Five years after Allen Iverson unceremoniously left the NBA, he's still one of the most divisive players in league history — a love-him-or-hate-him figure and paradox of personalities often misunderstood because of how he looked, how he talked, and the way he acted.
Iverson, a new documentary airing this month on Showtime, helps to paint him in a new light: more human, more honest, and more vulnerable than we’ve ever seen him.
As a player, Iverson's heart and hustle during games was never in question. Look no further than his performance in the 2001 NBA All-Star Game, in which he willed the Eastern Conference to victory after overcoming a 21-point deficit with nine minutes to play, or later that year when he single-handedly dragged Philadelphia to the Finals with only Eric Snow and an aging Dikembe Mutombo in tow, and you'll find a player with the heart of a lion who sacrificed his body every night for the good of his team and his city.
Often criticized for his practice habits, unprofessionalism, and his difficulty with authority, the trouble Iverson found himself in off the court helped to create a public perception of Iverson that may or may not be completely accurate. Beyond the cornrows and the tats and the tough exterior, Iverson was just a guy who wanted to win, who loved his family and friends, and who was baptized by the injustice and worst that society has to offer.
The film debuted last week and was produced by Gary Moore, a longtime Iverson ally. As such, it paints Iverson in a much different light than you’ve ever seen, and the result is an unflinching, raw, and powerful documentary that changes the perception of one of the most polarizing and iconic players in sports — past, present, and future.
Here are some of the most interesting takeaways from the film:
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Iverson was as good at football as he was at basketball
Footage of Iverson playing football in high school is reminiscent of Michael Vick's highlight reel. Iverson was the starting quarterback, safety, and kick and punt returner for Bethel High School. As a junior, Iverson led the basketball and football teams to state championships and was named the Associated Press High School Player of the Year in both sports.
Tom Brokaw was instrumental in getting Iverson out of jail
The depiction of the events surrounding the infamous bowling alley brawl that landed Iverson and his friends in jail (documented in ESPN's No Crossover) is equally riveting and infuriating. According to the new documentary, racism was heavily at play, and Iverson and his crew were held without bail, which is highly uncommon according to the film. He was 17 at the time, and Iverson, who is shown in the film fleeing the brawl while others were actually the aggressors, was charged as an adult and faced 60 years in jail. He was sentenced to 15 years but released after four months once Brokaw's NBC report on the case aired.
He is credited with changing the NBA's dress code
Iverson is depicted in the film as the first NBA player to wear tattoos and cornrows in his hair, but he also played a role in the league changing its dress code, which some believe was racist and unfair. The league now has a strict dress code in place that outlawed many of those medallions and clothing styles in favor of more professional and businesslike fashion.
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There's lost context behind the infamous "practice" press conference
What we've seen all this time is a scowling Iverson arguing with reporters about his practice habits, but the film tells a much deeper story. Less than a week before that infamous press conference, Iverson's best friend Rashaan Langford was murdered, and the 76ers were eliminated from the playoffs. While a PR flack tried to end the presser, Iverson insisted he remain to answer all of the questions reporters had for him.
"I'm upset for one reason, man. Because I'm in here. I lost… I lost my best friend," he said that day. "I lost him. And I lost this year… and then I'm dealing with this, right here."
Before he was "The Answer," Iverson was known as "Bubba Chuck"
Iverson was known as "Bubba Chuck" for most of his life before he became an NBA icon. The name was given to him growing up in Hampton, Virginia, by his uncles. Throughout the film his closest friends call him that, including former 76ers President Pat Croce, who picked Iverson No. 1 overall in the 1996 NBA Draft.