You've got 12 minutes, from now until he's dressed and gone, to
understand the kid America sees as the jeans-saggin',
'do-raggin', gun-totin', dope-smokin' hoodlum who's going to
ruin the post-Michael era, one cornrow at a time.
First, look at him. Just for a second, before he goes all
gangsta and stare and attitude. Remember Allen Iverson like
this: butt-naked, skinny, 160 pounds tops, including tattoos and
scars and hurt. Just a 22-year-old with a boy's chest and a Cub
Scout's legs and so much on his mind. If you've just flown in
from Borneo and never seen the most dazzling, maddening,
unguardable, confused young player in the NBA, you might figure
Iverson for one of the towel boys. Look at him as he goes back
to his locker after a postgame shower, sidestepping the
frontcourt monsters with their Michelangelo bodies and their
knuckles scraping the ceiling as they put on their size-XXXL
undershirts. Stand Iverson next to Derrick Coleman, the
Philadelphia 76ers' 6'10", 260-pound forward, and you get an
idea of how the Beaver felt when he saw Wally get out of the
But look even closer. Iverson's body was made to play point
guard in the NBA. His arms must be seven feet long. When former
Sixers guard World B. Free saw Iverson naked the first time, he
said, "Yo, Al, they gave you somebody else's body!" Those arms
let him flip spin shots over oafish centers with either hand.
Look at his size-11 feet, which give him that detonation off the
dribble. The kid has no real jumper yet, so everybody in the
building knows he's driving, and yet they get low, they get
ready, and then, like that, they get served.
Iverson is the quickest player the league has ever seen, quicker
than Tiny Archibald, quicker than Calvin Murphy, quicker even
than Rickey Green, who had quickness and not much else. What
Michael Jordan did to the notion of space, Iverson does to
speed. He dropped 31 on the Lakers' Nick Van Exel in a Sixers
win in Los Angeles on Jan. 4, and X is still not sure Iverson
wasn't just a rumor.
There's so much Iverson still needs to learn, but for pure, raw
rush nobody this side of Jordan is more fun to watch. Jordan's
teammate Ron Harper once said that Iverson is so quick, "I have
to rub my eyes." Sixers assistant Mo Cheeks, the human blur who
helped lead Philly to the 1983 NBA title, says, "In my prime, I
think I'd have to give Allen a half step. Maybe a step." And
Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson has said, "I'd pay to watch
Iverson is not a bodybuilder. He is not big on crunches. He is
just an athlete. You can tell it from the hands, soft enough to
draw fine sketches but big enough to palm a ball, the key to the
signature crossover dribble that has left even Jordan looking
like a Times Square tourist who just lost at three-card monte.
Those hands can throw a spiral 70 yards in the air, which
Iverson did while taping a TV feature with the Philadelphia
Eagles last year. He also made a one-handed catch of a 50-yard
pass, ran perfect routes and had Eagles assistant coach Gerald
Carr asking, "When's his contract up?"
The first thing Iverson puts on after his shower is his 'do rag,
because his braids are not exactly as he likes them, and Iverson
usually refuses to be seen or to be interviewed on camera if his
cornrows are not exactly as he likes them. It's understood among
the Philadelphia media. "Rows in yet?" a cameraman will ask,
waiting for the locker room door to open after practice.
"Nah," somebody will say forlornly.
"Damn," the cameraman will say as he snaps off his light.
Iverson sports the rows because he knows they make him different
from the wack suits in Philly who pay $54 a ticket to watch him,
knows they make him different from the writers who rip him. It's
his I.D. in the Hip-Hop Nation, as he calls it. Ask Spike Lee
what keeps America from embracing one of the most entertaining
young players in the NBA, and Lee doesn't hesitate: "The braids."
A woman from New Jersey comes twice a week to put them in. Takes
about an hour. Sometimes she does them in eight rows, sometimes
in a zigzag. It's a style associated with the ghetto. Portland
Trail Blazers forward Rasheed Wallace is the only other NBA
player sporting rows since Latrell Sprewell was bounced from the
league in December for constricting coach P.J. Carlesimo's
windpipe. Rows are a look that comes with a cartload of baggage.
