By Chris Palmer ,
On this moonless night, lightning bugs flashed brilliantly in the yards along Jordan Drive. Moths fluttered around the hopelessly dim porch lights. The air was warm and muggy. Darkness covered the neighborhood’s working-class splendor. There wasn’t a single siren to disturb the calm. It was absolutely beautiful.
This was the night their boyhood would end. Each would tell himself quietly not to cry.
Allen Iverson and crew tried to play cards like it was a normal night. Bubba Chuck, as he’s known, had taught them to play tonk. He gave them what little money he had then would win it right back. He was the most upbeat. He made jokes to put others at ease. This is what Chuck did. Still, it was his life that would change when the sun came up.
Allen Iverson was going to jail tomorrow.
They sat around unsure of what to say. They fired up the Sega thinking Tecmo Bowl would provide the much-needed distraction. They put down the controllers within minutes. The Five Heartbeats came on TV. They watched in silence.
It was all too much. They were confused. How did it get to this point? They were scared. Chuck was scared, which scared them most of all. Because he was never scared.
Just after midnight, Iverson lay on his bed—his Air Force 1s still on—in his small room in the little blue house at 106 Jordan Drive. There were Michael Jackson posters on his wall. Iverson’s lightness of being filled the room. Then suddenly, he was a bolt of lightning. A convoluted mash-up of swagger, naivete and confusion.
He practiced the speech he would give the judge after receiving his slap on the wrist. A burst of confidence followed.
He was still Chuck.
He was still going to Notre Dame. Touchdown Jesus would wait with open arms. An ankle bracelet wouldn’t be that bad. His jeans would cover it when he went to the mall. Tawanna would still love him tomorrow. She would kiss him when he got out of court. He would come see her at work. They could go to Hardee’s.
A slap on the wrist.
He had no idea how wrong he was. Well, maybe some.
The Bentley barreled down Schuylkill Expressway. Despite Philly’s vexing bumper-to-bumper rush-hour traffic, they were making good time.
Gary Moore, Iverson‘s longtime manager, piloted the $200,000 coupe down the shoulder of the annoyingly packed thoroughfare. When they were running late, the shoulder became their personal HOV lane. Moore was quite adept at dodging the many dangers of the road: orange construction barrels, potholes, rocks and debris from fender benders. He knew the shortcuts, speed traps and the traffic lights that seemed to take forever.
They were in what Moore called “the danger zone,” which meant they had left Iverson’s house at 5:30 or later. He had to be at the arena at 6. He lived 45 minutes away on a good day.
It could actually be dangerous getting Iverson to games on time. Other motorists were always pulling onto the shoulder. No one ever seemed to check the rearview before they did so. The threat of traffic tickets was constant. Moore, or whoever drove Allen, faced unrelenting constant pressure. Despite Moore’s best laid plans, there was never enough time.
Time was as precious a luxury as there could be in the world surrounding the league’s most polarizing player. Iverson was utterly unfazed by the daily emptying of the hourglass. He actually preferred it.
“If we weren’t rushing late,” Iverson liked to say, “it just wouldn’t feel right.”
Iverson seemed to be comfortable in a constant state of semi-controlled chaos and ever-percolating melodrama. It either focused or pleasantly distracted him. No one really knew.
In the front seat next to Moore, he casually talked on his cell phone and dealt with the annoyances that came along with being one of the most famous basketball players in the world—requests for tickets, money and time. Family squabbles, trade rumors, bad press. Sometimes, it was his wife, Tawanna, whom he had kissed goodbye not 20 minutes before.
On this day, Mo—as Iverson called Moore—couldn’t work his magic and proved less than equal to Philly’s unforgiving traffic snarls. Iverson arrived at the arena 10 minutes before tipoff. Sixers coach Larry Brown was furious. He had been looking for a reason to trade him, spent many hours in Sixers general manager Billy King’s office complaining about Iverson. Brown said Iverson never listened to him. Allen hated that. He insisted he heard every word. He would definitely hear what Brown said next. He walked up to Allen and spoke in a low, controlled tone. He told Iverson that this was the last straw.
“Either you go, or I go.”
He owned hotels on Park Place, Boardwalk and even Marvin Gardens—not to mention a controlling interest in the Electric Company. Those little red plastic buildings in the high rent district meant he was firmly in control.
The team was staying in Charlottesville that night. Hours earlier, Bethel High had captured the 1993 Virginia state boys basketball championship behind Iverson’s verve and moxie. That was a distant memory. Now, his teammates had gathered in his hotel room to engage in one of his lifelong passions: Monopoly.
His trial was still four months away, but you couldn’t tell as he moved his game piece—the vintage boot—and wagged a wad full of gold-colored $500 bills. He was ruthless and cunning. He talked trash and dared people to land on his property. He smiled as he cut side deals with other players to eliminate threats to his budding empire. The game was in its second hour when the phenom tucked his stash in his pocket.
