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Wednesday, June 29th, 2011 at 12:25 pm  |  18 responses

No Questions Asked

Allen Iverson’s first SLAM cover story.

As those who’ve picked up SLAM 150 at a local newsstand or received it in the mail already know, Allen Iverson graces the cover of our newest issue. Everyone even lightly familiar with SLAM should be aware that AI has held down that cover spot many times, but few probably remember his first, when we put him on the front of SLAM 9 (January ’96) as a freshman at Georgetown. Below is the feature that accompanied that cover, penned by the one and only Scoop Jackson.—Ed.

by Scoop Jackson

Protective custody. That’s what most sons want from the men in a position to protect, direct and raise them. From their fathers. Not to get all the African-American males running scared, but Allen Iverson—America’s most gifted, special, in-demand basketball player—is lucky. He has what most of us lack. A pops. A father figure. An institution of learning and direction. A man in his life to help him deal with the realty of being a man.  Most brothas can’t even go there, can’t comprehend. In Georgetown coach John Thompson, Iverson has the one-man protection plan many of us would turn over our lives for. Unless you’ve grown up fatherless, you don’t understand.

Escape to anywhere, but never run. Allen Iverson needs an answer, no questions asked, and Georgetown University has one. Depending on the direction, Washington, DC, is either heaven or hell, Dark Country or Chocolate City. Georgetown is neither; it is simply the answer. Iverson did not run here, understand this. He simply took advantage of the best situation life ever offered him. He finished high school as the best ball player (including football, where he was AP Player of the Year in Virginia) in the country easily, with abilities Charlie Ward could only write home about. Iverson still an icon in Hampton, VA—he left there as America’s most wanted hoop dream, with the possible exception of Felipe Lopez.

How nice WAS Ive? Back in high school, Kansas University coach Roy Williams, formerly Michael Jordan’s NC assistant coach, said Iverson “might be the best guard I’ve ever seen.”

How nice IS Ive? Right about now, Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson says, “I’ve been to three calf shows, nine horse ropings and seen Elvis once. But I ain’t never seen anything like it in my life.”

Neither has Georgetown.

Walk around most urban areas, and you’ll see Georgetown University represented strong. Block to block, city to city, chain net to no net, a society of urbanites front. Triple goose down jackets and Starter caps, Nike replicas and Champion sweats. Georgetown. Everyone wants to be down, but nobody can be. One of America’s most prestigious, private Catholic institutions has found a place in the hood. Ever since it introduced the world to Patrick Ewing and Martha Graham, Georgetown has been the black school of choice for every shorty with poor grades, little money, no desire for higher learning, and a need for John Thompson as father. Allen Iverson grew up as one of those brothas. He just got lucky.

Stuart gardens, baby: low-income housing in VA. Nothin’ but love. Allen Iverson was raised one deep with his two sisters there, Ma Dukes-style. His moms Ann began, at the tender age of 16, to take care of what is rightfully hers for life. Her son’s life has run the cycle from his best friend’s murder to visits with former NAACP national chairman Ben Chavis. The true gamut from heaven to hell. He’s forever been his family’s promise, their escape. Being so talented and so young, Allen has had the unreal responsibility of doing what keeps many of us down—raising a family and being raised at the same time. In most cases this would be a Black thing, but Allen beat the odds and made it to G’Town (instead of walkin’ around the neighborhood, frontin’, wantin’ to be a superstar in a Hoya t-shirt), so it’s an Allen thing. You wouldn’t understand.

November ’96. Things aren’t the same. Walk into the lobby of Georgetown’s McDonough gymnasium and notice the difference. The enormous, ever-so-deep framed photograph of Fred Brown and Gene Smith with the ’83 NCAA National Championship trophy remains the center piece, and Ewing, Mourning and Mutumbo still tower over all the rest, but on the floor, in the glass-enclosed trophy case, the change is manifest. Two solid gold basketballs chill. Trophies that read, “Allen Iverson. 1994-95 Big East Rookie-of-the-Year” and, “Allen Iverson. 1994-95 Big East Defensive Player-of-the-Year.” Between them lies a letter from President Clinton.

Daddy’s home. His voice echoes inside the gym. It’s year two of John Thompson’s new life. Papa’s got a brand new bag. A bag of tricks. In baggy shorts. See, Allen Iverson is not the same player that walked into this gym 12 months ago. He’s controlled, confident and well-coached. Like son, like father. John Thompson learned as much last year about Allen Iverson as Ive learned about coach. Defeating the norm as the first truly celebrated player under 6-12 in contemporary Thompson history, Iverson is the solution to his pops’ problems.