"Hey," a black kid said to Iverson late last year as he got the
player's autograph, "you look like a drug dealer from round my
You can hear the fans' disdain for Iverson in arenas. In Orlando
one night, a white guy in the fourth row hollered, "Hey, crack
boy! Go back to jail!" In New York in December, a fan hollered,
"I can't believe they let you still play after all the s---
you've pulled!" Even in Philly he hears, almost nightly, "Get a
Such reactions nag him. "I got rows," he says. "But that don't
mean I'm no gangbanger. I ain't never been in a gang. Why people
wanna judge me like that?"
Not that Iverson doesn't know bangers and thugs. He spent most
of his life trying to survive them. Over one summer in the
jagged-edged section of Hampton, Va., where he grew up, eight of
his friends were killed, one of them his best friend, Tony
Clark, who had always stood up for Iverson whenever he was in
trouble. If Clark had lived, he might have saved Iverson from
the worst night of his life, the one that nearly ruined him.
On Feb. 14, 1993, Iverson and a pal, relaxing after a high
school game, walked into the Circle Lanes bowling alley, where a
lot of the local kids hung out. Now, Allen Iverson walking into
a bowling alley in Hampton was like Elvis walking into a
Shoney's. Heads snapped to see the dude who'd quarterbacked
Bethel High to the state Class AAA football title two months
earlier and would in basketball within a few weeks. A dispute
elsewhere in the bowling alley turned into a brawl along racial
lines. Someone happened to catch much of the melee on videotape,
but the tape did not show Iverson. In fact, Iverson later
testified that he left as soon as the fight broke out. Still,
two witnesses said Iverson threw a chair that hit a woman on the
head, causing a gash that required stitches. Of the 50 or so
people allegedly in the brawl, half of whom were white, only
four were charged, all black teens. One was 17-year-old Allen
Ezail Iverson, who was tried as an adult, convicted of maiming
by mob and sentenced to five years in the state pen, even though
he had no prior criminal record.
"I had to sit there and listen to people lie, and nothin' I
could do about it," Iverson says, riling up. "I mean, I come in
there with one guy, and pretty soon I'm linked with 15, 20 guys.
I mean, for me to be in a bowling alley, where everybody in the
whole place know who I am and me be crackin' people upside the
head with chairs and think nothin' gonna happen? That's crazy!
And what kinda man would I be to hit a girl in the head with a
damn chair? I wish at least they'd said I hit some damn man!"
Iverson says he learned from the incident: "Yeah, if a whole
bunch of black people get in a fight, it is nowhere near as
serious as if you're black and you're whippin' some white
He sat in prison at the Newport News City Farm, reading about
himself in the paper and crying. "I thank those people, really,"
he says. "I thank those writers for the things they wrote. They
made me stronger. I learned so much about people."
Four months into his sentence Iverson was granted a conditional
release by then Virginia governor L. Douglas Wilder, the
condition being that he not play organized sports until he
graduated from high school. Two years later his conviction was
reversed by the state court of appeals due to insufficient
evidence. There is not a speck of the case on Iverson's record.
But it marks him on the inside. It marks him every day.
Now comes the fly gear: the jeans with legs you could
comfortably slide sequoias into, their cuffs accordioning around
Iverson's feet, just the way he likes them; the too long
T-shirt; the double-oversized leather jacket. Everything worn to
the specified degree of baggy, perfectly untucked, painstakingly
careless, for the look that says "I make my check in your world,
but I'm not of your world."
On the court Iverson earns the NBA front office's vote for Worst
Dressed. The league has warned him about having his uniform
shorts too long, complained that his ankle braces didn't permit
enough of his white socks to show and groused to the Sixers
after he showed up in a white skullcap to get his 1996-97 rookie
of the year trophy. "Damn, these people want me to wear Italian
suits all the time like Michael," Iverson says. "Want me to act
like I'm 25, 26 or 27 years old. Well, I'm not that old yet. I'm
only 22. Don't rush me."
One day at a school in Chicago where Iverson's agent, David
Falk, was speaking, a kid asked Falk what he thought of
Iverson's clothing style. "I had a hard time getting used to
it," Falk answered. "But I've got no problem with it. The thing
is, though, that Allen has to understand how it affects things.
If I walk into a bank and try to make a $500,000 deal for him
and he comes in wearing his 'do rag, the white guys who run the
bank are going to think he's there to rob the place, not sign a
deal. So if it's important for him to make the statement as
opposed to signing the deal, that's fine, as long as he knows."
