Tuesday, July 23, 2024

THE 30 PLAYERS WHO DEFINED SLAM’S 30 YEARS: Allen Iverson


For 3 a long time we’ve lined many wonderful basketball characters, however some stand above the remaining—not solely due to their on-court expertise (although these are at all times related), however due to how they influenced and proceed to affect basketball tradition, and thus influenced SLAM. In the meantime, SLAM has additionally modified these gamers’ lives in varied methods, as we’ve documented their careers with traditional covers, legendary pictures, wonderful tales, compelling movies and extra. 

We compiled a bunch of people (programming be aware: 30 entries, not 30 folks complete) who imply one thing particular to SLAM and to our viewers. Learn the full checklist right here and order your copy of SLAM 248, the place this checklist was initially printed, right here.


Overlook how Merriam-Webster defines “iconic,” right here’s the way it needs to be outlined: somebody who or one thing that makes an unlimited affect not solely by his or her or its presence but in addition by his or her or its absence. 

“Iverson left.” 

These have been the primary two phrases I keep in mind listening to from Tony Gervino when he referred to as from the NBA’s rookie orientation in Florida the place we have been capturing what would turn out to be the 1996 Draft fold-out cowl. This was an enormous shoot for us, and now we weren’t gonna have the primary general decide. (This information overshadowed the far funnier story of us having to maintain a curious Todd Fuller—eleventh general decide, Golden State Warriors—from wandering into the shoot. As an apart to an apart, if we included Golden State’s Draft decide, we most likely would have taken out Kobe and wow how issues might have been completely different.) 

“Iverson left.” This wasn’t good.

Over time, we turned extremely acquainted with these phrases, with that happenstance. Iverson was at all times there on the courtroom and virtually by no means there for photograph shoots. He was 12 hours late for the SLAM 32 “Soul on Ice” shoot, dipped from follow (sure, sure, I do know) solely earlier than we have been alleged to shoot him for SLAM 42 the next yr. We’d pushed from New York to Philly, Clay Patrick McBride had every part arrange, accomplished the check photographs and for some time we simply stood round, hoping past hope he’d come again. He didn’t. We lastly broke all of it down and drove again. As a substitute, we finally shot him in a room off to the facet at an enviornment—grabbed him for actually a minute earlier than a recreation and shot perhaps one roll. For the file, each body was wonderful.

Nevertheless it’s that rookie cowl I maintain going again to, and the way Iverson’s absence ended up defining it higher than his presence ever might have. It helped in fact that Kobe Bryant and Ray Allen and Steve Nash ended up Corridor of Famers (and Stephon Marbury and Jermaine O’Neal needs to be). In a approach, Iverson being on there would have accomplished it. However in one other approach, his not being on there makes it cooler. This may simply be me after-the-fact rationalizing, however I don’t assume so.

Iverson had already had his debut SLAM cowl by then, an motion shot whereas he was at Georgetown that Scoop needed to persuade Dennis would work. He’d get one other in brief order, “Who’s Afraid of Allen Iverson?” on the June ’97 situation. This was the proto-Iverson, a thin little dude with one tattoo on his bicep, cornrows, a single lengthy gold chain. This is who the mainstream sports activities media was railing in opposition to? By then he’d been Rookie of the 12 months, dropped 40-plus in 5 straight video games, dropped Michael Jordan with a fast bap-bap, BAP-BAP crossover (and earned the GOAT’s ire of their earlier matchup by proclaiming he didn’t need to respect anyone). Iverson liked Jordan, nonetheless does, however on the courtroom? No love there.

Off the courtroom although? I gave Iverson a replica of that “Who’s Afraid of Allen Iverson?” situation—all of us used to hold copies of the most recent points to present to gamers—and in return he gave me an enormous hug. This was the primary time I’d met him. However that’s how Allen Iverson was, and the way he’s. If he loves you, he exhibits it. I consider Sosa speaking to Tony Montana in Scarface and saying, “There’s no mendacity in you, Tony.” There’s no mendacity in Iverson both. The final time I noticed him, a pair years in the past, he gave me a hug, too. “Who’s Afraid of Allen Iverson?” Somebody who by no means interacted with him, that’s for certain.

The “Soul on Ice” cowl, which got here practically two years later (March ’99) occurred with the NBA nonetheless within the throes of a lockout (be aware the “84% NBA Free!” within the higher left nook). It—each the duvet shoot and the story—have been half of a bigger Iverson media push, so each the shoot and the interview for it have been slotted in proper earlier than The Supply Sports activities (The Supply’s sports activities offshoot). We needed to rent his hairstylist to each unbraid and re-braid his hair so he wouldn’t go into the Supply Sports activities shoot nonetheless sporting a blowout. After all in these pre-social media days, it was truly doable to maintain a secret, so when the duvet hit, nobody was anticipating it (an editor at Sports activities Illustrated truly requested Tony how we received him to put on a wig).

The interview occurred within the morning and was one thing he wasn’t late for—I rode round NYC in a limo as he went to Modell’s HQ with Reebok (and stopped within the diamond district to get a large piece of platinum and diamond jewellery repaired) after which out to Teterboro Airport. There, a Supply Sports activities man would accompany him on the flight and I’d catch a automobile service again to Manhattan. Now, Iverson is clearly not and by no means has been a morning man except he’s coming at it from the opposite facet and ideally from the Foremost Line TGI Fridays. However he was nonetheless cool and compelling and heartfelt and sincere to a fault—requested if he might be every other NBA participant, he eschewed his childhood hero MJ (by then retired once more) and went with Latrell Sprewell, who had but to be reinstated by the NBA after choking coach PJ Carlesimo. It’s type of loopy to assume that on the time, he was nonetheless simply 23 years previous and hadn’t even been an All-Star but. That summer season, when KICKS Journal opened to incorporate all manufacturers (it launched as Nike-only), he was on the duvet of that, too.

