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Allen grew up in the projects as the son of a 15-year old single mother. Their house in Hampton, Virginia lay on top of the city’s sewers. Whenever they burst, the floor would be coated with sewage. Iverson’s biological father who stayed in Connecticut (where the family lived before Allen was born), never played any role in his life, and earlier this year, pledged guilty to stabbing a former girlfriend. Shortly after being born his maternal grandmother – often the pillar in an inner-city family – passed away as well.
Mom Ann had a hard time making ends meet, and the house was often without water or electricity because of unpaid bills. “She did whatever she had to do,” Allen explains, while refusing to elaborate on that cryptic statement. Growing up, Iverson was often responsible for taking care of his younger sisters Brandy (born 1979) and Iiesha (1991), which was especially difficult with the toddler, who suffered frequent seizures.
Mounting medical bills pushed the family further in debt. Ann’s boyfriend, Allen’s de facto father, Michael Freeman has been in and out of jail all of his life. After a car accident got him unemployed once again in 1991, desperate for money Freeman was caught and convicted for drug possesion with intent to distribute. “I didn’t buy cadillacs and diamond rings,” Freeman explains, “I was payin’ bills.”
Iverson used to blame the man who taught him how to play basketball and pushed him to excel at it. Today he’s proud of Freeman. “He never robbed nobody,” said Allen. “He was just tryin’ to feed his family. It would kill him to come from jail and find out how his family was living. One time he came home and just sat down and cried.” Today he’s serving time in the same Virginia jail where Allen was sent in 1993.
Allen said one time he went to visit Freeman in Newport News Correctional Facilities, the same prison he was incarcerated at,And Freeman Shoes were so damaged that Allen took the shoes off his feet and gave them to Micheal and Allen went home barefooted that day.
Iverson’s mom early saw Allen’s basketball skills as a ticket to get out of the projects and live a normal life. She encouraged Allen to keep playing the game he loved so much.. Every time his mother saw him to lose heart she told him “go till the end every time u see the chance”. Despite his rather short and slim body, Allen was never afraid of challenging bigger guys on the court.
At first, when Iverson started playing ball he was about 9-10 years old. He never wanted to play ball-he thought it was too soft. One day, his mum waited for Allen to come home from school – she had bought a pair of Jordan sneakers. “You’re going to basketball practice today”, she said. Iverson cried and didn’t want to go, but his mom made him go. Finally at the court, Allen met some of his football-teammates and enjoyed the new game.
Iverson recalls from his childhood:”Coming home, no lights, no food, sometimes no water. Then when there was water, no hot water. Living in a house where the sewer was busted under the house and having to watch my sister walk around in her socks all day because the floor was wet from the sewage. The smell was making my sister sick.”
Many NBA players grew up in broken homes and tough neighbourhoods and were driven to play basketball with one hope: escape the ghetto. Few had it as bad as him, though.
Being young Iverson had two role models. His mom and Tony Clark. Here’s what Allen has to say about his relationship to Tony: “There was this guy, Tony Clark, and he meant everything to me. He inspired me, somewhat like my mom. He was someone who always told me I could do something with my life. He made me believe I could do it and, see, I never had a role model in my life. I never looked up to no one but my mom. She always told me I could be somebody and I could do something with my life with the talent God gave me, and I always believed it. It was the same with Tony. See, when I skipped school, I’d come hang out with him. He was six, seven years older than me. He’d tell my mom what was going on and my mom would come get me, and I used to cry and scream at him and tell him I hated him. But he was always doing it because he loved me and cared about me. And then to lose him, it was wild. I was like his little man and he used to look out for me, and he even stayed with us for like two years, off and on. He was just going through a lot of things with his family and his girlfriend. And then his girlfriend killed him. I was 15, and I had no more role model, man. Who replaced Tony? One of the guys I deal with right now. Andre Steele. Andre’s 27 or 28 right now, and he really looked out for me back then.”
Going To Jail – Was It Injustice?
In a life that hadn’t been a “sunshine story”, Iverson was left standing in the middle of a brawl between black and white students in a bowling alley. One Valenite’s Day, Iverson and some friends – all jocks and black – walked into a Hampton Bowling Alley. Allen was already a locar sports hero, having quarterbacked Bethel High School’s football team to the state championship only two months earlier, and in the process of leading the basketball squad to the same trophy. He was probably the best known person in the city that night.
Iverson’s crowd was loud and had to be asked to quiet down several times, and eventually something of a shouting duel began with another group of youths. The only undisputable fact is that shortly thereafter a huge fight erupted, pitting the local white kids against the blacks. 17-year old Iverson was tried as an adult, convicted of maiming by mob, and sentenced to five years for throwing a chair at a girl.
Virginia’s first black Governor, Doug Wilder, granted him conditional release after four months behind bars. The trial and the verdict set off an national debate on race politics. Iverson and his supporters maintain his innocence. Allen cannot be seen on an amateur video if the incident, and he claims he left the alley as soon as the trouble began. “For me to be in a bowling alley where everybody in the whole place know who I am and be crackin’ people upside the head with chairs and think nothin’ gonna happen?” asks Iverson. “That’s crazy! And what kind of a man would I be to hit a girl in the head with a damn chair? I wish at least they’d said I hit some damn man.”