“Coach [Thompson] was like a father figure to me right off hand… We just clicked.” Allen Iverson’s words are soft, but they run deep. He understands that not only is he getting one of life’s greatest educations, he’s filling a void in the career of a man who knows more than Michael Bivins about turning boys into men.

“Ninety percent of having a relationship with him is things that occur off the court. He helped me though last year. I didn’t want to come here and just do anything. Any problems that I have, I can go to him and he’ll sit down and listen. It is a lot more than player-coach between is. I don’t think I could’ve made it (through last year) without him.”

Thompson takes the yellow brick road with Allen. He knows he has someone special, a gift, but it’s not about hoops.

“If you’ve been in this business for a while,” Thompson says when asked about his prodigal son, “You know you’re not supposed to be impressed with people. You’re here to attempt to mold and get (students) prepared for their next stage of life. That’s what education is all about. Allen has done just that. He has done what I’ve asked him to do, and when he has not done it, we’ve sat down and talked.”

“He wants to educate himself. So it’s not a problem. It’s almost amusing to me sometimes to hear the questions I’m asked about him in relation to the person that I have to deal with.” It’s always that way. Nobody understands true talent. Especially those talents deemed sons of John.

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  • http://www.slamonline.com Mojtaba Reza

    wow ………. amazing piece of an even more amazing person

  • http://www.slamonline.com/ 1982

    I miss Scoop.

  • http://slamonline.com Allenp

    Funny how many times this story was written in some form, by someone..
    Iverson’s impact and the reaction to him, have been the same for so long.

  • Jeremy

    What an incredible piece. I did tear up a bit, but that okay. Wish I could have watched him play in person, anyone here get the chance to
    ? care to share

  • http://www.bulls.com Enigmatic

    Reading this reminds me of living in Hampton Roads, VA.

  • Brooks C.

    Big Shouts to Scoop Jackson for the article and BIG shouts to one of the greats in the NBA Allen Iverson… regardless of what ppl say about him he was one of the most unstoppable players in NBA history even with him being really 5’10-5’11 160 pounds… Most def should be Hall of Fame first ballot… Bad knees and age has caught up with him now but hopefully he’ll be back in the league dis year!!!

  • http://www.slamonline.com/ 1982

    I saw him live 2001-2002. Fastest up and down the court bar none – they won versus Golden State. Nothing too memorable game wise, but seeing him in person made me realize how ridiculous of a player he really was. Unstoppable.

  • HAMMER

    Co-sign 1982.

  • HAMMER

    Let the record’s show that the co-sign was 1982′s comment @ 1:19. Scoop was the man.

  • http://slamonline.com nbk

    AllenP or any other Iverson Historian where did his nickname the Answer come from? Himself? This Article? John Thompson? do you know?

  • J

    Love this article!
    ALLEN IVERSON is such a talented player, I remember sitting courtside in awe of his speed, determination and confidence.
    He is fearless and so energetic on the court which is much more than you can say for many of the players in the league today.
    During the last few years he was not the right fit for the teams he played for, being asked to sit on the bench when players who are not experienced or comparable are starters is very difficult to accept.
    AI needs to be on a championship-worthy team.
    He deserves respect for all he brought to the NBA.

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    @ nbk: I’m not exactly sure, but it might have been a marketing thing by Reebok–he wore the questions, so the next shoes would be “The Answers” and the name just stuck. Again, don’t quote me on this.

  • http://slamonline.com 1982

    The Answer was one of his nicknames before Georgetown, it was a local thing his friends called him. I read it in his biography.

  • http://slamonline.com Allenp

    I saw him play in D.C. when I was in college. It was after the lockout when they were running the cheap tickets specials, and I went with my homies at least two of the times he came into the city to play the Juwan Howard- Wizards.
    Iverson easily had more fans in the building than the Wizards, and they were on pins and needles waiting for him to kill the entire game. Any nice move got the crowd buzzing. I remember after pretty much coasting to an easy 25-28 for most of the game, he caught a Wizard on the break and and gave him a series of crossovers. The crowd was hype, me included, and he didn’t even use the Big Dog crossover on him. Then he splashed the jumper, casually ran down the court, and the building cheered him the entire way. It was crazy.

  • http://slamonline.com Allenp

    NBK
    According to his autobiography and other sources, he got it from a friend. I can’t remember the exact story off the top of my head, but at one point he got sued by someone who said that they gave him the nickname and deserved to get paid.

  • http://slamonline.com nbk

    Good lookin out, I’ve been trying to figure out where it came from for a while.

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