Everyone, regardless of whether or not they’ve actually met him, has an Allen Iverson story. Todd Krinsky, a man who’s spent the better part of his adult life working with AI, has a memory bank full of them.
“The first first first time we ever met him, I’ll never forget, he was wearing this gray linen suit,” Krinsky, VP of Reebok Classics, Entertainment and Basketball, says of the brand’s first meeting with Iverson. “He’s like an hour and a half late. We were waiting on him, waiting on him. We had something like that [points to an early sample of the Question] already going, so we kind of told him, ‘When you were a sophomore at Georgetown we were developing this shoe for you.’ We didn’t show it to him at the first meeting, we showed it to him the second meeting. But I remember the first meeting, he came in, there was kind of like an aura to him. He had a presence. He walked into the room and it was like he had this swagger and he had this cachet right away. It wasn’t something he tried.”
Suffice it to say, 16 years, 24,368 points, and millions of tales later, Allen Iverson still has that aura about him, still commands a room when he enters it. This was never clearer than on a rainy day in Atlanta in mid-April, when Iverson joined an intimate group of people for an afternoon of conversation.
Before that could begin, though, before Iverson—who, lack of cornrows aside, still hides the same sinewy body in oversized sweats that he did when he was an All-Star game regular—could talk until the sun was down and his voice was hoarse, an exciting announcement had to be made: on May 25, 2012, Reebok is bringing AI’s first shoe, the Question, back.
One of the iconic sneakers of the ’90s, the Question was worn by AI throughout his rookie season in 1996. He had them on during his first career game, when he dropped 30. He had them on when he double-crossed Michael Jordan. And he had them on when he went on an unprecedented run of five 40-plus point games in a row in the dying months of his first season. Basically, he had them on when he captured the attention of a basketball nation. For that reason—and many others, including the shoe’s unique detailing—the Question maintains an exalted status in the sneaker world.
“Just so many people ask, ‘When are you coming back with the Questions, man?’” says Iverson, between sips of an iced tea that he managed to nurse for hours. “I mean, I was in Charlotte, I was at a Friday’s, and a guy called his brother and told him I was up there. Man, he brought a pair up to the restaurant for me to sign that he had never worn. That was two months ago.”
The re-release on May 25—a one-time drop of the white/red colorway—will be the original Question’s first time on shelves since it’s initial launch a decade and a half ago. They will cost $125.
“He’s a lot more engaged now,” says Krinsky, “a lot more understanding of his legacy. If we had said, ‘Hey, we’re bringing back the Question’ three or four years ago he probably would have been like, ‘All right, cool.” Now he wants to talk about it, he wants to know [things like], Are we doing a girls colorway? He wants to be involved more, he wants to know what the plans are.”
As for his own personal plans—he is currently playing on an exhibition tour in China and hopes to play there in a professional capacity next season—Iverson (as well as Krinsky; Brian Lee, Reebok Director of Basketball; and Gary Moore, AI’s agent) shared that and so much more.
On football, Georgetown and tough love from Coach John Thompson:
Iverson: “I remember when I got there—football was my first love—when I used to walk to the gym, I had to pass the football field. It was a DIII team, but I had to pass the football field every day. I would try to do all kinds of thing to psych myself out, mind you I’m 19 years old. I would walk a different way to the gym, so I wouldn’t have to see the football field, so I wouldn’t have to see the players. I remember I didn’t want to walk the long way, so I used to walk and close my eyes and stuck my hand out till I got to the door so I wouldn’t have to look at the field. That is how bad I was missing football. I was playing basketball, but I was missing football that much.
“One day I had the courage, I dunno—I guess it was eating at me so much. I lost my mind and went to the weight room and said, ‘Coach, can I talk to you for a minute?’ He said, ‘Yeah, you can speak to me. What’s going on?’ I said, ‘Look, what do you think about me playing football?’ He said, ‘I’ll tell you what I think about you playing football. If you don’t get your skinny black ass the eff out of my face…you better.’ (Laughs) Just like that. I never thought about playing football again after that. I mean, he made it clear that this is not why I was here.
“Just being 18, 19 and being recruited by every team in the world, like every college, in both sports, and then an incident happens, and all of them go away. All of them (laughs). I’m not talking—take away 50 (laughs). Take away 100 if you want to. But all of them? Man.
“My mom came up there one day, I just remember crying. ‘Mom, it’s over for me like that? Nobodies dealing with me? You ain’t getting no letters coming to the house or nothing?’ All of them stopped. All of them.
“She went up there [to Georgetown], and cried to him [Coach Thompson], begged to him, to give me a chance. He’ll tell me to this day: ‘Son, I wasn’t going to take you if you’re mom hadn’t come up here and talked to me. No way.'”
On the speculation that surrounded whether he would be the No. 1 overall pick in the Draft:
Iverson: “I felt that I would be picked No. 1. I had a pretty good indication that it would be that. But you really don’t know until they call your name so you still have a little doubt.”
Krinsky: It’s funny, because when we first did the deal that’s what Foot Locker was saying, too. They were like, He’s too small, it’s not gonna work—and they were talking about the shoe game.”
On there being a sense of added pressure because he went first in a deep Draft:
Iverson: “Come to think of it, it never crossed my mind. I was so confident in what I can do that it didn’t bother me. I knew if I was given the opportunity to play, just given the minutes, then the production would be there. And then I was so young, and in my mind I’m thinking, Damn, I don’t have to deal with no box-and-ones, I don’t have to deal with no zones. You know what I mean, a guy got to guard me all night, one-on-one; there’s no way possible that can happen. The only person I felt that could stop me was myself and just having an off night. So I didn’t really feel pressure.
