CODE NAME A.I.
The Question. The Answer. Icon. Game changer. Thug. Trouble-maker. If you ask 10 people who is Allen Iverson, you're sure to get 10 different answers. But one title you can definitely add to that list with legitimacy is NBA Hall of Famer since his recent induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, the leagues most prestigious museum, this past April. Having such an honor to be immortalized in Springfield, Massachusetts among so many legends and pioneers of the sport might not have been more deserving of another player this year, other than Shaquille O'Neal. Statistics don’t lie. Rookie of the year(1997); 11x NBA All-Star; Most Valuable Player(2001); 4x Scoring Champion; his career regular season scoring average of 26.7 is currently 6th all-time and his career playoff scoring average of 29.7 points per game is second to only Michael Jordan. His swagger on the court coupled with pure skill would forever change not only how basketball was viewed by critics but how the game would be played as well.
A.I. was born Allen Ezail Iverson on June 7th, 1975. He would be given many nicknames, but it would be in Hampton, Virginia where he was raised, that he would be affectionately known as Bubba Chuck. Like many children his age, his home was a single parent environment. It wasn't in the best neighborhood. He could recall the electricity being cut off because she needed to buy him tennis shoes. But it was his mother's love and encouraging words telling him he could be whatever he dreamed of becoming. And he boy did he believe her. Allen went to Bethel High School where he was a natural on not just the basketball court, but also the football field. He would not only receive AP Player of the Year awards for both sports in his junior year, but he also led the Bruins to state championships in both sports as well. This star couldn't have shined brighter. That is until one fateful Valentine's night at a bowling alley he and 3 of his friends were arrested when what police called a racially motivated fight broke out. He was charged with "maiming-by-mob" for allegedly hitting a woman with a chair. And he was convicted. The high school standout was now a felon, and only 17. But with insufficient evidence and a pardon from Governor Douglas Wilder he would be released from prison. Yet there was a stigma connected to him like he was a problem child off the hardwood and a selfish teammate on it, and thus no colleges wanted to recruit him. That was until his mother reached out to Georgetown's John Thompson herself and convinced him to take a chance on her son. She was saving his life. And for that chance, Iverson played his heart out. Playing 2 years under Thompson, Iverson would set the school record for Points Per Game(22.9), win the Big East Defensive Player of the Year Award both seasons, and 1st Team Consensus All-American honors his sophomore season. He declared for the draft and was taken No. 1 overall by the Philadelphia 76er's.
WEAPON OF CHOICE
The Cross-over Dribble: a basketball maneuver in which a player dribbling the ball switches the ball rapidly from one hand to the other, to make a change in direction.
Some would say they saw the streetball guru Richard "Pee Wee" Kirkland do it first. Others might say Oscar Robertson did it as early as the 1960's. Many would point the finger at Tim Hardaway for being the first to make it effective in current game time situations. But most would say that Iverson was the one that popularized the move by embarrassing defender after defender and ultimately making it a required skill in every young players arsenal. And because of the popularity of the move, it would help spawn many Youtube videos of local pick-up games and people falling victim to the move(sometimes falling literally). The infamous And-1 mixtapes of the late 90's and early 2000's may not have been so successful had it not been for A.I. and crossover.
Then there's that infamous "L" word. What memories did he leave behind for us to reflect upon many moons later? Well perhaps no one embodied the Hip-hop culture in the NBA better than the man who would be called "The Answer". His hair was cornrowed and his skin tattooed. Some media personalities hated his style of dress when appearing for mandatory press conferences; jeans and a t-shirt, durag and a fitted cap. Answering questions with the disposition like you have the audacity to ask me that (who can forget the infamous "Practice" sound byte he gave us). He would become a fashion mogul. Building his brand with on court athleticism and off court appearances, he would go on to create one of the best selling sneakers of all-time, "The Question" by Reebok. He would add recording artist to his impressive resume. Going by the moniker Jewelz, he dropped a song called "40 Bars" and an album called "Misunderstood". And negative reviews aside- he actually could rap (unlike some NBA players who tried their hand at a rap career whose names I refrain to expose). But I believe the most important aspect of one man's life is what they do for OTHERS. He shows a genuine love for the community, especially the inner city youth being raised in the same conditions he grew up in. He started The Choose Life Foundation which was established to raise awareness on the importance of learning how to experience life the right way. True he hasn't been angel, as one of the most controversial NBA players ever, but a child learning from his mistakes and mishaps and not making the same ones in the future is what he's trying to teach the youth he comes across. And that’s what it’s all about.
So how will they remember Bubba Chuck? As Virginia's hometown hero? Nobody having more heart than him? Was he not the 6 foot point guard who would go into a lane against a 7 foot center and score at will? Do you remember when he scored the last second go ahead basket and stepped over Tyronn Lue to avoid being swept in the Finals by the Laker Dynasty in 2001? Or how about when he shook up the world and crossed Jordan up not once, but twice in the same play? Critics can say what they want, but Iverson deserves every accolade he's been given. He missed his senior season of high school basketball because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. THEN he had his high school jersey retired. Sure he left the 76er's and played for other franchises, even ending his basketball career in Turkey, but THEN he had his Sixer's jersey retired. Then on his 1st time ballot entry, he’s voted into the hall of the same greats he grew up watching. Congratulations to one of the greatest basketball players ever and thank you for all the memories.
A great redemption story for a kid who grew up ironically on Jordan Drive.