“Hold up,” Iverson said. “I gotta go do something.”
The best basketball player in the state got up and left the room. He propped the door open with the latch and walked barefoot down the carpeted hallway. He stopped at the last door and knocked.
“Allen, what’s up?” asked his high school coach, Michael Bailey, after answering the door. “Is everything all right?”
The coach had a number of family members in town. After chatting with Bailey’s relatives for several minutes, he walked Iverson to the door. The coach and the player hugged. He noticed the play money in his pocket.
“You sure you’re OK?” asked Bailey.
“I just wanted to make sure I talked to you before you went to bed,” he answered.
A random act of Iverson.
Bailey would experience a dozen of them in the years to come. It would take him the better part of a decade to figure out they weren’t random at all. Last summer, Iverson picked up the phone and called Bailey.
“Allen, is everything all right?” the coach would ask instinctively.
“Everything is fine, Coach,” Iverson replied. “I just wanted to hear your voice.”
It’s been said that life is just a series of snapshots, glimpses of things that have been. Tiny, personal moments that begin to reveal the measure of a man. Whether he was sublime or insignificant is of no consequence.
Iverson‘s story is an oft-told one. But that well-worn, dog-eared narrative—one to which we clung so desperately—was always slightly out of focus. To the informed, it lacked context.
Too many snapshots missing. The blank spaces replaced instead by assumption, disregard and resentment toward the thing we couldn’t figure out.
His transcendent talent was always the lure. But his complexity, his truth led us to real emotional paydirt. He was an otherworldly athlete we could connect with.
He defined toughness yet was easily wounded. His pain was equal parts burden and badge of honor. It calloused to become an impenetrable shell. He used it to survive.
We fetishized his authenticity while giving him complete control over its application. Then we had the audacity to find fault with the finished product.
Expressing himself was often a clumsy, anxious proposition. He would rant. He would cry. He would brood. A plume of emotion left across the sky. This was the same beautifully flawed boy who sparked a revolution without intention.
At his best, he burned charm. When he did, he was irresistible. We wanted more. He doled it out in small portions because it was never really for us. We watched with envious eyes as he stuck his finger in the face of conformity while never realizing the personal cost of his defiance.
“I was the first one do all that stuff, and I took an ass-whooping for it,” says Iverson. “Tattoos, cornrows, headbands, hip-hop. I never meant to start any trends. I got my butt kicked, but if that meant that the guys who came after me could be themselves, then it was worth it.”
Allen Iverson didn’t just defy conventions. He reinvented them. He gave birth to a generation who gave him love where none had existed before.
“I didn’t want to be Michael or Magic,” says LeBron James. “I wanted to be Allen Iverson.”
“He changed everything,” Carmelo Anthony says. “An entire generation owes him.”
Chris Paul calls him simply the most influential player of all time.
He wasn’t perfect. He was no angel. An icon in wolf’s clothing. But there was so much of Allen Iverson in us—that was both scary and comforting.
He flew the flag of the underdog and planted it firmly where it made you the most uncomfortable. You don’t have enough snapshots to understand.
He was woefully misunderstood. Our fault, not his. But it was the very thing that forged his resolve. Like fire on steel. He kept us at arm’s length. He didn’t need us. Yet still he was ours.
And that we quietly loved above all things.
Chapter One: A Counterculture Icon at 40
He sits at a large table in a boardroom on the 16th floor of Showtime’s New York offices. In front of him is a small paper plate piled high with spicy Buffalo wings next to a bottle of Texas Pete hot sauce. The discarded bones are neatly lined up on the edge of the plate.
“What up, Chris?” Iverson says enthusiastically in that familiar rasp. “What we doing today?”
He’s wearing a white T-shirt with gold zippers, several gold chains, baggy blue jeans and white-on-white Air Force 1s fresh out of the box. His braids are covered by a white do-rag and a backward Yankees fitted. There’s a gold diamond-studded Rolex on his right wrist.
In other words, it’s Allen Iverson.
His cheeks are a little fuller, and damn if he ain’t an inch shorter from when you last met, but it’s him. His familiar expressive, round eyes that for so long broadcast his pain to the world are particularly bright.
In a rare, lengthy, wide-ranging interview, Iverson displays a myriad of emotions while bouncing from subject to subject, crashing into questions with both abandon and care. He is warm, funny and talkative. He doesn’t miss an opportunity to land a comedic jab at his interviewer. He’s got a holster full of zingers and revels in a direct hit.
Iverson says he has rededicated himself to his family and worked hard to manage the vices that have caused so much turmoil in his life. He divorced in 2013 but says his primary focus is rebuilding his relationship with his partner of 25 years.