“I remember the first time playing against Mike [Jordan]. Like, you’re just out there with him, and he’s your idol. You look up to him; he’s the reason you play basketball. And, then, you’re just standing beside him, waiting for the jump ball. I just remember I couldn’t stop looking at him, like, the way he had his uniform on, I’m looking at his socks—he didn’t have the NBA socks on, which we’d get fined for not wearing them (laughs). He didn’t have the NBA socks on, and I’m just looking at him. He didn’t even look real, man, I’m telling you.
“Soon as the ball went up, all that was out of here. Aww my God. I was just thinking to myself, Look, everyone in the world know who he is and what he can do; tonight, they’re gonna see what you can do too. When the people go home they’re gonna remember No. 3 and No. 23. It wasn’t nothing cocky about it. We were just competitors. I just want to win—I don’t care if it’s Monopoly, chess, checkers, anything you do, I’m just real competitive. I think that’s what I do best, so obviously I was going to give it all I had.”
On wearing the Reebok Question that first season:
Iverson: “I still get asked about the white/red Question.”
Krinsky: “The original. This is the one we launched 5,000 pairs in Philly only; it sold out in like two minutes. I’ll never forget this, I remember calling him, it was like the eighth game of the season, this is before the internet, kids were driving from Virginia, driving from Pittsburgh, they were driving from everywhere to get a pair. It, like, evaporated. I remember calling him, ‘Yo, your stuff completely sold out.’ He’s like, ‘huh?’ I was like, ‘every pair is gone.'”
On crossing over Michael Jordan while wearing the Question:
Iverson: “Everybody talks about that one when they first meet me. ‘Man, I still remember the play you shook Jordan.’ Everybody gonna always remember it because it was Jordan. And, you know, Mike’s probably been shook before—somebody probably got him before—but right there, at the top of the key like that, with everybody watching. That’s the only reason I did it the second time is because I seen how hard he bit when I wasn’t even doing a move, I was setting a move up. I said, ‘oh, he’s biting hard.'”
On memories from the first ad campaign:
Krinsky: “We didn’t have a lot of athletes, this was our first real guy. Shaq never really was like—we had a lot of shoes, but they were never really huge commercial successes. AI was the first one, we didn’t really know how to react to like 5,000 kids from different urban areas just buying the shoe. We didn’t know. And we didn’t really know how to ramp up for it. So then after the first 5,000, then we started to make the mass one to go all over the country. It was really new for the company. What I remember it was just a totally new experience—we hadn’t really reached that consumer in the past, AI was really the first time we reached that urban consumer. And they were buying the shoe, people really liked the style of the shoe and obviously the excitement of AI. But it was one of those moments that you can only recreate probably a couple times in your career.”
On his growing understanding of the sneaker business, and how people reacted to his shoes:
Krinsky: “The funniest thing about it is, the first year he’d be like, ‘Can I get this in blue?’ We’d be like, ‘yeah,’ and I’d tell him it would take two or three weeks, because he didn’t really know. When we got to this point, he knew how long it took, but he’d be like, ‘T, you can do that in a week.’ (Laughs) We’d be killing the factory, killing the factory.”
Iverson: “I just remember having my sneakers, and after every game somebody from the other team would ask me for ’em—for his son, his cousin, his niece. So after a while, I basically knew that after every game the shoes was gone. Then I got to the point where I started to throw them in the crowd after the game, or after I knew the game was going to be over. I mean, man, people would go crazy over these shoes.”
On how his style on and off the court impacted a generation of players, and want that means to him:
Iverson: “I noticed that throughout my career. But I get it from guys off the basketball court, too. I would see ’em, and they would tell me stories about how they had my picture up on their wall, and in their locker and stuff like that. That’s the greatest feeling in the world. Just for somebody that young—you know, LeBron and all those guys, Dwyane Wade—to grow up looking up to me, and all these guys wanting to wear No. 3 because I wore it, words can’t explain how that makes you feel. If you obviously had that impact on them, you must have accomplished great things.
“That was one of the most important things for me. Looking back, you feel good about kids looking up to you like that. But back then, I was so young and headstrong and rebellious to so many things that, looking at it now, some of those things I wish I could take back. The rap album, the song, all of that, and some of the antics. You wish you could take it back, but you can’t.”
On watching games, how tough that is and where his skill level is currently at:
Iverson: “Yeah, [it’s tough], especially when I know I can do what I do. I know I can play. Am I as quick and as fast as I was 15 years ago? Who is (laughs)? I think the hardest time I’m having with it is being healthy like this. I ain’t never been to where don’t nothing hurt, don’t nothing bother me. I wish there was a season where I was playing and didn’t have no aches, no pains, no bruises, no nothing. Just feeling like this right now, I would love the opportunity to do it.
“Yeah. If I get out there and you see I’m not moving around like I used to—I’m not gonna get out there and embarrass myself like that (laughs). Ain’t no way I’ma do that. I wouldn’t even do that to myself, like to put myself through that, to where people are saying, ‘He lost a step.’ Like, I might have lost one, but I didn’t lose two, three, four, five steps.”
On his lifetime deal with Reebok:
Krinsky: “I think, honestly, we thought that the retro business for him would be a little bigger at this point. But we’ve really had an interesting relationship with him, no BS. There’s a real relationship with Allen and the brand, so we felt like we wanted to be able to continue that, and as long as we’re selling his product he’ll benefit from it financially. We never wanted to see him go somewhere else because we just want him to be a part of who we are. So we just negotiated something where we’ll always be together regardless of where he is.”
On what’s in store for the future:
Iverson: “Man, that’s what I want to do. Go over there [China] and play.”
Gary Moore: “What I’m doing now is focusing on him leaving the way he deserves.”