Originally published in SLAM 55

The 6th Man: It’s really weird. I was flipping through SLAM 42—the last time AI was on the cover, in case you forgot—looking for some inspiration for this thing (you’d be surprised how tough it is to come up with 500 words sometimes), when I noticed something odd. Allen Iverson cover, Ray Allen feature. Same as this issue. A coincidence, mind you, but a strange one.

Or is it? Some would have you think these two are the good and evil of the NBA—Ray with his beatific smile and All-American image (he played a character named “Jesus”—how much more obvious could it get?), AI with the murderous scowl and gangsta ink. Opposites, right? But the connection goes deep, deeper than the name. Thicker than water. Picked No. 1 and No. 5 in the ’96 Draft, Allen and Allen came straight outta the Big East, where they went toe-to-toe for all the honors. Both hit the L running, stayed with their same squads, re-upped for the max and responded by meeting in the ’01 Eastern Conference Finals.

Now, some of you are probably wondering why things didn’t get flipped this time around. After all, AI has gotten under our logo four times already, while Ray has had to settle for the group shot on No. 15. With AI covers dropping faster than DMX records, it was time to twist things. Ray A with the halo—or better yet, with tats scrawled across his arms. Turn him to the dark side.

Not yet. Life isn’t always fair, and sometimes nice guys do finish last. If it was the Bucks facing up with Roc La Familia in L.A., things might’ve been different. But it wasn’t. It was AI stepping over Shaq, wetting 3s in Derek Fisher’s grill, leading his team to victory in enemy territory, and copping more hardware than Bob Vila.

When it came down to it, there was no one more deserving of a cover than AI. It was overdue, kinda like this letter. And that’s the funny part. Sure, we’re late now, but we were putting AI on covers back when he still had a fade, back when the only ink he had was the bulldog and “The Answer.” Back when we first asked “Who’s Afraid of Allen Iverson?” the answer was simple—all of y’all. Then, SI was going with “Allen Iverson: Not As Bad As You Think.” Now they put him on the cover with his shirt off. From player haters to, uh, richard riders.

But we’ve been down since Day One. No doubts, ever. And AI ain’t changed either. The guy being pushed as The Future was the same guy being bashed as the Enemy. Like Dennis Rodman (what happened to the comeback, playa?), AI is only as bad as you want him to be. But if you’re still scared—by the tats, the attitude, and the ’rows—don’t worry. There’s another Allen who will do you just fine.


Russ Bengtson

Issue 55 AI