What’s Going on with Allen Iverson?
A SLAM contributor who knew AI way back when does some digging.
Thirteen years and 120 SLAMs ago, Zack Burgess sat down with a young Allen Iverson. A brilliant cover feature resulted. A lot of time has elapsed between then and now. A lot’s happened—to Zack, Allen and you. Today we’re lucky to bring them back together here on SLAMonline—sort of. While Burgess didn’t talk to Iverson, he was able to speak to many people close to him. So if you wanna find out what’s really going on with AI, and wanna hear it from someone who’s covered most of AI’s career, here’s your chance.—Ed.
by Zack Burgess
He was one of those rare men that made our nights sacred from November to June. He had people convincing themselves night in and night out that the possibility of greatness by bouncing a basketball is a risk worth taking. A ghastly risk, but one so pulse-quickening it’s likened to a blaze set by a fire. The ability to play such a sport at the highest level demands not only poise in the face of impossible obstacles, but also the judgment that man is not always right of mind.
For professional basketball players, especially Allen Iverson, all of this theorizing is inconsequential. For him, the risk of the game only added to the exhilaration and urgency of the adventure. It was all for a cause. The one chance in life for recognized greatness. The opportunity to tell his grandkids about the accomplishments of his youth. So the dream grew. And with each and every layup, crossover or jump shot, his legend grew as well.
There’s no denying that there were rough times, but in reality he was the ultimate team player. In a sport where the guards can’t be a second too slow, the forwards have to know how to cover, and the center has to be able to back you up—in a sport where every player has a vital job—Iverson always did his job, making all of these men better, holding all of these men accountable.
“No matter what you say about him, he did his job,” said Larry Brown, his former coach and head coach of the Charlotte Bobcats.” He will truly be remembered as one of the greats of the game. For a guy his size, he changed the game of basketball. I hope that this is not the end of the road for him. I want nothing but the best for him.”
This was the sentiment from everyone who was asked about Iverson. It has been reported that Iverson has drank and gambled away his career as he deals with the harsh reality of a looming divorce and the possible end of an illustrious career. But those within or who have been within his inner circle, paint a different picture as to why his career may be coming to a close. It quit simply boils down to the fact that his body is breaking down.
“Allen has had a wonderful career,” said his former agent David Falk. “The fact is this: Iverson is at the end because of the way that he played the game–hard, fast and with a reckless, but with exciting abandonment. Besides Michael (Jordan), no one electrified the game the way he did–at that time.”
A high-level official within the Sixers camp said that drinking or gambling, is not the reasons why he is not with the team. Rather they went on to say that it is his arthritic left knee that had to be drained twice a week.
“His knee is shot,” they said. “Could drinking have contributed to the problem? Possibly, but we didn’t see that, so I can’t comment on that. To me it’s just hearsay. He just couldn’t play the game the way he wanted to. His knee is in really bad shape. Not to mention he has a sick daughter. What (was reported) was a little way over the top and most importantly not true.”
A little over a decade ago I wrote in SLAM that “it’s unfortunate that every person who looks at Allen Iverson does not see themselves, because realistically, Iverson embodies the strength of our ancestors, the foundation that made this country great. This country’s ancestors made their way with hard work, blood, sweat and tears. And if you take a good look at what Iverson has had to overcome, you wouldn’t castigate him. You’ll be proud of him, for his plight has been arduous.”
“He’s had it hard,” said Mark Christie, a former business manager for Iverson and Ray Allen of the Boston Celtics. “At one point they had raw sewage running in their home. That’s when he moved him in with some friends, who took him in and took care of him. There were never any issues with the guy. I must say, I had some very meaningful conversations with him. He always said that he wanted o be known as a good father and a good husband. That was back then (early in his career). He always had a good heart. He just never had anybody give him the roadmap on how to express it in life. ”
Iverson is a not only a Philadelphia icon, but a national treasure as well. Just as Jordan is the quintessential image of the bourgeois ‘80s, Allen represented the hip-hop ‘90s. He represented the have-nots and the downtrodden; he represented hope. Unfortunately his wounds were visible. They are worn by many who have endured or currently enduring his former plight. His pain is certainly echoed in others.
A person should not pay for his sins forever. And Iverson should not be exempt. His legacy should be that of the one who stood at center court holding an All-Star MVP trophy and asking for his coach. It should be about the small, but electrifying shooting guard who willed the Sixers to the NBA Finals in 2001. Or about the player who created the Allen Iverson Scholarship Endowment to support the success of underprivileged student athletes. The lasting memory should be about the player who walked to center court and kissed the Sixers logo on the hardwood upon his return to Philadelphia.
Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics once said: “A warrior is someone who will fight to the dying end. But a champion is someone who adapts to any situation and figures out how to win.”
If you were to cast your bets on what Iverson is and will become, the odds are he will be a champion in life as well. Despite whatever hardships befall him at this moment. We truly have seen the greatest six-foot shooting guard to grace this earth. In reality we have also witnessed the last of his kind, the death of the six-foot shooting guard, because trust me, we will never see anything like him again.
“I don’t really care to comment on what is going on with Allen right now, because I really don’t know and it’s not my business” said Sonny Hill, Executive Advisor to the Sixers. “But what I will say is this, I love Allen, we all do. He’s my guy. Will always be my guy. And if he calls me and needs anything, I will be there for him.”
Zack Burgess is freelancer operating out of Philadelphia. He began his career as a teenager at the Detroit Free Press; from the moment he walked into the building, he knew that writing and reporting the news was what he was meant to do. The smell of ink and the adrenaline of deadlines took him from The Kansas City Star to The Washington Times to SLAM Magazine, where he was a senior writer. Zack’s work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Newsday and The Washington Post. A Howard University graduate, he has covered every major sporting event except for the Super Bowl and the Olympics.
You can e-mail Zack at email@example.com