lined the pockets of others that can be directly traced back to his talented persona? As I listened to Allen Iverson’s retirement press conference wanting to ask every question because few questions were interested in breaking a narrative of whom he was and what he now represents for time, I got a sense of sadness because some kid somewhere knows different of Iverson’s influence on their life on and off the floor. Listen to the opening of his press conference when Sixers ownership actually states that Iverson is always welcome into the Sixers fold. Why does something so obvious need to be articulated? Iverson is a first ballot Hall of Fame performer and the sole reason why the Sixers have sold out the few games they have over the course of his astounding career, so quite honestly, the ass that should be kissed should be his and not the other way around.

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How many simply saw Allen Iverson as green with eyes also green of envy?

Consider all the attention Iverson gave the league when the Sixers were on the road and the money stuffed in opportunistic coffers through street ball video games and merchandise sales. How much free press did the dress code offer the NBA, and that Iverson was the poster child for what ailed the NBA appearance wise, can be chalked up to Iverson’s influence as well. News is news whether it’s good or bad correct? There is a narrative of Iverson being broke soiling his retirement and despite few actually knowing the exact state of Iverson’s finances, speculation continues to fester. Kids don’t care about that bullshit. Allen Iverson is responsible for his life, and as he stated in the press conference, should he have gotten on 76 at 4 pm instead of 5 pm? Of course, but we all know no man is perfect and Allen is the first to understand how his sins during his time as a young globally known athlete, affected those closest to him. Everything that Allen Iverson is made him a great basketball player and choosing to separate what he is from whom some want him to be is as irrational as anything that ever was. He was Pac’s So Many Tears to B. I. G.’s Unbelievable. Those knowing every word to those tracks have every right to read positives of his life instead of ubiquitous pejoratives regardless of what is going on in his life great of his own doing and also the affecting opposite. What if those resembling Allen Iverson mentally, physically and spiritually carried the pens that surely become media swords? Would you dismiss the adulation in the ink of relative Iverson truth, or better yet, maybe just maybe, choose to modify your view of him into a more rounded characterization of a realistic person kids the world over love? Have we become so moronic, that we’ve settled into a mindset that in every determined way challenges the truth instead of the easily written lie?

When he answered my question (radio show link tribute to Iverson) about being an individual in every way Hip Hop and otherwise, I felt corporate eyes frown. It’s not that Allen Iverson’s way of life is the absolute right way to be, but a sense of personal independence should be encouraged without the constant use of disclaimers serving a mainstream narrative that is not fully representative of Iverson as well.

In the 1980’s, Big East basketball was represented by Dwayne “Pearl” Washington of Syracuse University. Pearl was everything of flash, made layups from the foul line and patted defenders down with the pill as if the ball were invisible. He embarrassed defenders below the rim, hit clutch shots and became the New York point guard standard. Fast forward to the mid 90’s and Allen Iverson did it differently in the Big East…hailing from Newport News, VA and playing his college ball in DC at Georgetown. He not only blew by defenders with an ability to trick defensive eyes with the rock, but if a player stood in his way at the rim, he was courageous enough to get up in the air quickly and dunk despite having the size and weight of an average 15 year old kid. He was like the athletic equivalent of The Atom. Diminutive by athletic standards, but with the strength and heart to surprise at every opportunity simply because he went against the perception of what a scoring guard should resemble. Said Chuck D, legendary front man of Hall of Fame group Public Enemy in a text message sent during Iverson’s presser: “He like Isaiah Thomas and Tim Hardaway needed that extra swag to not only just survive, but to lead and slay those giants. I salute AI because that’s a quality usually reserved for kings, generals and politicians in the regular world, and it’s harder to digest seeing black men in motion. Chuck also spoke of AI’s inability to find a roster spot the last three years: “To think that NBA teams couldn’t find one tryout slot for him smells more of collusion than ability.”

How he could have gone out is something we’ll never know and also something we’ll never know is how Iverson’s athleticism, strength and toughness quite frankly could also have changed the NFL before Michael Vick and because of how he was sent away to prison in high school, a football legacy is unrealized from a collegiate and potentially NFL quarterback standpoint.

In just two years at Georgetown, Allen Iverson played so brilliantly that he is probably on most all time Big East first team lists…and he belongs. Where do you rank him all time at the NBA two guard position?

Does anyone remember the debate here in Philly of who the Sixers should draft between Stephon Marbury and Iverson? No diss to Starchild, but Philadelphia got that one right.

I’ve spoken to Iverson many times over the years during various returns to Philly and when he returned in December of ’09, I asked him about Philly fan response: “That’s the best feeling of it all. Being appreciated is all you want with a person and to have a relationship with someone. You want to feel appreciated and I do feel appreciated. That’s what drives me to give them everything I got on a basketball court.” The Answer is loved in Philly and will always be loved in Philly. He provided the city with so many electric moments and the Wells Fargo Center has never been as loud as it was during the years since he actually opened the building shortly after the team moved from the Spectrum.

One of his former teammates — Eric Snow — was in town the day Iverson announced he was returning to the team initially drafting him and the former Sixers point guard was adamant Allen was willing to do whatever it took to fit in with his new old team. He smiled when saying so and when former teammates publicly speak highly of Iverson, the looks on their faces shows their words to be genuine.