“We’ve had ups, downs, good times, bad times, been divorced, apart, together, everything,” he says of Tawanna, his high school sweetheart, ex-wife and mother of his five children. “We’re going to be together forever. That’s the way it’s gonna be.”
He lives quietly outside of Miami. The dewy, sweet air agrees with him. As do the warm breezes off the ocean that gently rattle the neighborhood palms that line his green, bucolic suburb. On a typical day, Iverson gets up at about seven—six if his human alarm clock children wake him up. He helps get the kids ready for school. Tawanna brushes their hair. He fixes breakfast. Their homework is usually packed the night before. He drops them off at school most days then runs an errand or two. Back at home, he’ll check emails or return phone calls.
He likes to be outside to stave off claustrophobia. He needs to keep moving. He looks for things to keep him busy.
“You need me to go to the store? You need me to make a run?” he’ll ask Tawanna.
He goes to his kids’ gymnastic competitions, basketball games and school functions. Holiday-themed plays and the year-end talent shows are his favorite.
“I’m just a regular 24/7 dad now,” he says. “I’m doing the things that I never paid attention to. They never had a full-time father, but they do now. I’m here for those things now. Being older, I can’t imagine a parent not wanting to be in their kid’s life. I will just never understand it. To me, it’s priceless.”
On a typical lazy afternoon, he’ll jump on the computer. Google a few things. Maybe a vacation spot. Sometimes, he’ll search YouTube for hours looking for funny videos.
One of his daily goals is to laugh. “That’s why I hang around idiots,” he jokes. His friend Kian Pennington, sitting next to him in the boardroom, misses the joke and looks dazed. “See? I surround myself with people who make me laugh.”
He drives more now than at any period in his life. If he needs toothpaste or paper towels, he goes to the store to get it. If his car needs gas, he pumps it. He loves broccoli. Still listens to Brandy. He checks the mailbox. He’s a big fan of Ronda Rousey.
“Could you beat her in the Octagon?” I ask.
“Hell no!” he says. “And I ain’t trying to find out.”
In the afternoon, he picks the kids up from school and gets them ready for dinner. In the evening, he and Tawanna will watch a movie or two before going to sleep.
“I live such a normal life,” he says. “I absolutely love it.”
Until the bowling alley incident—a brawl that eventually led to Iverson, a 17-year-old, being convicted as an adult of maiming by mob—turned his life upside down, he says he would have gone to Notre Dame to play quarterback, return kicks and win the Heisman Trophy. He would have done what Lou Holtz asked and showed them he was faster than Raghib “Rocket” Ismail. “I loved those gold helmets,” Iverson says longingly. Then it would be on to the NFL, hopefully the Cowboys.
Iverson has given up defending himself from critics and responding to every rumor the Internet can churn out. He hears what people say about him on social media and goes out of his way to avoid stories about himself. He doesn’t care if you think he’s broke (“Far from it,” he says), in a custody battle or addicted to one vice or another.
“I used to be like, ‘Nothing bothers me,'” he says. “But that’s not true. When I read something negative, it hurts. Look, I’m a human being…I’m a real person. I’m human, man. My feelings can be hurt, too. I’m tired of being hurt.”
His voice steadies. He locks in. He wants you to know this.
“I’m not sitting on the Internet looking for good stories about me. I can’t be happy with the good ones if I’m going to be upset with the bad ones. Oh, they wrote a good story about me? Well, isn’t that great. But OK, then what about the f—-d-up one they just wrote? You can’t win, so I just block everything out.”
There’s a new rumor circulating that he’s managing hip-hop acts. “That’s news to me,” he says. “If I am, I missed all the meetings and never got the checks.”
Chapter Two: A.I. In Retirement
Iverson can’t remember the last time he played basketball, save for shooting around with his 11-year-old son Isaiah in the driveway.
“I didn’t want to retire,” he says. “I miss the game, but I’m happy where I am. I don’t miss everything that comes with basketball, though. I have days where I don’t even think about basketball.”
Still, he likes to talk ball. He’s been plugged into the playoffs. “What the hell happened to the Clippers last night?” he says to no one in particular.
He watches League Pass almost nightly. His favorite player is Russell Westbrook. “He’s a certified killer,” Iverson says. “Certified! He reminds me a lot of me.”
On Steph Curry: “How good is this dude where you can’t decide what’s better, his handle or his jump shot? He’s a bad boy. He’s official! But his release ain’t quicker than Dell’s. I know—I had to guard him.”
He wants to see Melo get a ring. Says Kyrie has a better handle than he had. Loves Monta. Isaiah Thomas, too. Jamal Crawford is “just crazy.” Pulls for D-Rose. Roots harder for players who haven’t won it all. Says he’ll never become an analyst because he hates criticizing players. In 14 seasons, the player he had the most trouble guarding was Steve Nash. “I couldn’t believe how good he was,” he says, shaking his head. Little-known Marcus Banks was the toughest defender he ever faced.