A kid in the back stood up and said, "But isn't that racist?"
"Like, duh," replied Falk.
Do you remember Jordan's arrival in the NBA, in 1984? Remember
how he showed up at his first All-Star Game, in Indianapolis in
'85, in black baggy sweats, a Brink's truck's worth of jewelry
and big black sneakers--no Armani suit, no Bruno Maglis and
(gasp!) no pocket square? Remember how the veterans hated
Jordan? Remember Isiah Thomas freezing him out?
"You know, I see Allen in his huge baggy pants and the untied
boots, everything untucked, just kind of shuffling along," says
Sixers TV color man Steve Mix, a middle-aged white guy with
short hair, "and I think, Oh, man, look at this guy. Then I go
home and see my 11-year-old wearing the exact same stuff! I
mean, people see him and are scared of him, but is he any
different from other kids of his generation?"
There is one man in a button-down collar and pin-striped suit
who doesn't give a damn how baggy Iverson dresses.
Fifty-seven-year-old Larry Brown, the first-year Sixers coach,
just wants Iverson to run a tight team. It has been excruciating
for Brown, a man who holds the ABA single-game assists record
(23), to get through to Iverson how important passing is.
"If you come down and jack up a bad shot and nobody else touches
the ball," Brown told Iverson one day early this season, "what
good have you done? Those four guys, they don't want to come
back down on defense. They don't really want to pick up your guy
on the switch, set you a good screen next time. It gets old for
them real fast."
Iverson is trying. "You can't imagine how hard he is trying,"
former Sixers forward Terry Cummings says. Iverson has made some
breakthroughs this season--26 points, 15 assists and zero
turnovers in a 114-100 win over the Rockets in Houston on Nov.
12, and 27 points and 12 assists in a 98-89 victory over the
Nets in New Jersey on Feb. 21. But the Sixers were still a sorry
19-37 at week's end, and on most nights Iverson seems to work on
deepening the slump in Brown's shoulders. There was, for
instance, his 2-for-17 shooting for seven points in a loss to
the Detroit Pistons on Dec. 22. ("Damn," says Murphy, "if I went
2 for 17, they'd check my urine.") There was the night that same
month in Orlando when the Sixers were about to bust the game
open, had a three-on-one break, Iverson with the ball. He
brought it behind his back, then tried to flip it to the wing.
Instead, he lost the ball to the lone Magic defender, creating a
four-on-two at the other end and a four-point screwup.
"He tried something for ESPN or CNN instead of just making the
bucket," groaned Sixers assistant Gar Heard. Grumbled Brown,
"All of a sudden it's degree-of-difficulty time." Sixers lose by
One of Iverson's problems is that he has the same knuckleheaded
notion about himself that a lot of sports fans have about black
athletes: They don't need to work on their game. During the week
we spent with Iverson early this season, he did not take an
extra minute of practice to work on his jumper or his free throw
shooting. If there was a shootaround, he showed up when it
started and left as soon as it was over. If there was a full
practice, he was the first one off the court. Before a game in
New York in December, he spent 45 minutes working the phones to
get tickets for Puff Daddy and made it to the court only in time
to warm up with the rest of the Sixers.
Iverson was shooting 44.9% from the floor at week's end, but
most of his makes were cripples off drives that nobody else can
do. Outside the key, he's a brick factory. Has anybody told him
that early in his NBA career Jordan shot 500 jumpers a day? Or
that one summer Larry Bird spent every day dribbling and
shooting only lefthanded? Or that it was a cold day in Inglewood
when Magic Johnson didn't take an extra hour of shooting?
True, Iverson is a tyke. He should be a senior in college right
now. And Brownball, a gray-flannel-suit style of offense, is a
whole new world for him. At Georgetown, coach John Thompson let
Iverson create to his heart's content. Last season, in Iverson's
rookie year with the Sixers, then coach Johnny Davis insisted
that he gun it. Iverson struck for 40 or more points in five
straight games--and Philadelphia lost all five. Playing
Brownball hasn't been as much fun, Iverson says. "If I had a
mismatch last year, I could take it," he says. "I can't do that
as much this year. That gets a little frustrating."
It must be frustrating too for Iverson to lead the league in
balls bounced off teammates' chests and foreheads. Sometimes you
look out there and it's Iverson and the cast from Frankenstein,
the Musical. Iverson's passes are often so good that teammates
don't realize they were open until they look at the videotape.
