For the past two days, I’ve tried to avoid Allen Iverson’s retirement press conference. Anything A.I. related has been ignored with a conscious effort because saying goodbye to A.I., again, was too tough. In 2009, after Ivo re-signed with Philadelphia, I digested and dissected the significance of his second coming as a Sixer. Lil Wayne lyrics in his song Tha Mobb helped me do that:
“Hold court with the apes/I’m a gorilla but lighter/got the, eye of the tiger/the heart of a fighter…Crossover-whateva/Mainstream? No.”
Make no mistake, the clean cut guards that we know and love today don’t have the same appeal if Iverson hadn’t stayed true to himself. There’s no Uncle Drew hilarity, James Harden and Steph Curry don’t make us laugh in the pseudo studio session for Foot Locker if Jadakiss and Jewelz (Iverson’s rap name) don’t make an iconic connection in a sneaker commercial. It’s something to the effect of how the Fresh Prince made cousin Carlton cool by association. The flavorful Philly kid that captured everyone’s attention by making his new surroundings adapt to him, made us see appreciation his polar opposite. If that’s not A.I., I don’t know what is.
It’s easy to draw a connection on the new-age bad boys of the NBA, like J.R. Smith or Brandon Jennings, but in doing so we overlook the fact that it wasn’t just Iverson’s crossover or his heart that made America love him. It was his authenticity. To keep it all the way trill, you can’t be marketable in the hip-hop centric NBA if the hood doesn’t love you. That validation is so necessary and it’s something that can’t be falsely duplicated. No one checked for Kobe’s bars in Italian.
So how then do the clean-cut, suburb bred persona’s of a Kyrie Irving and Steph Curry fall in line? Besides their games, they’re respected for just being themselves. Iverson wrote raps, Kyrie writes commercial scripts, Iverson gave us insight to who he was by wearing his heart on his sleeve, Curry does the same by vining his Zumba classes with old ladies. The very thing Iverson was ridiculed over often, is the true reason why we can’t get enough of this crop of tatt-less product pushers. They’re being themselves.
It’s so hard to watch the NBA try to make us forget Iverson. The instant other legends call it quits, we’re bombarded with highlights of their greatest games, draft day specials and game winners, but it feels like the Stern era of the NBA wants to close with Iverson as just an asterisk. An example of what not to do, which isn’t fair. As I finally watched his press conference, Iverson seated between his children, rocking a black fitted cap and oversized leather, in the era of snap backs and blazers, it reminded me again that he’ll never change. Maybe one day the league will realize he made the NBA better and more personable, and they should thank him, if for nothing else, for that.