Happy Birthday To NBA Legend Allen Iverson | The 47-Year-Old Culture Icon Is Pound-for-Pound GOAT

(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Allen Iverson looked like a high school kid and dressed like a platinum-selling rapper. Few could dominate the hardwood like the brash, athletically freak, flossing braids, bandanas and truck-jewelry.

That was then. The nasty ’90s. Iverson turns 47 years old today, but it seems like it was just yesterday when a pardon from Virginia Gov. Doug Wilder led to Georgetown’s legendary coach John Thompson extending a life preserver to A.I. that unleashed the incomparable marvel and Hall of Famer known as The Answer.

That was back in the late ’90s, when A.I. had a fro and was fresh off another season of catching wreck on the gridiron and the hardwood for Bethel High School in Hampton, Virginia. He was incarcerated and sitting on a Hampton jail farm, railroaded because of his color and local celebrity, implicated in a bowling alley maiming. But he beat those odds as well.

In a nutshell, the 6-foot, 155-pound lightning rod rose from the impoverished streets of Newport, News Virginia, to become an NBA MVP and four-time scoring champ over 15 seasons in the league. He was a champion for the little guy who carried mountainous burdens.

“A.I. was the best under 6-2 baller (along with Tiny Archibald and Chris Paul and Isiah Thomas) that I’ve ever seen,” my good friend, the 5-foot assassin Phife Dawg from A Tribe Called Quest once told me. Loved the fact that Iverson believed in being himself, never backed down from anyone and took pride in bustin ya’ ass on the court or on the asphalt. He was Phife’s favorite baller in the last 20 years.

It’s unfortunate that Iverson didn’t get the city-to-city farewell tour and adulation he deserved before hanging it up. A 2016 Hall of Fame inductee, A.I. is a once-in-a-generation talent who revolutionized the culture of the game and pushed the envelope for future self-promoters and polarizing figures.

Every human with a pulse got goosebumps when A.I. worked that black magic on the hardwood. You could find him posted up in clubs and celebrity bashes nightly, with the same ferocity.

He rarely held his tongue. He could be a headache for coaches, but A.I.’s skill and will made him the irreplaceable centerpiece of the Philadelphia 76ers franchise.

The NBA has given us the greatest basketball players in the history of the world. Those special, once-in-a-lifetime, rim-wreckers who were head and shoulders above the rest, winning championships, doing the unthinkable, breaking barriers, obliterating stereotypes, and playing with other top-notch players to create juggernauts.

Basketball is a team sport, but sometimes a rare player transcends the game and influences culture with his unique abilities, rebel persona and captivating swag. He demands the keys to the franchise and the fans implore management to hand them to him. And with a band of brothers designed to pour his water and keep his forehead dry, that player manages to reach improbable goals.

 

Some of the most dirt-dog delicious players in the game never get the iconic, No. 1 stunner praise. Some of our greatest b-ball master craftsmen have had to pick up the lunch pail and hand the mic off to a lead singer. Few players have served a given franchise as the body-n-soul, the alpha and the omega, the angel and the devil, the goat and the hero, the epitome of the theory that paper smothers rock, even boulders.

MJ had Chi-Town. Ewing was NY Knicks basketball. Isiah owned Detroit. Once Shaq left, Kobe owned LA. Tim Duncan owned the oil wells of basketball riches down in San Antonio and Iverson owned Philly and the 76ers. If Dr. J was an aerial appetizer for Philly, then Iverson was the main course.

A.I. was the golden child of basketball and football growing up financially impoverished in the Newport News-Hampton Roads area. He survived the hood and a racist, old school Southern public lynching that would have him rot in prison rather than fulfill his star destiny.

The fearless wonder was inspired by survival, and he became the mouthpiece and poetry in motion for a generation of ballers who came from nothing and overcame tremendous socio-economic odds to reach the land of wealth and health.

Generation Xers followed his every move from his cornrows and durags to his baggy jerseys and trunk jewelry. He was the perfect blend of baller with a rap persona. He represented the Black kids of his generation and influenced the white kids who wanted to ball like Mighty Mouse.

Iverson won four scoring titles and single-handedly led Philly to an NBA Finals against a dynasty Lakers team featuring Kobe and Shaq in the 2000-01 season and he gave the NBA 33 points per game in an entire 22-game playoff series.

Happy birthday to “The Answer,” “The Golden Child,” the incomparable Allen Iverson.

JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.