To Brown the problem is modern NBA superstardom, which too often
prevents a player from getting to know his teammates, prevents
him from trusting them. When you bolt every game with a phalanx
of high school buddies, bodyguards and Reebok chaperones, any
teammate who is trying to bond with you has to follow along in
his own car. "The company Allen's with is Reebok, not really
us," Brown says.
The day after a December road loss to the Knicks, Iverson missed
morning practice in New York, for which he was held out of one
game. So how come he arrived on time for his Reebok ad shoot in
Boston later that same day?
If you were to walk a mile in Iverson's shoes, you would trip,
on account of he rarely ties his laces. He usually wears Doc
Martens in the winter, sneakers in the summer. Shoes have always
been big in the Iverson household. At 3710 Victoria Boulevard in
Hampton, you needed to wear shoes, day or night, because the
floor might be coated with raw sewage. One time the sewer pipe
that ran under the house ruptured, and though the public service
company sent someone out to fix it, the problem remained. The
smell was terrible. Often there was no power, since Allen's
mother couldn't afford to pay the bill. No heat, either--another
Ann Iverson was 15 years old when Allen was born in 1975.
Shortly thereafter, Ann's mother died from complications after
surgery. Allen's father, Allen Broughton, stayed in Hartford,
where the Iversons lived before Allen's birth, and has little
contact with his son. (On Feb. 19 Broughton pleaded guilty to
stabbing a former girlfriend and was sentenced to nine years in
In Hampton, Ann "did whatever she had to" to make money,
according to Allen. Pressed on this, he repeats, "whatever she
had to." Her hardships ate at Allen. As a boy he would tell her,
"Mama, I'm going to get rich and buy you a big red Jaguar." At
night Ann would dream about the Jaguar. She'd try and try to
start it up, only it wouldn't turn over. Then she'd look up to
see a stream of traffic coming right at her, and she'd jolt
Back then Allen blamed his family's situation on the only father
he's ever known, Michael Freeman, who moved in with Ann shortly
after Allen's birth. Freeman worked at the Newport News
shipyards, but a car accident in January '88 laid him up, and
when he was laid off, the family started to sink. He couldn't
find work, so he found trouble. He was convicted of drug
possession with intent to distribute in February 1991. "I didn't
buy Cadillacs and diamond rings, man," says Freeman. "I was
payin' bills." He did 22 months in the state prison in
Greenville, Va., then 23 months at the state pen in Halifax for
violating his parole.
Now, looking back, Iverson says he is "proud" of Freeman. "He
never robbed nobody," Iverson says. "He was just tryin' to feed
his family. It would kill him to come from jail and find out how
his family was living. One time he came home and just sat down
Today the 41-year-old Freeman--the man who taught Iverson to
play basketball, dragged him to pickup games even though Allen
thought hoops was "soft"--sits in the same Newport News jail
that Iverson sat in. He was sent back to prison 10 months ago
for another parole violation.
Ann and Michael had a daughter, Brandy, in 1979, and another,
Iiesha, in 1991. From birth, Iiesha suffered seizures, and the
bills from doctors, hospitals and specialists drove Ann deeper
into debt. Allen and the school attendance ledger never got
along, but how many people knew that often he was home taking
care of Iiesha while his mother was out working at the shipyards
or at a clothing factory? When you are the oldest man in the
house and your mother is motherless and not much older than some
of your friends, and your sister is shaking and you don't know
why you're living in a dark, freezing sewer hole, it occurs to
you that there is a lot riding on you. Allen formed the Plan.
"I knew I had to succeed for them," he says. "People would say,
'Man, that's a million-to-one shot to make it to the NBA,' but
I'd say, 'Not for me it ain't.' 'Cause if I didn't succeed,
well, I don't wanna think about it. I thought, for all the
sufferin' they've done, they need me to make it. They oughta
have some satisfaction in life."
Even when he was in jail, Iverson stuck to the Plan. Every day,
after he got off work in the prison kitchen at 5:30, he went out
in the winter dusk and shot balls at a broken-down hoop nailed
to a wall. He was determined to get his high school degree,
because without it he'd never get his shot in college. "I had a
bigger picture for my life," Iverson says. "I wasn't gonna go
back to the sewer."
