Throughout his career, Allen Iverson has been the avatar for whatever people wanted him to be. If you hated hip-hop lyrics and one-on-one play he was the statue for the decline of the game and player decorum. If you identified with his style and loved watching how brazenly he could break down a defender then he was a demigod, a very visible symbol of a tidal change in the league. Good or bad, Iverson was a human Rorschach test in a baggy jersey. We couldn’t believe our eyes so we focused on what we wanted to see.
What’s made clear in the new documentary Iverson,directed by Zatella Beatty and executive produced by AI’s longtime friend and mentor Gary Moore, is that the future Hall of Famer transformed the culture of the game. Equally crystalline is the fact that the man himself, not the avatar, is purposely unknowable—and he’s cool with that. As pervasive an influence as he was at the height of his career, the film takes care to illustrate the many moments in the footage where popular reaction completely shocked Iverson. Among the many on-camera interviews with former Sixers owner Pat Croce, Georgetown coach John Thompson and other Iverson supporters the most interesting soundbite is from former coach Larry Brown lamenting that AI could’ve been one of the most-beloved players in the history of the NBA.
Iverson is at its best when it’s recounting all the reasons why the 11-time All Star was loved: The Big East Tourney game against Ray Allen’s UConn squad. Iverson gives the breakdown of what he was thinking when he crossed up MJ, his (and everyone else’s) idol at the time. Stepping over Tyronn Lue in the 2001 NBA Finals. It’s a worthy documentation of Iverson’s ushering in a new era for the NBA—how a player covered in tattoos, topped by durags, and draped in jewelry, could come to be known for his heart. It reminds us that though other players followed the style, which encouraged David Stern to scapegoat a generation and institute a dress code, but the substance of AI couldn’t be replicated.
But the film never addresses the many moments where the plot twists in Allen Iverson’s life shocked even him. Iverson was famously railroaded at the end of his prep career, tried as an adult and then convicted of felony charges from a racially charged fight at a bowling alley when he was 17. The doc shows home movie footage of Iverson and a friend who was also convicted practicing their apologies in preparation for court the next day. In their innocence thought that they’d be forced to issue a statement and maybe given probation. The next day Iverson was sentenced to five years in prison. The effect on Iverson’s personality is glazed over as is the rest of Iverson’s career—the decision to play in Turkey, his divorce, his daughter’s illness which forced him to leave the Sixers once and for all, the persistent reports of his gambling and money troubles—all get short shrift, noted in headline montages and then forgotten.
At the end of the screening this Sunday as part of the Tribeca Film Fest, Iverson sat for a Q&A with the filmmakers and ESPN’s Scoop Jackson. For all the talk about the natural ability of the 160 lb guard who became an 11 time All-Star, Jackson asked what his biggest God-given gift was. The answer wasn’t his speed, agility, or ability to shrug off contact. Iverson answered that it was his children and his, now former, wife. His feelings toward the people closest to him are the thing the general public knows the least about, intentionally so according to Iverson. That self-protection is the core of the movie’s message and Iverson’s response when asked how he thought filmgoers would react to his story. “If you love me, then cool. If not…fuck you.” Click through the slides to see the best takeaways from the film.
Watching That MJ Crossover Never Gets Old
That Practice Press Conference Wasn't About Practice
Even AI Was Shocked By How Many People He Reached
When the hubbub over his rap career drew ire, Iverson seemed genuinely surprised that he his influence went beyond those who could identify with how he grew up.3 of 4
EVERYbody Bit AI's Style
We tend to forget that for a moment in the early aughts, Iverson’s style was emulated by nearly everyone in the NBA. Even Mamba.4 of 4