I'm going to bring an NBA legend into the room, and I want you to
close your eyes while I describe him.
Compared with the rest of today's superstars, he's small--mostly
heart and scabs--but as tough as a '48 pickup. In his prime he was
a wind-up toy who never stopped moving without the ball, busting
through picks and elbows and knees as though he was trying to
break the world record for bruises. He'd go 48 minutes most every
game, usually nursing more injuries than an ER episode. He was a
Nintendo-type scorer with a gorgeous jumper who considered being
knocked to the floor part of his follow-through.
You're thinking Jerry West, right?
This guy was electric. He could carry an offense, a team, a city
by himself. One night he would torch an opponent for 50 points
and the next decide to beat the opposition with assists. He was
unpredictable, unguardable and unforgettable. He had moves that
could make your pupils dilate. He was the idol of millions around
the world, one of the three greatest players of his day.
You're thinking Michael Jordan, right?
This guy seemed to be appreciated only by the fans who saw him
night after night. He was shy with the press, yet honest as a
Sunday confessional. He dressed the same every day and was mocked
for it. He was the same man whether in front of the camera or in
the line at the deli. He stayed true to his high school friends.
He was a family man whose first move after he left the locker
room was to sweep up his two small kids. He never let the fame or
the money or the trophies change him.
You're thinking John Stockton, right?
This guy had the 100,000-watt smile of a lotto winner. He had the
joy of the game in his blood, and he knew how to spread it. He
would hug his coach only slightly less than he hugged his mom,
which was constantly. He had the courage to dive into the crowd
at least once a game, and the sense of humor to hug the fan who
caught him. He had the game to win the shiniest awards, yet the
humility to share credit with everybody else in the room.
You're thinking Magic Johnson, right?
Now open your eyes and look at him.
He's Allen Iverson.
That changes everything, doesn't it? Now you see the cornrows and
the tattoos and the pierce-holes dripping gold, and they bug you,
right? You think thug and rapper and criminal. SI put the NBA's
soon-to-be MVP on the cover of its April 23 issue, posed as
himself, nearly naked, hip-hop to his heart, and suddenly you're
mad. West and Jordan and Stockton and Magic, they're welcome on
your coffee table, but not this guy. We're up to our clavicles in
hate mail (a sampling of which appears on page 14).
"Christ!" wrote a subscriber in Tucson. "Don't you have enough
tattooed, body-pierced, earring- [and] necklace-wearing,
corn-rowed freaks on the inside [of the magazine] that you have
to put them on the cover?"
"The cover with Allen Iverson made me sick to my stomach," read
one e-mail. "I feel the magazine has sent a poor message to young
From Richardson, Texas: "Those preening idiots barely belong to
the human race."
Montgomery, Ala.: "Iverson is just another reason why our country
is in such bad shape."
Adams, N.Y.: "His angry young oppressed black-man image is
b-------.... I am white and not prejudiced, but I do not feel
sorry for Allen Iverson."
Another e-mail: "[The] stare, tattoos and pants to the waist
showing his jockstrap sum up the reason I have not watched an NBA
game in years."
San Diego: "The picture of Allen Iverson is revolting."
Lindon, Utah: "I object to this grotesque and irreverent
Hundreds of people were obsessed by what's on the outside of the
man, not the inside. Not a word about will and loyalty and
effort. Not a word of praise for a young superstar who has stuck
with one team, one woman his whole career. You see him, but you
don't see him.
And he lives with this crap every freaking day.
I'm canceling their subscriptions.
man, not the inside.