Excelling in both football and basketball at Bethel High School, Allen Iverson was the best athlete the town had ever seen. Though he was recognized early on by scouts, the world was first introduced to Allen through a short camcorder clip of a melee that erupted at a bowling alley in 1993. Though the brawl involved dozens of people, Iverson’s notoriety led to his arrest and a judge sentenced him to 15 years for his role in the fight.
Allen’s dream and his career seemed to be over before it even began. The media surrounding the event seemed to convict him before the gavel even fell. And yet the media following the conviction and prison time never stopped. The letters and interviews continued to put his unjust story in question. Could his dream still come true?
Following a clemency from the governor, Allen joined the Hoyas team. He recalls suiting up for a game halfway through freshmen year.
“There were four men, making some noise way up in the stands. And they all had on handcuffs and chains and orange jumpsuits. And I remember the sign they were holding up said “Allen Iverson: The Next MJ” but then it had “MJ” crossed out and they had markered in “OJ.”
Coach Thompson told the team to leave the court. Allen recalls how the coach walked up to the referees and handled the situation.
“Hey, no disrespect but here’s what’s going to happen. If you don’t get those four pieces of sh*t outta here, and I’m talking immediately — we’re gonna be forfeiting this game. Understood?”
Trolls and haters have dogged Allen his whole life, but that controversy has also brought advocates like his couch, his fans, his family and friends. Though Allen is not an outspoken or antagonistic person, his ‘dream come true’ story has always been a polarizing one. To his detractors, they have all the ammunition they need to condemn him, and to his fans, he is “The Answer” to their prayers.
Allen came under constant media controversy because of his personal style, tattoos, and hair. He describes how the media treated him:
“He’s a thug. His hair, it’s gang related. He don’t dress like a professional. Had to be a thousand different things people said. But it’s like — do they even get how this all works? Jewelry is just jewelry. Hair is just hair. Clothes are just clothes. Answer me this…… has anyone ever committed a crime with their HAIR?
Someone like Allen who pursues their unlikely cinderella story will invariably bring people just waiting to take someone down. The curious thing is that all Allen really wanted to be was himself, the kid from Newport Virginia.
The “NBA me” wasn’t a new me — same-old me. I was still that same boy, Allen, from Newport. Growing up, all I had wanted ever was to dress like those older kids on my block.
“Am I a good guy? Yeah, man, I think so — ask about me. Have I made mistakes? Man, who hasn’t? Of course I have. They’ll have to invent a whole new number to find out how many mistakes I’ve made. But it’s the balancing of those ideas, it’s somewhere in between my mistakes and my best self — that’s the real me.”
Allen is an example of someone who knows exactly where he comes from and how that past fuels his vision of what he wants from life. His values are absolutely set in stone.
“…if I had to sum it up? I’d say I stood up for being yourself.”
Photos by Gary Land
The relentless pursuit of greatness will put your name in the spotlight for better or worse. When a brawl broke out at the local bowling alley between blacks and whites (15:00) Allen’s name came to the top of list of accused, based more on his notoriety than evidence. He was prosecuted and sent to prison, though he was eventually given clemency because of a widespread outrage (32:00).
your audacity will put you in precarious places, and it will also save you, are you willing to still pursue it?
For most of his life, the media has made Allen out to be someone he was not. Following the death of his best friend and a loss of game, Allen gave an emotional interview that would be edited and misquoted for the rest of his career. His coach said “because of his candor because of his aggressive way that he expresses himself, people can conveniently turn that.”(108:00)
After multiple trades, his retirement and re-retirement, the media said “When you’re becoming a cultural icon, you’re making a lot of people upset. And a lot of people can’t wait for you to fall down so they can step over you.” (119:00)