Where is his draft-day suit? “Probably balled up in my son’s closet,” he says.
He learned his transcendent crossover from a Georgetown walk-on from New York named Dean Berry. “He was killing me every day in practice, so I finally asked him to show me how to do the move,” Iverson remembers. Dean, who arguably changed the game of basketball by proxy, was so little-used, he didn’t even have his name on the back of his jersey.
Iverson considers his most memorable game to be the 60 he dropped on the Magic in 2005.
“Who was guarding you?” I ask.
I ask him if he could still dunk, and he just laughs. “Man, I don’t want to think about that,” he says. “I’ll mess around and kill myself. I don’t wanna break my neck.”
Remember the follow jam off the missed free throw in Seattle?
“Young legs, man. I’m old now. Too old.”
What about today’s NBA fashion?
“No comment,” he says. “If I say what I really want, there’s a lot of people who are going to be pissed off.”
Would you ever wear skinny jeans?
“What the hell would I look like wearing some skinny jeans?” he says. “Skinny as I am? I might disappear.”
Your all-time Big Three?
“Wow,” he says dreamily. “Me, Mike and Shaq.” He looks at me. “We’d go 82-0 even with you in the backcourt.”
The crowd of Showtime execs and important types who have quietly crept into the room to catch a glimpse of Iverson has swelled to nearly 30. They roar. Hang on his every word.
“Listen,” I shoot back, “I’d be wide open every play.”
“I’m just bulls——g you,” Iverson says with a huge smile and a devilish cackle. He extends a long-ass arm to dap. “My bad, my bad.”
In 2002, he came within minutes of being traded. He met with Billy King and Larry Brown in a particularly tense meeting in King’s office. If the meeting didn’t go well, he was gone.
“They would have pulled the trigger,” says Iverson. “I knew it.”
He didn’t want to leave Philly. His anxiety was made worse when his kids would come home from school with messages from their friends asking Iverson not to leave the Sixers.
In the end, he would agree that he could work with Brown. Iverson asked to be a captain and promised to set a good example. Iverson says afterward, still stressed from the meeting and mourning the recent death of his best friend Rahsaan Langford, he got in his car and drove straight to the arena for what would become the infamous “Practice” press conference.
“I was supposed to announce to the city that I was here to stay,” he says, “but then they started talking about practice.”
Outside of not winning an NBA championship, his biggest disappointment is being left off the 2008 Olympic team. He met with USA Basketball director Jerry Colangelo and felt confident he was in the mix. Months later, Colangelo sent Iverson a two-paragraph letter saying he wouldn’t be invited to participate.
“That one really stung,” says Iverson. He pauses for several seconds. “That hurt. I still think about it to this day. I wanted it so bad. I wanted another shot. It was my chance to make it all right. I was all in. Me and Tim Duncan talked about it a lot. It was our dream to come back in four years and win gold.”
Today, the 40-year-old stay-at-home dad has a new dream.
“I want to become a professional fisherman,” says Iverson with absolute sincerity. “I want to get good enough to compete with the best in the world and be on ESPN. I’m good right now, but I could be the best. That’s my dream right now. I’m really going to make it happen.”
As a kid, he stood on the rocks on the shores of Newport News and tried to hook blue catfish in the James River—which poured into Chesapeake Bay—with a makeshift rod.
Iverson can spend hours at Bass Pro Shops picking out the best equipment. He owns half a dozen rods and has expert knowledge of hooks, lures and everything else that goes in a tackle box. He knows the best bait for different types of fish. His main catch are blue fish, stripers and flounders. He once spent a half-hour wrestling a wily marlin on the high seas that weighed half as much as him. “That thing tasted good, though,” he says. “We were eating fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“They’re gonna need to give me a fishing reality show,” says Iverson. He’s smiling wide. Nodding his head slightly. “Just watch me.”
Chapter Three: “I Love This Girl”
He put out word to the kids in the neighborhood that he was looking for Bubba Chuck. Problem was no one had seen him. But that wasn’t unusual. He was known to disappear. Sometimes, you’d have to try a half-dozen places before the kid would turn up. They had been teammates in youth football, but for the past week, he was a ghost. Michael Jackson, despite being 12 years old, had developed a reputation as something of a capable barber around the neighborhood though opinions of his work varied.
One day, Chuck asked him to borrow the very clippers Jackson used to make a name for himself. So he loaned his 11-year-old friend, Allen Iverson, his beloved shears. He expected them back the next day. Jackson had taken them from his father’s cabinet without asking, and there would be consequences. A week passed. Then a few more days.
Soon, Jackson knew he would never see those clippers again.
He lived a 10-minute walk from Chuck’s house on Jordan Drive but still couldn’t track him down. Jackson never quite knew when he was staying there. Sometimes, his mom, Ann, would answer the door.
