January 14, 2023
Allen Iverson is a legendary figure. Not only was admired by fans in Philadelphia and beyond, he was revered by the athletes who were his contemporaries and inspired the next generation of athletes in the NBA.
The Hall of Famer's impact on basketball is obvious and enduring, but the impression he made on the culture of sports — from his style of dress to his decision to rock cornrows to his tattoos – is equally indelible.
Iverson was the new school leader in the late 1990s and early 2000s, as stars, like Michael Jordan, neared the end of the careers and retired. Unlike the players of yesteryear who arrived to games wearing suits, The Answer dressed like a hip-hop superstar, wearing baggy jeans, oversized t-shirts, throwback jerseys, baseball caps, durags and diamond chains.
This week GQ magazine announced that Iverson, along with Deion Sanders and Derek Jeter, will be inductees into the publication's inaugural Sports Style Hall of Fame.
"Even as he became one of the most influential players of his generation, he always seemed one of the most misunderstood," Reporter Mik Awake writes about the Philadelphia 76ers great. "And it’s taken a long time for us to reckon with his legacy, and his myth, and what it meant to endure what he did. Childhood poverty, and teenage incarceration, and racist media coverage, and a league that famously instituted a dress code specifically designed to curtail the way he and other Black players moved through the world."
Here are more highlights from Inverson's GQ interview:
Iverson was 21 when he first played for the 76ers in 1996. Like many young adults that age, he loved to hang out, whether at bars, restaurants, or clubs, and he said that he only wore suits to church or funerals. He never wore one to the park to play basketball, so he wasn't going to wear one to the arenas where he went to work.
"My mentality at 21 years old is, I'm not wearing no suit to go hoop," Iverson said. "And I think what grabbed the culture was the fact that here he is, a mega-superstar and rich, and he dressed just like us, and people had never seen that before. Then you're seeing everybody start to come to the game dressing like I looked."
Iverson said rappers Method Man and Redman inspired his style. When he began expressing himself through his clothing, earrings, big chains, and tattoos, other start began to do the same, including Kobe Bryant. Iverson remembered being called a thug and a gangster, comments that he said hurt so much that he cried..
"It was bittersweet because, at the end of the day, look how many other people you helped. Now you can't find a basketball player without tattoos, or you can't find somebody without cornrows or dreads or without jewelry on. It's the norm," Iverson said.
Iverson has always talked about his love for music, especially hip-hop. He told GQ that he looked up to Puff Daddy and admired his jewelry. After getting drafted by the Sixers, he played for Diddy's Entertainer's Basketball Classic team at Rucker Park in New York City. He quickly established a relationship with the Bad Boy Records label owner and rapper Biggie Smalls. They even went shopping for jewelry together.
"Puff was my guy when it came to the jewelry and the flash," Iverson said. "I wanted to be young, rich, and fly like Puff."
The three of them went to Manny the Jeweler in New York, and Iverson remembered Biggie paying for all his jewelry in cash while Iverson was writing checks.
"When they say that money is the root of all evil, that is real, dog," Iverson said. "Because we all need it. We got to have it, but it just brings so much evil."
He added, "Anybody that knows me knows you don't have to take nothing from me. I give my shirt off my back."
After Iverson he signed a 3-year, $8.9 million contract as a rookie, he took on the burden of taking care of a lot of family and friends.
The 11-time NBA All-Star, one-time NBA MVP, and four-time scoring champion earned over $200 million just from playing basketball, yet at age 47, there are persistent rumors of his financial problems.
Iverson said he didn't know when his career would end but anticipated playing longer than he did. He didn't know about trust funds, and many times, he was spending money he didn't have. Although it came with tough life lessons, he said he would not change anything.
Iverson has not played in an NBA game since February 2010, yet everyone knows his name. The Newport News, Virginia native said he can still generate some income from his likeness.
"When you can make money by people just wanting to see you. You ain't even playing. That separates the actual impactful players for real," Iverson said."It's some bad people that's 12th man on the bench, but the number one dude on the team? Oh, he gone eat forever. On top of that, it shows you how loyal some fans are. They want to ride with you forever."
Not long after the Sixers drafted Iverson in 1996, he signed his first sneaker deal with Reebok, a 10-year contract worth $50 million. The partnership was so successful that a few years into the contract, the sneaker maker decided it wanted to be associated with Iverson permanently. Iverson signed a new contract with Reebok, the terms of which included that he would be paid $800,000 per year for the rest of his life and when he turns 55 in 2030, Iverson inherits a trust the company set aside worth $32 million.
Iverson earns money through a deal with former NBA player Al Harrington's marijuana company, Viola Brands, that includes a signature line of cannabis products.
There are legendary stories of Iverson's late-night, post-game gatherings at the TGI Friday's and Houlihan's restaurants on City Ave., not far from where he lived in Gladwyne. He spent a lot of time in the chain restaurants, drinking beer and eating, and now he has ambitions to get into the restaurant business as an owner.
Iverson told GQ that he is in the process of opening his first seafood and soul food restaurant in Virginia. After that location is running, he plans to expand to Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and Charlotte, where he lives now.