In 2001, Iverson turned a god. There was the All-Star Recreation in DC in February, the place he scored 15 of his 25 factors in a livid fourth-quarter comeback from down 21 to win by 1. He was, in fact, named MVP. On prime of that he dropped 50-plus twice within the common season and gained MVP, dropped 50-plus twice extra in a seven-game collection in opposition to Toronto (and posted a season-high 16 assists within the closeout recreation), and took the undermanned Sixers to the Finals to face an undefeated Lakers juggernaut that he promptly defeated in Recreation 1 in Los Angeles with a 48-point masterpiece. To paraphrase then-SportsCenter anchor Dan Patrick, you couldn’t cease Allen Iverson or hope to include him.

Individuals tried, in fact. That magical yr in Philly didn’t result in sustained postseason success, the clashes with Larry Brown didn’t stop, the native sports activities radio call-in sorts didn’t turn out to be rational. Iverson continued to be judged for what he didn’t do (present as much as each follow, shoot at a excessive proportion) reasonably than what he did (carry a staff on his again each f*cking recreation). I’m half satisfied that the analytic nerd obsession with “effectivity” was at the very least partially embraced as a result of it discredited Iverson, a man whose misses wouldn’t have even been photographs for somebody who didn’t have his crossover or first step or lengthy arms or large fingers or sheer fearlessness to drive time and again into the tooth of bodily defenses.

Right here was a man who stood 6-0 (perhaps), weighed 165 kilos (perhaps) and led the League in minutes per recreation seven occasions! He averaged over 40 minutes a recreation for his profession!

He was as superhuman as might be, however Iverson remained a hero to most for his humanity, in a approach that even Jordan by no means was. Jordan at all times gave the impression to be above the fray even when he was in it, unreal even when he was standing proper in entrance of you. The parable turned the person. Iverson? He was the folks’s champ lengthy earlier than Paul Wall, grindin’ out of VA earlier than The Clipse. Should you have been a younger NBA fan, Iverson was a man who dressed such as you, listened to the identical music you probably did; he confronted untold struggles and doubters and nonetheless he rose. He was a hip-hop icon who was himself of hip-hop, with the cornrows and the throwbacks and the jewellery and even the (unreleased) album. He did commercials with Jadakiss, pushed a Bentley, saved loopy hours and nonetheless dropped 45 at any time when he felt prefer it.

Let’s discuss concerning the throwbacks for a minute. His sporting his personal Wilt-era No. 3 Hardwood Classics jersey on the duvet of SLAM 32 was instrumental in kicking off the entire craze and making the Mitchell & Ness flagship retailer in Philly a must-hit spot for everybody (together with us). AI even rocked throwbacks on the bench when he was out—I distinctly keep in mind him sporting an Abdul-Jabbar Bucks joint in Milwaukee—however, regardless of the NBA model synchronicity, the NBA commissioner didn’t like it. There have been rumblings of an NBA gown code lengthy earlier than one was ever applied. So after we have been brainstorming concepts for Iverson on the February ’05 cowl, I got here up with this: What if we shoot Iverson in a swimsuit? 

The primary query was whether or not he’d be right down to do it, which he was. Phew. The second query was, did he even personal a swimsuit? The final time he wore one was most likely when he received drafted. The reply to that, at the very least by way of whether or not he had one he’d be keen to be shot in, was no. So he had one made. Should you have a look at that cowl with its black-and-white Atiba Jefferson photograph, you’ll discover the swimsuit is type of dishevelled. So is the fedora, someway. He’s like a hip-hop Humphrey Bogart. I bumped into Que Gaskins, Iverson’s long-time Reebok man, some years later, and he informed me that Iverson saved telling the tailor every part needed to be greater, no, greater than that, so many occasions that the man lastly simply threw up his fingers and give up. Effectively, practically give up anyway. In October of that yr, David Stern lastly instituted the long-anticipated NBA gown code and hey, at the very least Allen Iverson already had a swimsuit.

AI’s profession didn’t finish the best way anybody wished it to, nevertheless it lasted lengthy sufficient for him to get limitless bouquets from the era that got here after his—becoming for somebody who by no means hesitated to pay homage himself, as soon as sporting Dr. J’s No. 6 as an alternative of his personal No. 3 in an All-Star Recreation. Traded to Denver, he teamed with a younger Carmelo Anthony, his personal 6-7 doppelganger full with ink and braids and a headscarf. Their SLAM cowl collectively in March 2008 is a frozen second of laughter, two guys clearly delighted in one another’s presence. And it wasn’t simply Melo; that entire class of 2003 was crammed with Iverson followers, from LeBron—pressured to cowl up his personal tattoos in highschool—to Dwyane Wade, who wore No. 3 due to him.

Allen Iverson impressed us, too. Right here was a man who, from the very begin, was uncompromising in what he believed, in what he did, in what he stated. With apologies to the good Kool G Rap, he was the realest. It shone by in every part, from his on-court performances to photograph shoots to Reebok commercials. There have been layers to undergo to get to him in fact, however by the point you did get to him, you knew precisely the place he stood.

Yeah, he might be exasperating, particularly to photographers (and writers) with schedules and households and whatnot, however even they received previous it once they realized AI wasn’t being malicious or big-timing them or something, it’s simply who he was. However his presence—or his absence—was at all times enormous. We at all times did what we needed to do to get him, regardless of what number of occasions we needed to reschedule. In any case, we knew what lacking him was like, and we didn’t need that to occur once more. 


Picture through Getty Photographs. Portrait by Clay Patrick McBride.



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