One day, he saw the kid sauntering down the street.
“Hey, Chuck!” said Jackson. “I need my clippers back.”
The kid was as quick on his feet as he was on a naked bootleg, so Jackson was ready for any possible excuse.
“My grandmother’s house burned down,” said Chuck without hesitation. “The clippers were inside.”
Jackson bought it.
He knew he would have to answer to his father, but it hardly mattered. He liked Chuck. They had bumped heads. Competed like mad. Argued over this. Fussed over that. They ran sprints together on the field behind Aberdeen Elementary. Chuck was fast. Jackson was faster. They were complete opposites. One wore do-rags and liked to rap. The other wore dress slacks and was in student council. They were born to hate each other.
Chuck loved him from the start.
Their world opened up in the 10th grade when they turned 16 and Jackson’s father gave him a 1981 Toyota Tercel with no AC that he spray-painted black. They dubbed it the Jack Mobile.
“That thing was a piece of s–t,” says Iverson, “but we went everywhere in it. We loved that car. It was the greatest. It created so many memories for us.”
Jackson would pick Iverson up before school, and they would sing Boyz II Men or Jodeci the whole ride, hoping the tape wouldn’t pop. They drove it to practice, to pick up food, to the Coliseum Mall to buy sneakers.
One afternoon, Iverson stopped by Jackson’s to tell him about a girl he met at a party. He got the number. She didn’t know who he was. He called right away. He was so excited. He went on and on. Man, she was so pretty. Her hair was pretty. Her skin was pretty. Her eyes were pretty. I never met a girl like this. She wasn’t acting like other girls. She was just sitting there. Not acting pressed or nothing. She was different, man—just different.
Tawanna Turner was a grade above Allen. She went to Kecoughtan High across town and was quiet, smart and didn’t take lip from anyone. She was far from impressed with the skinny boy with the raspy voice and clever words. But he was willing to work.
She was a sales clerk at Deejay’s, a trendy clothing store in the Coliseum Mall. Every boy wanted to date a girl who worked there because the prettiest girls in the city worked there. One’s social standing would soar with the simple act of securing a phone number. Boys were known to go to the store and try on three or four outfits as a ruse to get to know one of the sales girls. They seemed to always have boyfriends, though.
Tawanna lived on the other side of town in a nice neighborhood, and Iverson would often sneak into her house long after her parents fell asleep to be with her. He would call Jackson to come pick him up at all hours of the night. He’d head down Mercury Boulevard and make that left on Fox Hill Road. He knew the trip front to back.
“I used to get him in so much trouble,” remembers Iverson.
One time after being scooped up around three in the morning, Iverson sat in the passenger seat of the Jack Mobile and was strangely quiet. Jackson knew he wanted to say something.
“I really like this girl,” Iverson finally said. “She’s just…”
“That’s cool,” replied Jackson. “You guys are great together.”
“I think I love her,” Iverson continued. “For real.”
It wasn’t unusual for Iverson to be attached to whomever he was dating, but Jackson had never heard Iverson say he loved a girl before and was slightly taken aback.
“That’s great, Chuck.”
“Man, you not hearing me,” Iverson implored. “I love this girl.”
Chapter Four: The Man Behind the Star
Gary Moore sits in the upstairs game room of the four-bedroom, comfortably appointed home he shares with his wife Phyllis on a lush golf course in Suffolk, Virginia. There’s a red velvet pool table, several pictures of him with Iverson and a signed and framed DeSean Jackson jersey. The basketball from the 2001 All-Star Game, in which Iverson won MVP, sits in a glass case.
As his manager, he has driven him to over 1,000 games, practices and appearances. He became one of the NBA’s most visible, no-nonsense gatekeepers. It was Moore’s decision to hire personal security when he thought Iverson’s nightlife was getting out of hand. He’s been present for nearly every milestone in Iverson’s career.
“God sent me to him all those years ago,” he likes to say. “He was the son I never had.”
“Without Mo, I would have never made it,” says Iverson. “You would have never heard of me.”
When Iverson turned pro, Moore kept his job as a purchasing agent at Hampton University. Iverson would call every day. Sometimes three or four times a day. Life was off without Moore. He never knew how much money he had. He didn’t know how his Reebok deal worked. His first agent, David Falk, never told him anything. He would pay whatever a dealer asked for a car. Iverson hated to haggle.
Moore, 59, was frustrated with Iverson’s carelessness with money. Iverson asked him to leave Hampton and come to Philly. Moore says he told Iverson he would oblige, but only if they did it legit. He drew up a contract, which outlined his duties and paid him a modest salary that both he and Iverson signed.
Iverson trusted him above all others.
After all, Moore had helped design Iverson’s deferred payment Reebok deal, which included a $32 million payout when he turned 55.
“Because I didn’t want him to retire broke,” he says.