Allen (Lump) Lumpkin, the Sixers' equipment manager, lays seven
bulky manila envelopes on the chair next to Iverson, who rips
the first one open. Inside is a brilliant gold watch dripping
diamonds, huge steroid-fed diamonds--130 carats in all, says
Iverson--a timepiece worth about $80,000, or at least twice what
Lump pulls down in a year. Iverson puts it on his thin right
He rips the second manila packet open. Inside is a gorgeous gold
bracelet lousy with diamonds, a diamond-palooza, 120 carats. Got
to be worth 50 large. He slides it on his left wrist. Envelope
number 3 holds two bulbous diamond earrings, 3.5 carats each,
big enough to make Elizabeth Taylor punch a hole in her vanity.
These slide into Iverson's pierced ears. The fourth manila
belches forth a weighty gold necklace with a fist-sized
diamond-encrusted medallion in the shape of handcuffs--"To
remind me of where I never want to go back," Iverson once said.
The entire piece is so laden with stones that it could give a
strong man a stoop. Iverson slips his cornrows through the
necklace. The fifth envelope contains a magnificent gold
ring--the size a giant might require--adorned with 80 carats'
worth of diamonds. The sixth manila contains still another gold
necklace. Aladdin never had a night like this.
Even before Iverson opens the seventh envelope, some people
might snicker and roll their eyes at the sight of this human
Zales rising from his folding chair, but Iverson wouldn't care.
He says, "People see someone with a lot jewelry on, they go, 'He
a drug dealer, he a pimp, he doin' somethin' illegal.' But they
don't have to look at me like that. When I was little, my mom
and I used to sit in the dark and talk about jewelry--all the
cool jewelry we were gonna have someday. I told her, 'I'm gonna
buy you the best jewelry in the world.' I think black people
deserve things like that. I think my mom deserves it."
The sad truth about the NBA is that the people who understand
the players best, who know what they had to overcome to reach
the pros, can't afford to attend their games. Most of the people
who think of Iverson as a hero aren't in the seats. They're
shivering outside the arenas, waiting for the game to end,
hoping to catch a glimpse of the athletic leader of the Hip-Hop
Nation as he rides by in a bus. "I'm proud to represent them,"
Iverson says. "They down with me because I'm from where they
from. They can understand why I dress the way I dress, why I
wear my hair the way I wear my hair. So they respect me and love
me. They know the odds against a black male makin' it."
The seventh envelope holds Iverson's wallet and his money clip.
As he tucks them into his pockets, he probably doesn't take time
to consider how many people helped him fill the clip: The three
attorneys who worked tirelessly for his release from prison,
knowing their payment could not come until much later. The
coaches and friends' parents who stopped by Allen's house every
day after his release to take him to school. And especially an
iron-fisted, no-nonsense tutor named Sue Lambiotte, who agreed
to take on the most controversial student in Virginia for no
Because she saw something more than a great crossover dribble in
Iverson, Lambiotte agreed to work with him while he was in
prison and then, after he got out, from 10 till 4 five days a
week. That, for Iverson, was "probably worse than jail,"
Lambiotte says with a laugh. She wouldn't accept any excuse for
his not showing up, not having his homework done, not finishing
his classroom work.
Worse, Lambiotte's learning center was in Poquoson, Va., home of
some of the whites in the bowling-alley fight. "There was a lot
of tension for Allen even driving into the town," the tutor
says. "But he kept coming." He came for the last time on Sept.
2, 1994, when he passed his final test. Lambiotte had a
graduation ceremony that day, just she and Allen. He was
valedictorian. He was going to college.
"That first day I left [for Georgetown] was one of the hardest
in my life," Iverson says. "It was one of the worst feelings
I've ever had inside, knowing what my family was going through."
He rode away in the car and waved to his mother and sisters as
they got smaller in the rear window. When the car turned the
corner, he wept.
"Every time I came home after that, it seemed like their living
situation got worse," he says. He loved Georgetown, but he never
doubted he would leave after two years. He had promises to keep.
He had the Plan. On June 26, 1996, it came to fruition when he
was the first player taken in the NBA draft. That September he
signed a three-year, $9.4 million contract.
