The greatest little man to ever play on the hardwood. During his 15 year illustrious NBA career, long time Philadelphia 76ers point guard Allen Iverson was known by these labels and countless more. All of these titles I are undoubtedly well deserved. Though there is an additional title that Iverson, who just celebrated his 40th birthday, undoubtedly deserves: counter-culture icon.
During the 1980’s and 90’s, NBA superstars such as Larry Bird,Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan had a certain ‘look’. Clean cut, no tattoos, and a million-dollar smile. All of that changed when Allen Iverson was selected by the 76ers in 1996. Iverson’s appearance immediately turned the league on its head via what can be best termed a defiant embrace of hip-hop culture. Instead of following the status quo like those superstars who came before him, “The Answer” forged his own uniform of — shooting sleeve, cornrows, headband and most disturbing to many adorning his entire body with tattoos.
Iveron’s fashion choices away from the court also ruffled a few feathers. Iverson presented himself as the poster-child for urban gear by religiously wearing a throwback jersey, do-rag, fitted cap, sneakers, baggy jeans, and inordinate amounts of gaudy jewelry . Quite frankly, Iverson appeared to have stepped out of a yet to occur 2000 Rap Music video.
Despite the fact that Iverson received continuous criticism from myriad basketball aficionados who charged that the superstar guard was nothing more than a “narcissistic jewelry wearing thug” ruining professional basketball, millions of young fans all over the world, myself included, adored Iverson’s ‘swag’.
As an adolescent growing up during the height of Iverson’s popularity, I vividly remember how my peers and I idolized him. Every year without fail,when the latest edition of the NBA 2K video game series was released, I created an Allen Iverson clone, complete with cornrows, headband, arm sleeve, and copious tattoos to my mothers chagrin and father’s horror. My friends homes were most likely in similar disarray as they religiously adorned their bedroom walls with posters, pictures, magazine articles and anything else bearing Iverson’s likeness.
Older generations failed to understand Iverson’s appeal to my generation. Put simply, our adoration of Iverson was not attributable to his fashion choices, hairstyle, or body markings, it was the fact that every fiber of Iverson’s being was a boisterous public declaration that conveyed my generation’s unstated preference to display to the world, parents included, who we actually are. Put simply, we would rather be loathed for being ourselves than loved for being someone we were not.
My friends and I loved the fact that Iverson unabashedly immersed himself in hip-hop culture, and that he openly admitted to listening to our favorite artists at the time such as T.I., Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Lil Wayne and Young Jeezy. For an entire generation of adherents, Iverson was not just another superstar athlete, his style of play and attitude resonated so profoundly that he was akin to an older brother engaged in many of the struggles and conflicts that future generations of African-Americans would battle.
Regardless of one’s perspective of Iverson, there is no denial that his imprint can never be removed from either professional basketball or today’s African-American male. Had Iverson not displayed the courage to march to the beat of his own drum and dress in attire that was frowned upon, today’s stars like Russell Westbrook and Dwyane Wade would not have the luxury of wearing the eccentric garb they prefer .
The compression sleeve that Iverson during his playing days wore consistently has become commonplace today as stars like Kyrie Irving, John Wall, and Dwight Howard now don the accessory. NBA Store reported that the sleeve is the most popular non-apparel item sold by the NBA .
Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James once said “I didn’t want to be Michael or Magic…I wanted to be Allen Iverson.” New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony added that “an entire generation owes (Iverson).” Clippers guard Chris Paul summed it up perfectly remarked that Iverson is “the most influential player of all time.” Quite honestly, it could not have been said better.
©Manhood, Race and Culture, 2015