Allen Iverson is the underdog that we all love --- or love to hate. Since exploding into the NBA in 1996 with the Philadelphia 76ers, the Newport News, Virginia native has transformed basketball culture for the better. It was A.I.'s unforgiving attitude and tenacious drive to win -- on and off the court -- that quickly made him one of the league's most talked about and controversial players.
From his classic post game interviews to his refusal to conform to the NBA dress code, Iverson has always done things his way. Sure, he has matured a great deal throughout his tenure in the NBA, but Allen still embodies the rebellious hip-hop spirit that made him an idol for young men and women throughout the world. During NBA All-star weekend 2017, Hennessy V.S.O.P Privilege toasted to the achievements of The Answer with a private dinner at Emeril's famed Delmonico eatery in New Orleans. With just his family and close friends present, Allen was gifted with a limited edition engraved Hennessy V.S.O.P Privilege bottle to commemorate the occasion.
However instead of spending the evening bragging and boasting about himself, the icon continued to graciously thank everyone who has helped him in his storied journey through life.
"I will never forget what Michael Jordan did for me, by giving me the vision," said Allen sincerely at dinner. "That man made me want to play basketball. I have the utmost respect for him. If it wasn't for him I wouldn't have played basketball, I wouldn't have played in the way that I played because of him. He means everything to me. When Isaiah Thomas talks about what I mean to him or LeBron talks about what I mean to him, It's the same thing. I feel where they coming from, because I was that guy. I felt like that about somebody else."
VIBE: At this point in your career what does it mean to come to All-Star weekend where folks like LeBron and Steph Curry view you as an O.G., and someone that gives sound advice to the young stars of the NBA now?
It means everything. Just another day putting the stamp on the fact that God is good to me. I looked up to Michael Jordan and different guys that paved the way for me [my whole life}. Then to get that respect from guys that are so great, Hall-of-Famers, and even the ones that's not. It's a great feeling to have someone look up to you.
I was looking at your Reebok photo book -- and the picture of you and LeBron at your 30th surprise birthday is amazing. You guys are both wearing shorts down to your ankles, and he is bear hugging you... Bron looks like he was 16 or 17 years old.
He's incredible. I love him so much as a person. This has nothing to do with basketball. I love his family. [they're all] great people. They come from where I come from. I love the way the story has played out in his life. I definitely just want a happy ending for him.
Zoey Dollaz said in a recent VIBE interview that he met you in a club and had no idea you were a fan of his. He was blown away because obviously he looked up to you like a lot of young rappers today. Do you remember this happening in Miami?
Yeah of course, I'm a hip-hop fan. So it is what it is. That's my man, I got to know him on a personal level. He's a cool dude, a guy looking to succeed in life and [someone] who's working hard, trying to get there.
That just shows that you still influence NBA and hip-hop culture to this day.
How do you keep up with hip-hop these days?
I watch TV and I'm a YouTube head. I'm basically in tune with the culture because it's me. I got it from Snoop, N.W.A, Nas, B.I.G., Tupac, etc. I got it from those guys. I grew up basically watching Jadakiss and The L.O.X. career --- and Redman, I'm a huge Redman fan. I'm a part of the culture, and I'm happy to be someone who represents it in a positive way.
As one of your many die hard Asian fans, I have to ask... do you remember the first time you saw an Asian kid with some cornrows or with the Iverson uniform on?
I see it all the time, It's always like that when I go to China. The relationship that I have with [my] Asian fans is so incredible man. I actually didn't know why in the beginning that they gravitated to me in such a way, but I understood after I went to to China a few times. I understand that they love me for being authentic. I don't try to be nobody else, I'm comfortable in my own skin. I think they respect and love that about me. I think they are the type of fans that understand I'm human, and that I'm going to make mistakes.
I can say as an Asian-American, we love you so much because you never let society tell you how to think and act. As Asian kids growing up in America, we're always pressured to be something stereotypical like a doctor or a lawyer, but when we saw A.I. doing what he wanted, how he wanted, we immediately fell in love.
That's the person that I'm satisfied with being. I always say, and this is not in no form a cocky statement, but it's true. There's going to be a billion people out there that love Allen Iverson, and there's going to be a billion that hate him. You concentrate on the ones that love you.
Everyone don't like you, it can be anything. It can be as simple as how you look. It can be the smallest thing that some people don't like about you. And it's not up to you to try to figure out why they don't and for you to try to appease them. That is not how you live life. Your friends love you, your family love you, your fans love you. The person that don't just don't love you, so what, are you going to lose sleep over that? You'll go crazy! I'm just so happy the way my career ended up, even with the mistakes that I made, I'm so happy I did it the way I wanted to. Now, sh*t would I have done certain things differently? Definitely, but that ain't life. I'm happy how it unfolded.
All Photos by Sean Mack for Hennessy.