Allen Iverson witnessed his first murder when he was 8: one moment he was sitting on the steps in front of the house with his friend, and the next moment his friend was bleeding to death from a gunshot wound.
Allen Iverson's past is a series of deaths, replaying over and over again and occasionally supplemented by the latest victim, and the only sound is that of a basketball bouncing, quickening and slowing like some macabre, pace-setting drum. He was born to a single, painfully alone 15-year old girl in 1975. Iverson's estranged biological father, hardly a factor in his life, is currrently incarcerated, after having pleaded guilty to repeatedly stabbing a girlfriend. They say Allen Iverson could fill a gym with spectators by the age of 9, so precocious, so determined was he when set to athletic competition.
Coming home, no lights, no food, sometimes no water. Then when there was water, no hot water. Living in a house where the sewer was busted under the house and having to watch my sister walk around in her socks all day because the floor was wet from the sewage. The smell was making my sister sick.
At 16, Iverson's role model and best friend was stabbed to death by his girlfriend. It was a hard year for Iverson: 7 more of his friends would die in the streets within a 12-month span. His basketball coach began to worry about the long hours Iverson kept, and about his role in a shooting at a hotel party, in which one man was killed. It was in his junior year of high school that he became caught up in a racially-charged melee at a bowling alley; he was arrested and sentenced to time on the Hampton work farm in Newport News, Va., despite pleas from community leaders who found it suspicious that only black youths were arrested for what was essentially a small-scale riot. This pressure from the community resulted in Iverson's being pardoned by governor L. Douglas Wilder after 4 months time served.
I'll always remember what those people did to me in Hampton. And I think about it because that's one of the reasons I'm here right now. It just made me stronger... When I was incarcerated, I prayed and I learned from other guys in there. That's what I did mostly -- I just listened. A lot of the inmates in there knew me before I got there, and when I came there, all of them were just standing around quiet, just looking at me. And I was scared. I was only 18 years old, and all of them were staring at me. And all the older inmates were like, "We're going to take care of you." And they'd always tell me I was going to get out, and I was going to do something. And I tried to keep my head straight. I remember right before I got locked up, I asked my grandma, "If God knows I didn't do what they accused me of doing, why is he letting this happen to me?" And I'll never forget it. She said, "Never question what God does." And after that, I never did again.
After completing his high school education at a facility catering to troubled youths, Iverson followed a basketball scholarship to Georgetown, where he'd major in fine arts. A slight 6'0, 165lb., he immediately reinvigorated the basketball program, and made it a winner. And the more he won, the more frequent were the road-game heckles of "Jailbird, jailbird!" Meanwhile, Michael Freeman, his mother's longtime boyfriend, and a man who'd always been good to Iverson, was serving time for intent to distribute cocaine. "I didn't buy cadillacs and diamond rings," says Freeman, "I was payin' bills." Iverson's sister had an increasingly more debilitating neurological disorder, perhaps exacerbated by so many sewage leaks. Of course, they had no money with which to seek treatment, and her seizures became increasingly regular. Iverson left Georgetown after two years, as soon as he could command a salary in the NBA. He took his family out of the ghetto, and began to supplement the incomes of 7 friends of his, with whom he'd once made a pact: "if one gets out, we all get out." The "Ra" wristband Iverson touched methodically before each free throw during the 2001-2002 season was in honor of one of these 7, Rahsaan "Ra" Langford, who was shot to death in a bar shortly before the onset of the season.
96-97 was Iverson's rookie season: his honors included the NBA Rookie of the year, MVP of the Rookie Game, and the rookie record of 5-consecutive 40-point games, placing 6th in the NBA in scoring overall at 23.5. By 98-99, Iverson was the most prolific scorer in the game. In 00-01, his 31.1 points per game made him the NBA's Most Valuable Player.
A vehement supporter of the Boys and Girls Club, Iverson became the plaything of the Philadelphia press in July 2002, when charges of illegal weapons possession and the making of "terroristic threats" were brought against him ensuing a domestic dispute with his wife. His wife's cousin charges that an agitated Iverson forced his way into his home in search of his wife, and made threatening remarks; he further claims that Iverson had a gun in his waistband, though he never drew or made reference to it. It became national news when the police reported (or purportedly reported) discovering bloodstains in Iverson's car. But it wasn't long before the "bloodstains" were revealed to be merely stains, ostensibly the result of the backseat carelessness of Iverson's 3 and 5 year old children.
Allen Iverson lives in a world in which everyone is a foot taller than he is. Despite this glaring disadvantage, he continues to struggle to stay above an unyielding, harrowing past, a past that haunts him like so many dead friends. "ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE", "FEAR NO ONE", "HOLD MY OWN", "STRENGTH", "LOYALTY"--all of this etched into the flesh of Allen Iverson. The most tattooed man in the NBA remembers the lessons of a trying life by staining them into his skin. There is some irony in that Iverson, at one point in his life, might have been shot to death if he'd knocked furiously on a door while unarmed; now, he's prosecuted for the light that fame shines upon him, and while his money makes him physically safe, an over-tattoed black ex-con millionaire makes for an easy mark in a bogus civil suit, as well as an effective demonizing oft-discussed infuriating racially-divisive drama.
Whether or not Allen Iverson can acclimate himself to his fame and fortune remains to be seen; afterall, he comes from a world in which only the dead go unarmed. But he is close, so very close, to turning the impossible upon itself, and finally separating himself from the misery and confusion of his youth. Whether or not the damage is irrevocable, that is the question.
Allen "The Answer" Iverson continues to confront the question.
July 29, 2002
"It sounds like you had a relative looking for a relative at the house of a relative," Municipal Court Judge James DeLeon said.
Iverson, arrested on 14 felony and misdemeanor charges, has had the charges reduced to 2 misdemeanor charges. There were glaring inconsistencies in the testimonies of two of his three accusers, most notably the fact that one has reversed his testimony and stated that he didn't actually see any gun. It turns out that Iverson had had permission to enter his cousin's apartment as he pleased, and had been doing so without knocking for quite some time--indeed, Iverson was actually paying the rent of the apartment. Also, it has come to light that Iverson's accusers offered to drop the charges for a sum of $100,000.