What would have become of Iverson if not for pardoning VA Governor Doug Wilder and the willingness of John Thompson to take on a responsibility of a talented teenager with an arrest record? I asked former NBA scout Clarence Gaines II, son of legendary Winston-Salem State head coach Big House Gaines around the last Big East Tournament ever to offer insight: “Not a lot of people could touch AI at that time. He needed someone Allen could respect. John (Thompson) lays the law down. You’re going to do it his way. The academics will be respected as well. He’s going to give kids structure. He gave Allen as much structure as anybody could. From that standpoint, it wasn’t about John going after him, but more them coming after John because John was man enough and had the credibility with his administrators to say we trust you and that you can help this young man. A religious school, particularly a Christian school, should have a mission to not just deal with one type of individual, but bring everybody in. That’s the whole point of Christianity is to be tolerant and save souls. So Georgetown let John go and save that soul in his way and I think it worked out for AI, Georgetown’s program and for Thompson. To me, what John Thompson has done in terms of showing America that the potentiality of young black boys becoming men and that it ain’t all about your academics, your grade point average or your SAT score, and that it’s about love. Really holding people accountable to standards? That to me is one of the most incredible stories on a national scale in the annals of basketball. That’s been done at predominantly black schools for years. In fact, that was the mission of a lot of black schools. To do that for young men who might not necessarily had the advantages others have had early in their life, is just enlightening for a lot of people who think everybody has to have a 1400 board score and a 3.8 average to be a contributing member of an academic institution like Georgetown. That’s why you need diversity. That’s why you need a coach who cares about people.  Not just on a basketball court, but off the court. I’m a big John Thompson fan. Young people aren’t as big as fans of him as I am, but I know what he stands for and I know what he could do and did do with who people considered at risk kids. AI was the flashiest player John ever had by a long shot.”

Jim Calhoun was somebody who saw probably too much of Allen Iverson up close, yet defeated an Iverson led Georgetown 1996 team that was favored in the Big East tournament in a classic game. His approach when I asked how to defend The Answer: “The problem with Allen to never let him get in the full court, which is likes to be. I used to call him Cat Burglar. He would steal anything and it would be gone before you knew it. He still does it. He used to palm the ball. He was a great dribbler. He was one of the great football players I’ve ever seen. I saw him play one time in Virginia. I was going to recruit. Someone told me and we tried to get involved his junior year. He was Michael Vick and then some. He’s a great quick athlete. Stronger than you probably think he was. Incredible competitor. You had to make him a jump shooter. You couldn’t let him penetrate. Had to squeeze gaps against him and force him baseline to get help. You could never let him get a full good go and never let him penetrate because he could do magic.”

ESPN writer/reporter J. A. Adande gave me a few AI stories as well just before March Madness: “Iverson’s first appearance in a Georgetown uniform was an exhibition game against Fort Hood at McDonough gym on campus. I remember he subbed in — John (Thompson) didn’t start him — and just went off. We were going crazy. I was there. Tom Boswell was there from the Washington Post. “Bos” called it the greatest performance by a young player since he saw Lew Alcindor at Power Memorial High School (we crack up). We were going crazy, so the next day, John Thompson — at Big East Media Day — chastised us for going crazy. He didn’t want Iverson getting too big for his britches so he chastised us for what we’d written. I also remember a game vs. DePaul. Remember when they had the scrolling signs (advertisements)? The scrolling billboards? Iverson got his foot caught at the bottom of the sign. He couldn’t get out. He was stuck! So John walks down the sideline and gave the thing a swift kick (we laugh), and it freed him up. John really cared about Iverson and it was funny to see him go down and rescue his point guard.”

To be very clear, many of the articles written in the days leading up to Iverson’s retirement and thereafter have smacked of getting in some final digs as Iverson heads off into the next stage of his existence. He couldn’t have cared less about most of the media, so what should we expect to be written of him? Some have written the right way of Iverson, but we’ll see how his legacy takes shape around his certain induction into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. That he put up a 6th best all time scoring average of 26.7 (24,368 total points) is incredible for someone his size. He also averaged 29.7 points in 71 playoff games and won 2 All-Star Game MVP trophies. Has there ever been a player in the NBA that led such a rag tag team to the Finals as Iverson did the Sixers in his only MVP year of 2001 (cough, cough, you know what I want to say here Phoenix)? Tim Duncan and the Spurs sweeping of LeBron James and the Cavs in 2007 is maybe the only answer, but Iverson isn’t the 6’8” 260 pound monster James is either. Culturally, Iverson should be seen as smashing the safe mold of Michael Jordan and many other athletes choosing not to speak out publicly in any way just to sustain a corporate standard. What fun is that and is following such a mold the only way of becoming the principal owner of a sports franchise?

Do you really have to become the arguable GOAT to own a team?

That would really be messed up. Congratulations on a great ride Allen Iverson. No one told you how to dress, what to say and how to feel. You were the franchise player and though the presser was funny as hell, you were much more than a timeless sound byte. Many of us see your career as fully accomplished and nothing else you could have done would change a thing. What you did teach us and will show the next best, is how to be human in a world full of mindless and soulless robots exclusively fixed on maintaining the exploitative intentions of money hungry men.

6 Responses to “The Iconic Soul of Allen Iverson”

  1. DN says:

    *tears* – perfect – thank you

  2. Michelle says:

    Wow!!!!! That’s was an amazing well written piece on the GREAT..AI… Loved every word.. Truth…
    AI will really be missed but never ever never ever never forgotten!!

  3. Zaimah says:

    Michael,
    Iconic writing for AI, “the Iconic Soul”. This read like a limerick to me at times. I swear there was a cadence. The flow of your writing is what I aspire to have one day. I love Allen Iverson more than ever because you’ve made me so familiar with him through your words. Very very good piece.

  4. Thank you ladies. Gotta take it back to center…

    Like I tweeted Zaimah, under the 2nd pic is a link to an Allen Iverson playlist I wrote this to. I write to music in every piece.

    Oh and errrrbody get on Zaimah’s music. Here’s a link to her mixtape. Need Hit is my alarm clock.

  5. MODI says:

    Damn Miz, just read this tremendous piece! You did A.I.’s retirement justice