Moore played high school football and baseball in Newport News and was good enough to be picked by the Montreal Expos in the 1973 draft. But chronic knee pain put an end to his diamond dreams, and he settled in nearby Aberdeen and began coaching youth league football.
He had known Ann Iverson as a teenager from the neighborhood, but they ran with different crowds. In his late 20s, he got a job as a forklift operator at an Avon cosmetics distribution plant where Ann worked in the packaging department. When she found out Moore coached football, she asked if he could find Allen and persuade him to join.
When Moore first saw Iverson, he was playing two-hand touch on a ratty patch of grass in the notorious Stuart Gardens projects in Newport News. The eight-year-old skated past desperate kids aiming to tag him. He called plays. He kept score. He even coached opposing players.
Sometimes, he would reverse field just to make it more challenging. His toothpick arm could fling the ball 40 yards through the summer air.
“Even as kids, we could tell he was different,” says Jackson. “Anyone who says otherwise is lying.”
Iverson would play five seasons under Moore up until the time he enrolled in Hampton’s Bethel High. When his home life would unravel, which it often did, he would stay with Moore. He had his own room in the three-bedroom rancher Moore bought in Hampton. On Christmases, he put cleats and wristbands under the tree. A facemask Iverson would use on varsity was his favorite present.
Moore taught Iverson to tie a tie and would eventually buy him suits for the significant moments in his life: his sentencing, his announcement to go pro, the day he was drafted.
Moore would drive him to school and pick him up from practice. That was the easiest way to watch him. Then Allen would disappear. He always did.
“When he wasn’t right in front of me, I was always concerned,” says Moore. “Never worried—I put my worries on God—but definitely concerned.”
The streets were one thing, but what Moore really feared was the pervasive racial tension that seemed to hover over Hampton like a toxic fog. As a teenager, Moore’s father told him never to go to the bowling alley. “There was just so much racist activity there,” says Moore. “I never set foot in that place.”
Black boys were told by their elders not to venture into Poquoson (the pejoratively termed “redneck part of town”) by themselves. N-words would drop like Molotovs from moving cars. Once you crossed Pine Chapel Road and went over the bridge, you were in unwelcome territory.
But invincible athletes weren’t concerned with the lessons of those who came before. They just loved to bowl. On Valentine’s Day in the winter of ’93, the night of the most notorious event in recent Peninsula history, Jackson waited at teammate Xavier Gunn’s house for their friends to return from Circle Lanes.
When the boys returned, they didn’t seem worried. In fact, they were hardly worked up. They started to play cards, but first, Iverson called Moore, told him he didn’t do anything, that he wasn’t involved in the fight at all. But he was Allen Iverson, so it didn’t matter.
“Allen,” said Moore just after midnight, “we’re going to need a lawyer.”
Chapter Five: The Night He Swerved Past Death
Tawanna wanted to do something special for his birthday. This was the Big 3-0. They had been together for half his life. They had three children and another on the way. She arranged to buy three cars—one for each decade of his life. There was the white drop-top Bentley coupe, the matte gray Lamborghini Murcielago and the Mercedes AMG. When he arrived home one afternoon, they were arranged in a row like a car show.
This amused some in his circle, because even though Iverson loved cars, he rarely drove. He had been driven to just about every game, practice, appearance, restaurant or club he’d ever been to. No one was actually sure if he even had a license.
“Allen just really couldn’t drive that well,” says Moore.
But when he needed them one particular day, he summoned some driving skills that likely saved his life.
Less than a mile from his house, on a winding, tree-lined road, Iverson crested a small hill that sharply banked right at the top, preventing motorists from seeing oncoming traffic. To drivers in either direction, a small amount of faith was required until clear sight lines were restored.
Iverson was nearly at the top when an oncoming car emerged in his lane headed straight for the white Bentley he had just gotten for his birthday. Neither Iverson nor the other driver had time to apply the brakes without a head-on collision.
Iverson instantaneously yanked the wheel to the right, missing the car by inches, sending the Bentley careening off the road. He hadn’t touched the brakes. Without losing any speed, the car was headed for a massive 100-year-old elm tree.
The car fishtailed wildly.
Iverson yanked the wheel back to the left and was able to steer out of the tailspin in the dewy grass. When the car came to rest, he and Jackson sat in silence, hearts racing, trying to get a handle on the moment.
“That could have been it,” said a shaken Iverson still gripping the wheel. “Just like that, it could have been over.”
Iverson wasn’t wearing his seat belt. He never did.
“If not for his reflexes, we would probably be dead,” says Jackson. “I’ve never seen him react like that. Something was guiding his hand.”
Iverson steered the car back onto the empty road and made a U-turn to head back home. He pulled in the driveway, jumped out of the car and ran to the front door. He burst into the house and called out for Tawanna with a desperate voice. When she came down the staircase, he pulled her close and hugged her tightly without saying a word. The children ambled into the room, curious why Dad was back so soon. He embraced them one by one.
