I have to confess I didn’t think Allen Iverson would make it. As a high school junior at Bethel High School in Hampton, Va; he was the AP High School Player of the Year in Football and in Basketball. He was being recruited by every school in the nation. Until things went wrong.
Late in his junior year, he was involved in a bowling alley brawl pitting whites against blacks. Only the black kids were charged. They said (and he denied) that Allen was the ringleader. The most serious injuries were broken bones and a concussion. Authorities threw the book at Iverson, trying him as an adult although a minor, convicting him of “Maiming by Mob”, sentencing him to 5-years in prison. He served four months at the Newport News City Farm on the James River before his sentence was commuted by then Gov. Doug Wilder. His conviction was later overturned on appeal but he missed playing his senior year of sports. All the schools that once begged him to attend turned their backs.
His mother went to Georgetown and talked to Coach John Thompson and begged him to give her son a chance. He did. In his acceptance speech at his NBA Hall Of Fame induction. He credited John Thompson “for saving my life.” When he got to Georgetown, he was under the microscope. He maintained the high school friendships of his past who many including me thought would be his downfall. After two outstanding years at Georgetown, he was made the Number One pick of the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA Draft. They took a chance on Allen Iverson when I literally bet against him.
I was in college at the time, a basketball player myself and one of my best friends, Dr. Robert A. Copeland (RIP) and a Philly native, was always talking about Iverson. He knew his basketball and was proclaiming then that one day, “Allen Iverson would be in the Hall of Fame!” I bet him a dinner that “Allen Iverson wouldn’t even be in the league in five years” because he would surely be dragged down by troubles.
Before his acceptance speech, I’d only seen Allen Iverson in a suit once. When selected first overall in the NBA Draft. Except for some bags under his eyes, he didn’t look any older or heavier than he did as a player, standing just over 6 feet tall and weighing 165. Contrasted against many of the former players in the audience. Allen looked like he could still take you to the hoop right now. He looked a bit uncomfortable in the outfit. It was an ill-fitting Tuxedo jacket over a black shirt and tie that he didn’t seem accustomed to wearing. He began nervously, rocking and stammering. But he hit his groove and spoke like he played. With all heart.
He credited literally everybody. From Coach Thompson who save his life to Larry Brown who honed his skills to Dr J who always provided support and wisdom. He went on to thank Pat Croce, owner of the Sixers, Boo Williams, “X”, Thriller, Anthony “Whoop” Jones, Troop, Stanky Wanky, Jughead, and many many more. He thanked his teammates; professional, college and high school… individually. Singled out was Dean Barry, a walk-on basketball player at Georgetown that “taught me the crossover.” The move that made him famous.
He thanked the father he barely knew, his mother, aunt and uncles, all of his children who were present chewing gum. I don’t say that to mock them, I say it because they, like Allen Iverson always, kept it real.
Allen had his troubles adjusting to life after basketball. There were rumors about squandering his wealth on family and friends. Stories about being homeless and minor incidents with the law involving his bodyguards and himself. He and his wife had very public battles and nearly divorced. They eventually resolved their issues and his high school sweetheart Tawanna was by his side and singled out as the “best thing in his life.” Thanks to a savvy deal with Reebok, he received a $32 Million Trust when he turned 55, so whatever his previous financial status he’s doing alright.
I learned much I didn’t know about Allen Iverson by watching his 30 plus minute acceptance speech … twice.
I knew he had heart from watching him play. I didn’t know that Michael Jordan was his idol, how close he was to the authority figures one might have thought he resented. How much he respected and was respected by his peers.
He ended his speech by thanking an unlikely bunch. “I want to thank the guys that are not my friends anymore. I’m glad you blew your cover, for me to recognize that you weren’t any good for my family or me. I appreciate y’all for that, so if I make any new friends I’ll recognize the signs.”
Allen Iverson. Throughout his whole life, he kept it 1,000!