Last week in my sportswriting class, we watched an ESPN 30 For 30 on Allen Iverson and his trial stemming from the infamous bowling alley brawl that landed he and three of his friends in jail. My professor asked us to compose a piece on Iverson, and said we could sculpt it any way we wanted. I elected to talk about how Iverson’s trial caused an intense racial divide within the city of Hampton, Virginia, and how his actions during his prime days in the NBA led him to being loved by fans and players but questioned by others. Iverson went on to become one of the most polarizing figures we’ve seen in athletics in quite some time, and he’s bound for the Hall of Fame as a first balloter. Here’s what I came up with for the assignment. Hope you enjoy!
Allen Iverson must’ve never thought he’d reach this point. Iverson, who hails from the mean streets of Hampton, Virginia, was named one of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame finalists for the Class of 2016 along with other fixtures of the sport, such as legendary center Shaquille O’Neal, and highly successful college hoops coach Tom Izzo.
From a statistical standpoint, Iverson is a sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer. He’s amassed over 20,000 career points, 5,000 assists, led the league in scoring four times and has a boatload of accolades to boot, including 1997 NBA Rookie of the Year, 2001 NBA Most Valuable Player and 11 All-Star Game selections. Most players that accrue 20,000 points and are named MVP during their tenure in the league are typically elected to the Hall of Fame, and Iverson will prove to be no exception.
Iverson’s impact on the game of basketball was profound, and the aftershocks of his actions can still be felt around the Association today. Iverson’s tendency to dress as a “hoodlum” pre-game, post-game and during any NBA sanctioned event prompted former commissioner David Stern to institute a strict dress code that was to be adhered to by all players. Iverson’s seemingly nonchalant attitude towards fashion had begun to taint the league’s image, mostly due to the fact that many in the media felt it established ties between the world of hip-hop and hoops, an association that was unwanted.
Iverson becoming a “basketball darling,” someone who could put the league on his shoulders and be the ideal representation of the NBA in the public’s eye, was never feasible, but despite the fact that he received flack from higher-ups in and around the Association, he was celebrated by those hoping to become the NBA’s next great player.
When the NBA revealed their top jersey sales for the decade spanning from 2003-2013, Iverson came in at No. 5, ahead of Derrick Rose, Kevin Garnett and Kevin Durant, despite the fact that he had not played an NBA game since 2010.
Durant, a superstar small forward for the Oklahoma City Thunder and a former league MVP himself, is one of the biggest Iverson endorsers and considers him to be “pound-for-pound the best,” written in an Instagram post 17 months ago.
The nickname pound-for-pound spawns from Iverson’s unusually slender stature for a basketball player, as NBA measurements list him at 6’0 feet, 165 pounds, though many claim he’s more like 5’10.
Durant goes on to say “he changed the way we play ball…he paved the way.”
Other Iverson advocates include Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, a player whom many consider to be the best in the game today. James also took to social media to show love to A.I., dubbing him “pound-for-pound.”
“U the reason why I got tattoos wore a headband and an arm sleeve. Thanks for everything!!!” A thankful James wrote in an Instagram post. The tribe of Iverson supporters doesn’t thin out either. Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, John Wall, Dwyane Wade and other NBA superstars and former Iverson adversaries sang a sweet serenade of praises for the former Georgetown Hoya.
But causing a rift between two major parties is something that was not new to Iverson unfortunately.
In February of 1993, Iverson and several of his friends were involved in a bowling alley brawl that resulted in serious legal action against the then Bethel basketball star and his comrades. Supposedly some verbal sparring between Iverson and his African-American group of friends and a white group of friends present at the alley parlayed itself into a melee, one in which a chair that was allegedly thrown by Iverson struck a young woman in the face and knocked her unconscious.
A grainy video of the incident surfaced, and although screaming and yelling could be heard and you could see several punches being thrown, it was impossible to distinguish who was who.
Iverson and his three friends, Melvin Stephens, Samuel Wynn and Michael Simmons, were charged and convicted, with Iverson getting slammed on three felony counts. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison, and a deep racial division poisoned the town of Hampton.
Many believed Iverson and his friends’ sentences to be racially motivated, and the black community rallied together to combat the system. Petitions, protests and various other forms of justification ensued, and conspiracy theories began whirling around the town like a whipping wind.
The incident was documented in an ESPN special entitled: 30 For 30: No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson, filmed by Hampton native Steve James. Many patrons of Hampton and prominent figures entangled in the ordeal, whether judicial, political, or within the community offered their thoughts on the situation. All of them recognized the racial tension prevalent during this timeframe.
Governor of Virginia Doug Wilder pardoned Iverson after four months, and “Bubba Chuck,” as those close to him knew him in Hampton, was a free man.
Iverson hopes to be named as an inductee to the Basketball Hall of Fame this summer, and all signs point to that revelation coming true. For pundits, Iverson will be inducted for his work on the court as a fiery, under-sized, super scoring guard whom did not fear anyone or anything.
For those who currently inhabit the NBA, such as the aforementioned players, Iverson will be remembered for what he didn’t do, which is not conforming or folding when faced with pressure or ridicule. He stared adversity in the face and conquered it his way, never succumbing to alternate means.
If Iverson does indeed become a Hall of Famer this year, it will be another chapter in the Book of Bubba, which is certainly one of the most compelling reads we’ve ever seen in the history of athletics. After skimming its contents, you’ll either be amazed or disgusted, and Iverson wouldn’t want it any other way.