MILANO – Italy. Poland. Spain. Fresh off his new NBA contract, Allen Iverson is going global.
His Reebok tour started from Milan, where the new Grizzlie had his first taste of Europe, a place some thought he was destined to play. Not just to sightsee, but to play ball.
“Not yet, but I gave it a thought,” said Iverson, when asked about how closely he considered Europe. “It would had been a whole new experience, and I know I’m very popular all over Europe. My wife actually liked the idea, and I was intrigued by the possibility to face a new challenge, to visit new countries and play in front of different fans.”
But then God chose Memphis, and Europe was put on hold.
“In Memphis, I really believe we can win. If I look at all the young talent we have, I think we can be a good team. I really mean it. If not, He would not be telling me to keep playing, keep lacing up my shoes.”
His shoes, the Answer XIII, were displayed in Palalido, the fabled arena where Bill Bradley once played for Olimpia Milano in the 60s. The arena was packed with more than 1,000 screaming fans.
“Are these shoes good enough for 30 points a night?” they asked him. “I think they’re good enough for even more…”
If you think Allen Iverson was ready for the rocking chair (as he said during his press conference in Memphis), well, think again. “Revenge? I won’t say that, it’s not so much about revenge. It’s more about coming back to a comfortable basketball environment, and being able to play at the level I’m accustomed to play at. I can finally go out again and playing basketball the way Allen Iverson plays. That’s it. I’m not gonna satisfy everybody, so I will concentrate only on my teammates, my coaching staff and my new fans.”
Detroit is already in his rear-view mirror, and memories are not great. “I wanna thank the organization, who gave me the opportunity to play there, but since day one things didn’t work out the way I wanted to. Looking back now, I should have not signed for the Pistons. I thought they were gonna use me in a certain way, allowing me to play my style, but I could not.”
As a result, last season was Iverson’s worst, as everybody was ready to point out.
“It’s funny because I was an All-Star last year, and I scored 17.5 a night. 17.5? Most people would die to get these numbers, while to me, that was a bad year. The truth is that there’s a lot of people out there who still enjoy taking shots at me, and this past summer was a good opportunity to take one!” he says.
It’s nothing new, it’s the story of his whole life. “There was some perception about me since I was 17 years old, first in high school, and then in college. People never let this perception go. They didn’t like my tattoos, they didn’t like my hairstyles; people liked the clean cut, yes-sir, no-sir type of dude and I was not that. I spoke my mind whenever I felt was right, and so they criticized me, they thought I was a hot head.”
Back then, Michael Jordan was the hero. Maybe, a clash was inevitable. It happened on March 12, 1997, toward the end of Allen’s rookie campaign. The day A.I. crossed MJ over, a memory that still lives on even across the ocean in Italy. That’s why to end his appearance in Milan, they asked Iverson to do it again: one-on-one, top of the key (with his brother to play Jordan’s role).
“When I still was a kid, I promised that to all my boys from my ‘hood. When I get to the NBA, first time I will face Michael I’m gonna take him one-on-one.”
He did it in 1997. And he did it one more time for his fans in Milan. One more crossover. And at least one more year. Allen Iverson is definitely not yet ready for the rocking chair.
Mauro Bevacqua is the Editor-in-chief of Dream Team and Rivista Ufficiale NBA, the NBA official magazine in Italy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.