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The importance of being themselves: Allen Iverson #3

Portrait of the man that changed the NBA forever

The importance of being themselves: Allen Iverson #3 Portrait of the man that changed the NBA forever

When I was a little boy, Steph Curry and LeBron James had not yet become the players who they are now. We used to sit at home on our PlayStation 1 playing with our friends using the joysticks all connected with wires, and wearing NBA tank tops mostly produced and sponsored by Champions. It can be said almost certain that Allen Iverson’s jersey, who has reinterpreted and rewritten the basics of basketball when playing for Philadelphia 76ers, is one of the most beautiful jerseys reproduced by the American brand.

My first NBA jersey was one of Iverson’s, the white one from the 76ers. In the few occasions NBA matches were broadcasted in Italy, I remember that “The Answer” – AI’s nickname – would always leave you speechless thanks to his playground plays. Iverson released such energy and talent rarely seen before. We need to say that at first, the boy from Virginia considered basketball as a “girly” sport.

This third article of #Pictures could only be dedicated to one of the most eclectic and controversial athletes in sports history who, wearing number 3, has thrilled, rejoiced and has also made cried and got mad millions of fans and enthusiasts around the world. We will illustrate all this by using three words which have marked AI’s personality; because it is a great error to define Allen Iverson just as a basketball player. Iverson was much more than that, thanks to his not easy character and a life always lived on the edge, he managed to represent and embody the values of his African-American community while remaining true to his nature, for better or for worse.


#1: Talented

He was born June 7, 1975, in Hampton, Virginia: his mother Ann raised him since the father left immediately after his birth. Allen will take his mother’s surname, Iverson, to which he has always been very attached.

During the starts at Bethel High School, Allen is part both the football and the basketball teams: in the last one, he plays as a guard, while being a quarterback in the first one, dragging both teams to the state finals in two consecutive years. From the beginning, it was clear that Iverson had a natural talent for sports, even if he had to decide what path to follow, given the economic difficulties of the family. His mother Ann and her partner Michael Allen Freeman pushed him towards basketball since they were aware that it was with the orange ball with which Allen gave the best of himself. After some hesitation due to fact that he considered that basketball was less “masculine” compared to football, Iverson was convinced and decided that that was the right way to go.

At sixteen he started to have troubles with the law: Allen gets involved in a fight at a bowling alley for which he is sentenced, probably unfairly, to serve ten years in prison. He will only serve four months in a correctional center in 1995 getting the final grace by the court for lack evidence.

Meanwhile, his skills were noticed by many observers who did not think twice to give an offer to the talent of Hampton: he will start at Georgetown where, thanks to the coach John Thomson, he was able to go beyond the prejudices by people who saw Allen Iverson only as a criminal. These prejudices are the burden than The Answer had to carry during his entire career. Even though the number 3 has always been able to go further and be himself, and he was able to slip away the weight of criticism always reminded by his haters.

At Georgetown, a prestigious school attended by Ewing, Mutombo and Alonzo Mourning amongst others, Iverson remained only two years, where he showed once and for all his talent. In the first year, so to speak, he won the Big East Rookie of the Year and the Defender of the Year; not bad for someone who wanted to play football. He left the Hoyas with an average of 22.9 points per game to become eligible, according to coach Thompson, for the NBA draft in 1996. Iverson’s choice, apart from being a sporting choice, it was above all an economic choice, given the situation that the Iverson-Freeman family was living. Getting to play in the NBA would certainly allow Allen to ensure a much higher standard of living for the whole family.


#2: Charismatic

As history has taught us, the 1996 draft was one of the most competitive in history. Iverson was picked by Philadelphia as their first overall pick, leaving behind players such as Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen – his opponent in college – Steve Nash and Predrag Stojakovic.

The fist year in Philly was quite disappointing for the team, but not because of Iverson: the boy from Virginia played his first season in the NBA as a playmaker, mainly because the guard position was taken by a certain Jerry Stackhouse. He won the Rookie of the Year award, with 23.5 points, 7.5 assists and 4.1 rebounds on average.

His way of interpreting basketball revolutionary, even though players such as Jordan and Barkley were playing in the league. This was thanks to the skills he got playing football, Iverson was able to perform tricks and crossovers even to his majesty Michael Jordan. However, his trash talking and his cockiness in the court gave him many problems, especially with more veteran players. Over the years and with the help of Coach Larry Brown, Iverson was able to manage and improve his huge personality, directing the efforts and hard work towards success rather than disputes.

Between 1998 and 2000, the Philadelphia 76ers reached the post-season being scratched in both cases by the Indiana Pacers. With Brown in the bench, the team began to have a shape and a sense despite Iverson was alternating games scoring 40 points and games with an adolescent and rebellious behavior. Allen used his troubled past as an excuse to fail to respect the rules of the dressing room since he was aware of his importance and indispensability to the team. All this made that Brown and the 76ers evaluated a trade, which never happened because the 2000/2001 season began with a totally changed Iverson. That year, The Answer won The MVP of the All-Star Game and of the Regular Season, making the 76ers leading to the post-season, first beating Indiana, then Toronto, and finally Ray Allen’s Bucks. The Kobe and Shaq's Lakers were waiting for him in the finals. He won Game 1 basically by himself, scoring 48 points and leaving everyone speechless. At the end, the Lakers win the ring, leaving Iverson empty inside.


#3: Rebellious

Most likely, for Iverson, it has never been easy to be Allen Iverson, as it has never been easy to be a fan of Allen Iverson; it immense sporting ambition has often clashed with the injuries and bad actions off the field. With players like Iverson you just love them or hate them: in both cases, you must admit that if a guy, 1.83 tall, born without a father and raised with no money has been able to play in the NBA, then, he has something to teach us.

Iverson was one of the first, if not the first, in the court to show tattoos without shame. He has been defined as a criminal, evil, selfish, often because he represented a new generation and innovative wave. His explosive nature brought him to the spotlight in few occasions; he had problems with the law, also with gambling, but especially with his wife, and his daughter who suffered from a rare disease. In 2010, he divorced his wife Tawanna, his sweetheart since he was seventeen, who asked for sole custody of their five children.

Allen Iverson has never won the NBA ring or and Olympic gold medal, so, why is he remembered as a winner? Because his way of being and his way of playing basketball have never changed over the years, showing that he has acknowledged how you can be yourself without having to accept the system. That system which, after all, has acknowledged his uniqueness and his ability to revolutionize the game – first with the 76ers wearing the jersey number 3 and then in 2016 with the inclusion of his name in the NBA Hall of Fame.

“When I was young, everyone laughed at me when I said that I wanted to be a professional basketball player; now it’s my turn to laugh”