Questions and Answers

by October 27, 2011

Ever since KICKS 3 (summer 2000), each issue of the annual sneaker mag—KICKS 10 not included—has contained two or three new inductions into the KICKS Hall of Fame, where footwear legends past and present are honored. This may not be fresh material for those of you who’ve been copping the mag since before the new millennium hit, but for the younger heads, we’re posting the entire HOF online over the course of the next few weeks. (It’ll be archived under the KICKS tab above.) Enjoy, and don’t forget: KICKS 14 is on sale now! —Ed.

Originally published in KICKS 11

by Russ Bengtson / @russbengtson

There’s something you need to understand before we go any further, and that is this: As legit as KICKS Hall of Fame is, Allen Iverson should have been inducted already. We’re talking first-ballot, unanimous vote. We’re talking Michael Jordan, Clyde Frazier, Tinker Hatfield, Chuck Taylor and AI. That would have been right, that would have been just. But here we are, a couple of years in, finally hanging AI’s plaque, at last recognizing the one Question and the many Answers. For now, let the question be this: What the hell took us so long?

I can’t remember what sneakers Allen Iverson was wearing when he first appeared on the cover of SLAM. Nikes, undoubtedly. Jordans, probably. AI was at Georgetown then, slicing up the Big East as if it were just another playground. Big John Thompson, the Hoya employa, had a close eye on his personal charge, but there was no need for alarm. The fit was perfect.

Iverson turned 33 years old this summer. Is that even possible? It’s honestly hard to believe. He looks different than he did on that first cover—hair twisted into braids, long limbs gnarled and tattooed, that big-eyed, youthful face a little more drawn and worn. But he looks the same, too. He’s aged, but hasn’t grown old. There’s still a lot of kid in AI, but even when he was a kid, he had to be a grown-ass man. And even on the day he retires, a day that’s as hard to imagine as the end of time itself, he’ll look ready to run for 48 and score 30. Disdain for practice aside, can’t you see AI dropping 50 at 50? Me too.

As a rookie in 1997, AI averaged 23.5 ppg. As the MVP in 2001, he averaged 31.1 ppg. Last season, he averaged 26.4 ppg. Rules have changed, players have come and gone, Iverson continues to score. His career average of 27.7 ppg trails two players, and two only: Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain. This will not be his only plaque.

But to the matter at hand: I’ve lost track entirely of how many signature shoes Allen Iverson has had at this point. The Answer XII is coming next, I know that much, but if you include the original Question and the Question II, plus the Playoff shoes, the off court models, the practice—you get the point. The second-most signature shoes in NBA history behind some guy named Mike. Not bad for a poor kid from Hampton, VA.

When he held that first shoe in his hands, after he moved from DC to Philly, from Nike to Reebok, Allen Iverson was floored. Stopped, maybe for the first time. You can look up that first season’s commercials on YouTube, see him taking the pearlescent-toed shoe from the blue box, turning it over in his hands. Realizing a dream, that of wearing his own signature on his feet, following in no one’s footsteps but his own. The Question was designed for him, not with him, yet it seemed to capture the essence of AI better than any that followed. The Question was a statement.

His shoes, his League. That first year, crossing up a flummoxed Michael Jordan—not once, but twice—before depositing a feathery mid-range jumper. A couple years later, in the Finals, handing a juggernaut Laker team their only Playoff loss, dropping 48 points in the series opener, stomping over a fallen Tyronn Lue like a soldier advancing against impossible odds.

One Question, many Answers. It’s been the story of Allen Iverson’s life. For his second SLAM cover, we asked, rhetorically: “Who’s Afraid Of Allen Iverson?” Slight frame, big jersey, gold chain, defiant look. In the mainstream, words flew. Playground. Street. Hip-hop. Thug. But in the end, who changed? In the end, who won?

That’s the thing, though, it’s not the end. Far from it. And when you think of Hall of Fames, you think of endings. Eulogies for the living. And maybe that’s why Allen Iverson, long deserving, is only being inducted now. Because we don’t want to think about the end, don’t want to think about the NBA without him, don’t want to think about who will attempt to carry on his legacy when he’s gone. Actually, that last non-question is easy enough to answer.