When his nerves settled, Iverson got back into the car as Tawanna and the children stood in the doorway. He looked at the children and thought about the moments in his life. There was prom night when he was decked out in an all-white tux. Moore helped Iverson put on his bow tie. Tawanna radiated in a fuchsia sequin dress. The beat-up Toyota with tinted windows and rims that someone loaned him did just fine.
There was his wedding night. The newlyweds danced their first dance to Musiq Soulchild’s dreamy track “Love.” Tawanna put her arms over his shoulder, her left hand on the back of Allen’s head. Iverson put his chin on her shoulder and closed his eyes. Her parents cried. Ann’s heart glowed. They swayed slowly. Iverson placed his left hand protectively in the small of her back. She raised her right hand to the sky as if to testify. They might as well have been the only two in the room.
Fast-forward back to that fateful night—Iverson put the car in gear. For the first time in his adult life, he put on his seat belt.
Chapter Six: Fear of Isolation
Iverson worked in the bakery at City Farm. The jail was located on the banks of the same river he fished from as a kid. He was allowed to occasionally play hoops. Tom Brokaw came down from New York and interviewed him on NBC dressed in his all-white prison garb. Women would send him underwear in the mail.
Moore visited Iverson daily and helped him draft a handwritten letter asking for a second chance that he mailed to then-Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder, who would grant him clemency after serving four months of a highly controversial 15-year sentence following a racially charged trial. (Ten years were suspended.) It would be his final act in office.
When Coach Bailey would visit, bringing with him a group of teammates, Iverson would turn his back to the glass partition. He didn’t want his friends to see the tears running down his face.
Ann Iverson did interviews telling the world they would be OK. That her baby was too strong. That he was going to buy her a cherry red Jaguar, her favorite car.
Moore stares at the ceiling in his game room with an exasperated look and sighs.
Lost in the carnage of what many, in hindsight, see as injustice was the fact that Iverson’s football career was effectively over, something that angers Moore to this day.
“He was a far better football player than a basketball player,” says Moore. “Far, far better. We talked about Notre Dame all the time. That was our dream. We watched the Fighting Irish on TV every Saturday. He was never supposed to be in the NBA. We were focused on the NFL. He should be in Canton as we speak.”
People in the area still debate whether or not Michael Vick or Iverson was the better quarterback.
Twenty-two years later, the wounds are still raw. The thoughts bubbling just beneath the surface are bad enough. Still, he tries to brush it off.
“It’s no big deal,” he says just above a whisper. “Water under the bridge.”
“When he was sentenced, I knew I would do one thing,” says Jackson. “I was on a mission through education. I had to put myself in a position to give him a job if he ever needed one.”
Last May, Jackson completed his doctorate in education at Ohio State and works as a principal in the Columbus school system.
On Iverson’s first night of freedom, they gathered at Gunn’s house and tried to reclaim normalcy. They didn’t ask him what it was like. He didn’t tell them about screams that echoed throughout the prison all night or fires people would start or how the prison guards would try to intimidate. He didn’t tell them how lonely he was.
“I’ve tried to delete all those memories out of my head,” says Iverson. “I want to put those times behind me where I don’t have to speak about it anymore.”
They played cards for hours before breaking out the Monopoly set. Before long, it was late, and the boys were getting tired. As Iverson packed up the game, he grew quiet. And that’s when Jackson saw something he says he’ll never forget.
“He had this look in his eyes that said, ‘Please don’t leave me,'” he remembers. “But you don’t really understand it as kids. It would take me years to understand the significance.”
Iverson hated to be alone. When he was released from City Farm, people noticed he would avoid isolation at all cost.
Iverson got up and told them he was taking a shower.
“Y’all still gonna be here when I get back, right?” he asked.
Chapter Seven: The Preeminent Icon of Sports’ First Hip-Hop Generation
There is an old oak tree keeping watch over the corner lot. The lawn is more dirt than grass. Several children’s bicycles lean against the side of the house. Some pink, some with flat tires. A “No Trespassing” sign is tacked haphazardly to the front of the house.
This is the weathered, one-level house where Allen Iverson once practiced his speech to a judge.
It’s an unlikely origin for an agent of change.
“He was an early entrant into the hip-hop era,” former NBA Commissioner David Stern says of Iverson. “But I don’t think it ever became a hip-hop league.”
In a recent conversation with the retired Stern about the impact of Iverson, I mention his well-known distaste of rap music and its surrounding culture.
“Actually, I like hip-hop,” he says, “but I was more of a Beatles man myself.”
Stern says he doesn’t remember the white wave cap Iverson wore to the Rookie of the Year presentation. Or the tilted cap, black leather jacket and platinum chain he rocked when he picked up the 2001 MVP. Even if he did remember, he’s adamant Iverson’s clothes didn’t matter.