The wallet in Iverson's pocket is small, but so many people live
out of it. He is responsible for his girlfriend, Tawanna Turner,
and their two children, three-year-old Tiaura and two-month-old
Allen II, who live with him in a three-bedroom house outside of
Philadelphia. He is also responsible for Ann; for Brandy, now
19; for six-year-old Iiesha, who has gone a year without having
a seizure; for his Aunt Jessie, who cooks for him and runs his
house, and for her kids, Timothy, 9, Coyea, 12, and Shaun, 17;
for Ann's brothers Stevie and Greg; and, of course, for his
jailed father, Michael Freeman. "Soon as he gets out, I got
him," Iverson says. "I got him forever. Whatever he needs."
In return for supporting these relatives, Iverson asks only that
they be around. "The more of his family here, the better," says
Jessie, who shares a separate house in suburban Philadelphia
with all the members of Allen's extended family except Brandy,
who still lives in Virginia. "We're working on Brandy to come
live with us now." They lack nothing they want or need.
Single-handedly, Iverson saved a family tree.
The Plan worked. At 22, Iverson has achieved all he wanted in
life. He made the NBA. He got his family out of the two-bedroom
sewer. And one day he brought home to his mother a shiny red
Jaguar. It took her awhile to put the key in the ignition
because her hands were shaking and the tears made it hard for
her to see the switch. Once she got the key in, she looked at
Allen and turned the key. The engine started. In front of her:
Now Iverson is nearly ready to leave the locker room, and his
shadows are ready too. The two bodyguards, Kevin Baker and Terry
Royster--an ex-cop and a black-belt jujitsu champion,
respectively--take their positions for the perilous 100-foot
walk to the gated, guarded players' parking lot. They are not
buddies, not uncles, not posse. They're professionals whom
Iverson had never met until he hired them after he was busted
last summer while riding shotgun in his Mercedes-Benz at 93 mph.
Police allegedly found a joint on his seat and, under the seat,
a 9-mm Glock handgun for which Iverson had a license but not the
proper permit for concealment. All charges were dropped, on two
conditions: that Iverson complete 100 hours of community service
this summer and that he pass monthly drug tests for the duration
of his two-year probation. (He has passed all six tests so far.)
"That was so stupid," he says of the incident. "It was such poor
judgment." Iverson says he'd just written a rhyme (he wants to
rap professionally and set up his own record company) and was
with a guy he hardly knew who said he could take Iverson to a
recording studio in Richmond and lay down a track.
"I let this guy I never been with drive my car!" Iverson says,
slapping his palm to his forehead. "I mean, I don't know what
the guy has on him! I don't know where his studio is! I don't
know if he even knows how to drive a Benz!" Iverson says he fell
asleep on the hourlong drive from Hampton and was awakened by
the sickening sight of red-and-blue lights flashing all around
What bothered Iverson most about the incident was the danger in
which he had put himself and, therefore, all the people who
depend on him. "If that car had crashed, I'd have put my family
right back where they'd come from. From then on, I decided I
gotta be smart."
Now the bodyguards call the shots. "If some club looks bad, even
if we been there only one minute, and my guys say we gotta go,
that's it," Iverson says. Not that where he goes these days is
all that scary. "Red Lobster, my house," he says. Get ready!
He's going for the drawn butter!
There are signs that Iverson's game is growing up a little, too.
After a 95-83 loss to the Knicks on Dec. 13, Iverson looked at
his numbers for the night--8-for-20 shooting, including 1-for-6
from three-point range, only two assists--crumpled up the stat
sheet and said in disgust, "I played tonight like I played last
year." Hey, progress! More recently he actually said, "We're not
out of the playoffs yet." Writers almost dropped their Bics. It
was the first time he had mentioned his team in months.
"I see improvement in his game," Magic center Danny Schayes
says. "Last year he didn't even look up." At week's end
Iverson's shooting accuracy was three points higher than last
season's 41.6%, and his turnovers were down. Last year he led
the league in turnovers (337, or 4.43 per game), but this
season, through February, he ranked 13th (3.19 per game). That's
big, but the coolest stat to see would be an increase in smiles
Iverson's public persona is a big lie. Relatives and friends
constantly describe him as "hilarious," an "incredibly funny
cartoonist," a cutup who does "these amazing impressions of
people," a "ham" who "won't shut up." But in public Iverson is
dour and quiet. Only when a question engages his interest does
he give you a glimpse of his true self, arms going up and down
and sentences never meeting a period. Otherwise, interviewing
him is like interviewing plaster of paris.
