Originally published in SLAM 18
The 6th Man: On the list of things I look for in an interviewee, eye contact is right up there with attendance. Why? Because even though some folks can look right at you when they’re being untruthful, most people feel at least a little guilty and start eyeballing their feet. Or their hands. Then comes the mumbling. The tugging on the shirt collar. Tapping fingers. Blinking. Sweating. Sentences that begin with “To tell the truth…” or “To be honest with you…”
My brother John taught me all this. He does something for the government, although I can’t tell you exactly what it is. Well, I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. You understand.
And so, upon my initial meeting with Allen Iverson, the first thing I notice is his eyes. He keeps them trained on you during an interview. No matter the question-whether it’s another What did you learn from prison? or What did you say to Jordan? that he hears about fifty times on game days-Allen’s eyes tell you he’s right there, locked in. You see, the NBA isn’t just a game to him: it’s his life.
And these days his life is filled with controversy. Everything from the way he dribbles to the way he wears his hair has come under intense scrutiny by the world media. How come you wear so much jewelry? Who are those guys you’re hangin’ out with? Every night, all night, he answers those same damn questions. Every night he looks another reporter in the eye.
Understand, Allen Iverson has nothing to hide. That is to say, there’s nothing left to hide. More than any other athlete, his life’s a book displayed open for all to see. In all sorts of places, questions abound as to whether his headband is a gang symbol, why he has a registered handgun.
Yet here is a guy with breathtaking talent, one of the few players who, on more nights than not, is the only thing that matters on the court. And one of the few players who are gonna bring this game into the next millennium. His message is powerful: You Can Do Anything.
He’ll be the first one to tell you he wants to help kids in troubled situations-not because of some corporate responsibility, but because it’s the right thing to do. He’ll be the first one to tell you how much he respects the game. He’ll be the first one to answer your questions honestly and thoughtfully.
If only you’ll look him in the eye.
P.S. We’re gonna try and answer all your e-mail, but it’s gonna take some time. Just thought you should know.