“Those things bothered other people in our organization more than it did me,” he says. “But I think Iverson endeared himself to certain segments of our fanbase and hurt himself with others.”
Iverson feels the league singled him out.
“The dress code was all about me,” he insists.
“It had nothing to do with Allen Iverson,” says Stern. “Nothing at all.”
“Wow,” says Iverson. “OK, that’s fair. It had nothing to do with Allen Iverson, but it had everything to do with everyone looking like Allen Iverson.”
“So did the dress code target certain players?” I ask the commish.
“What was the dress code?” he counters. I fumble with an answer not knowing the rule verbatim.
“See, you don’t even know,” he admonishes. “We asked our players to wear slacks and a shirt with a collar. End of dress code.”
“Was race a factor?” I ask.
“Our league was always on the razor’s edge with race,” says Stern. “But in a good way in that we were at the forefront of a national discussion. But the dress code wasn’t about hip-hop. It was so blown out of proportion. I despised the reaction to it.”
Still, Iverson considers it an honor to be regarded as a cultural touchstone and an inspiration to so many.
“I definitely wanted to be like Allen Iverson,” says Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas. “I don’t think anyone would have gotten tattoos, cornrows and headbands if not for him. But he really taught us how to be ourselves.”
Chris Paul chose No. 3 because of Iverson. The clean-cut point guard even wanted to grow cornrows himself at one point.
John Wall grew up wanting to be Iverson. “He was my favorite player,” says Wall. “I don’t know anyone who didn’t love A.I. He was a role model for me, and I just loved everything about him.”
When Iverson’s jersey was retired in March 2014, dozens of NBA players took to social media to honor him.
LeBron James wrote on Instagram: “Pound for pound!! What a pleasure to compete against u and also become a friend in the process. U the reason why I got tattoos, wore a headband and arm sleeve. Thanks for everything!! #AITheGoat #BubbaChuck #HOFNext”
It has received over 430,000 likes.
“Your impact on the game will be felt for generations,” wrote Kobe Bryant.
Baron Davis recently tweeted: “He had a real influence on my game #mostimportantplayer #favorite #Legendary”
“He was like a god,” says Lakers guard Wayne Ellington, who grew up in Philly during Iverson’s prime. One day, then-Sixers guard Lou Williams took Ellington to hang out with Iverson.
“I kept looking at him thinking, ‘Man, that’s Allen Iverson,'” Ellington remembers.
Iverson is humbled upon hearing these accounts.
“I’m not going to pat myself on the back yet because I’m not done,” he says. “When I’m an old man surrounded by my wife, kids and grandkids laying on a bed somewhere and I’m finished, then I’ll pat myself on the back. Then I’ll just fade away.
“But if I ever come back to this life,” he says, “I want to come back as Allen Iverson.”
It’s a strange thing when a cultural icon hits 40.
There are no more stands to take. No more minds to change. Only diapers and bed sheets. The garbage needs to be taken out. The pantry isn’t going to restock itself.
Tawanna has been after him to cut his iconic locks. He’s outlived them, she says. Plus, maintaining them is such a hassle. He has to fly his hairdresser in every three weeks, put her up and get her a car when she arrives at the airport. On the brink of 40, his hair-care regimen remains among the most costly in sports.
In February 2009, he had a nightmare. He dreamed he cut off his rows. He walked to the bathroom in the middle of the night and took off his do-rag.
“Oh, my God! I did!” he laughs at the memory.
The next day, Iverson walked into NBA All-Star practice, and his peers let him have it. Shaq led the way. LeBron was nearly in tears. Guys were palming his head. He started growing his hair back the very next day.
“I ain’t never cutting my hair again,” he declares, pounding on the table. Then a beat. He knows he’ll do whatever Tawanna asks. “Nah, I’ll cut it. But the time has to be right.”
He has decided he will cut his hair off for good after his Hall of Fame induction speech. (He’s eligible in 2016.) He’ll let Tawanna cut it herself.
“I want to give my speech the way I looked in my career,” he says. “That’s the way I want to be remembered. I’ll shave it close right after. I might have to get that corporate look.”
Allen Iverson winks at you.
“What else you got?” he asks.
There is one last thing.
I hand Iverson my iPhone. There is a picture of the house he lived in when he was rearranging Virginia state record books on both the gridiron and the basketball court.
He holds it out in front of him with his lanky right arm. He stares at it for several seconds. Goes to speak, then stops. The room is deathly quiet. He’s caught off guard. I wait for him to speak. He doesn’t. His eyes moisten.
“What do you see?” I ask.
“That’s home,” he says quietly. His voice cracks. “Glad to see it’s still standing. Yep, that’s home. That’s where Tawanna used to do all my homework.”
By Chris Palmer ,