The upcoming documentary series, No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson , airs Tuesday evening on ESPN.
On Valentine’s Day 1993, 17-year-old Bethel High School basketball star Allen Iverson was bowling in Hampton, Va., with five high school friends. It was supposed to be an ordinary evening, but it became a night that defined Iverson’s young life. A quarrel soon erupted into a brawl pitting Iverson’s young black friends against a group of white patrons. The fallout from the fight and the handling of the subsequent trial landed the teenager—considered by some the nation’s best high school athlete—in jail and sharply divided the city along racial lines.
Even that seemingly innocuous write-up is controversial depending on how one interprets the facts of the case. A "brawl." Or a baiting? How about an attack?
I'll be watching for a number of reasons.
First, the director is Steve James. He made Hoop Dreams, the finest sports documentary ever made. That bodes well.
Second, I'll be watching because Allan Iverson is a human Rorschach.
Some may see a butterfly, but most see some combination of anti-social troublemaker, gutty competitor, symbol of unjust legal and racial oppression, typical thug, a man trying to break free of his tragic upbringing unfairly vilified by journalists, hero to the underdog, a coddled sub-adult emblematic of a destructive subculture, the last honest athlete.
Pick any and all. You can make a reasonable argument in support. That doesn't even touch upon how he's viewed as a basketball player: undersized warrior, ball hog, the greatest pound-for-pound player of all time, What's Wrong With The NBA, All About Me Allen, could you imagine if ______ played as hard as Iverson?
The Answer always depends on The Question. And the questions come from your assumptions about the world. There is no athlete who evokes stronger, conflicting emotions and feelings.
Sports Illustrated wrote an excellent story on Iverson and the incident. Well worth a read. It will give you a reasonable background in preparation for the documentary, which, I suspect will skew sympathetic towards Iverson. Beyond the social commentary, selfishly, I just want to see his high school football tape; Iverson led his team to the state title as a junior quarterback. Many consider him one of the best football players to ever come from that area - a proto-Pat White.
Beyond Iverson the man, I've always considered Iverson the athlete to be intriguing. His athleticism, guttiness, and willingness to sacrifice his body on the court always awed me, while his incredibly selfish play and inability to understand the team construct on and off the court always made me shake my head in frustration. Iverson was a study in athletic contradiction. Usually selfish players aren't supposed to care that much or play that hard; usually great players care about something more meaningful than scoring 37 points on 12 for 31 shooting.
He was also semi-responsible for untold numbers of skinny little dudes sporting headbands and attitude at local courts attempting repeated stepback 25 footers that missed iron completely, then demanding the ball back in surly fashion. So there is that.
In any event, I'm looking for Answers tomorrow.
Are you watching?