One day in December the Sixers were filming a Christmas
public-service announcement, and all the players were gathered
around the a cappella group Az Yet. At one point the singers
handed the microphone to the players, and nearly every Sixer
tried to pass it to Iverson. "He never stops singing on the
bus," said one player. But Iverson kept handing the mike back.
The message was obvious. To punish the outside world, Iverson
won't give himself to it, won't share himself. In many ways he's
still that 18-year-old kid reading the papers in prison and
crying. Will he ever get over it?
Lambiotte told him something one day during her tutelage: "All
these things you have been given--you're good-looking, you're
loaded with personality and charisma, you've got this incredible
athletic ability, marvelous artistic ability, you love
people--it's almost like God made a mistake here, giving one
person too much. What are you going to do with all this, Allen?
What will you do with it?"
Iverson is ready for the final touch, the barrier that protects
him more than the bodyguards and the Benz and the shoe-company
chaperones. He slips his CD player into his pocket, puts on his
big, round headphones and cranks Notorious B.I.G. He steps out
of the quiet of the locker room, out of the quiet of sustained
losing and into a hallway of flashes and pens and whispers of
"That's him." He swims through the worshippers and the
vilifiers, his head down, a kid who has been labeled
irresponsible when, in fact, he is burdened by an overwhelming
sense of responsibility. He carries on, unsmiling, until a
three-year-old girl runs at him, and his eyes light up and the
headphones come off and his leather coat opens up and the little
girl climbs in. He kisses Tiaura maybe 100 times in five
minutes, until he must hand her back to her mother and get on
the bus to another city, hotel, game.
Waiting outside the arena is a young black man, Vincent Vaughn,
who couldn't afford a ticket to the game but wants a glimpse of
his hero. "They don't want him in the NBA," Vaughn says. "It's
so obvious! They don't like his braids, they don't like his
clothes. They're just usin' him, man. But to me, he's the bomb.
He overcame everything." Just then the bus drives by, and Vaughn
hungrily searches every window until he sees Iverson in the
last. He gives his idol the coolest of nods and a smile. Iverson
nods back. They're two 22-year-olds going in different
directions, their paths still fresh, one of them as free as the
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS COVER Allen Iverson Not as bad as you think
COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN RECKLESS DRIVING Most of Iverson's scores--and not a few of his turnovers--come on risky charges to the basket. [Shawn Kemp, Brevin Knight and Allen Iverson in game]
COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER HANGING BACK Off the court, Iverson seeks refuge from the limelight with old friend Eric Jackson (left) and Reebok's Que Gaskins. [Eric Jackson, Allen Iverson and Que Gaskins]
COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER RAZZLE-DAZZLE Iverson's lightning-quick moves have flummoxed even some of his teammates, who aren't always prepared for the quick dish that follows the behind-the-back dribble. [Hersey Hawkins watching Allen Iverson pass basketball in game]
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS [See caption above--Allen Iverson performing behind-the-back dribble in game]
COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER FAMILY MAN The many relatives Allen supports include his mom and the newest twig on the family tree, his son, Allen II. [Ann Iverson, Allen Iverson and Allen Iverson II]
COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN THE WRONG STUFF Iverson's propensity to go it alone under the hoop sometimes results in facials that don't make him any prettier. [Horace Grant blocking shot by Allen Iverson in game]
COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER CULTURE CLASH Without bursting the kid's bubble, Brown has tried to get Iverson to play a more buttoned-down brand of ball. [Allen Iverson and Larry Brown]
COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER THEY'RE THE BOSSES Iverson says that now he lets bodyguards Royster (left) and Baker (far right) decide where it's cool for him to be. [Terry Royster, Allen Iverson, Kevin Baker and others]
Iverson's body was made to play point guard in the NBA. His
arms must be seven feet long.
As a boy, Allen would tell Ann, "I'm going to get rich and buy
you a big red Jaguar."
"If you come down and jack up a bad shot," Brown told Iverson,
"what good have you done?"
On Iverson's distance from his teammates, Brown says, "The
company Allen's with is Reebok, not us."
In jail, Iverson says, "I had a bigger picture for my life. I
wasn't gonna go back to the sewer."