Allen’s supporters were enraged that only four people got charged after the fight – all four were blacks They were upset with the media’s allegedly blased coverage of the incident. And they claim the whole thing started when one of the white boys called Iverson a nigger. “It’s strange enough that police waded through a huge mob of fighting people and came out with only blacks and the one black that everybody knew,” said Golden Frinks, crisis co-ordinator for the National Association for Advancement of Coloured People. “People thought they’d get a slap on the wrist and that would be the end of it. Instead, prosecutors used a Civil War-era statute designed to protect blacks from lynching to charge a group of black teens with mob violence. And the judge, who was friends with one of the victims family, first denied them bail and then sentenced them all four to 15 years on prison.”
“A Fight!” said Newport News minister Marcellus Harris. “They were given long prison sentences because they got in a fight in a bowling alley. On the other hand, numerous witnesses un-aligned with either of the two crowds bowling that night testified Allen threw a chair at the girl. No-one else heard the racial epithet. “During a break in the fight, the girl went up to one of the black guys and said: ‘ Why do you have to make this racial?’” explained Kristi Alligood, one of the witnesses. “He just pressed two fingers against her face and pushed her away. The young man was Iverson.” And a bowling centre employee testified that Iverson used a different chair to hit him over the head as well.
The prosecutor, a life-long member of NAACP himself, insists that none of the blacks in the fight wanted to pursue charges, and points out that several black witnesses also identified Iverson as the main culprit. What really happened that night in Hampton will perhaps never be known. Two things matter more: based on his personality and behaviour, everyone agrees that it is at least plausible that Iverson was indeed guilty. “He’s one of the most competitive kids I’ve ever seen,” said Bo Williams, who runs a summer camp where Iverson used to play. “He’s not one to back down, but that doesn’t mean he’s violent either, just cocky.” And perhaps at least partly because of his attitude, he was sent to jail, an experience that would profoundly affect the way he views the world, and to a large extent the way the world identifies him. Allen says about going to jail:”I’ll always remember what those people did to me in Hampton. And I think about it because that’s one of the reasons I’m here right now. It just made me stronger. I don’t know if I would be as strong without that incident. When I was incarcerated, I prayed and I learned from other guys in there. That’s what I did mostly — I just listened. A lot of the inmates in there knew me before I got there, and when I came there, all of them were just standing around quiet, just looking at me. And I was scared. I was only 18 years old, and all of them were staring at me. And all the older inmates were like, “We’re going to take care of you.” And whenever I got around the younger inmates, the older inmates would tell me, “Leave them alone. They’re bad news, man.” And they would tell the younger inmates to leave me alone, too. And they’d always tell me I was going to get out, and I was going to do something. And I tried to keep my head straight. I remember right before I got locked up, I asked my grandma, “If God knows I didn’t do what they accused me of doing, why is he letting this happen to me?” And I’ll never forget it. She said, “Never question what God does.” And after that, I never did again. ” Iverson explained how life in prison was when talking to The Source Sports this year: “We had one part of the jail called The Jungle – that’s for all the kids that was my age”, he says. “The old heads didn’t want me to be in The Jungle, so I was in the part where people was on work-release. My dad spent 15, damn near 20 years in jail, so he had made the Iverson-name famous even before me. I had to walk through the jungle in order to get to the mess hall. On that side of the jail, it was just crazy: everybody screamin’, shit thrown down from here to there, motherfuckas settin’ shit on fire, all kinds of shit. Real shit. When I got there, I was like,’Damn, I know ain’t nothin’ pussy about me. I know I can handle myself,’ but I never felt I was ever in danger.” While in jail, Iverson’s friends took care of his family. That’s why he doesn’t want to get rid of them, that’s why he’ll never let them down. They took care of them financially and physically. One time Allen came home from school, his good friend Andre Steele showed Allen his beeper. He could only keep 16 messages on his beeper at a time, and Allen’s mom’s phone number was up there on his beeper 16 times. That’s how much he meant to her while Allen was gone.
Going To College
Sitting in jail in the spring of 1993, he was justifiably worried about his prospects. Although extremely bright, Iverson was never a good student and was falling behind in school. The notoriety didn’t help. “I’m sure some colleges will stay away,” Iverson said from his cell. “But it’ll work out. This has given me time to think about what I need to do to succeed in the world.”
Iverson has made a name for himself the previous summer. At the Nike Camp in Indianapolis, and at four others, he earned the MVP trophy as a member of Bo Williams’ team. In fact, Nike continued treating him as a celebrity during the trial, sending an extra set of plane tickets so that Iverson would not miss any camp activities while the trial was in progress. (Prosecutors used this special privilege to urge jurors to Just Do It to Iverson and Nike, which they did.)
“He’s almost an overnight sensation,” said Williams, who also coached NBA stars Alonzo Mourning and JR Reid on his team. “With Alonzo and JR everyone knew they were going to be great, so they could slowly be prepared for the pressures they were going to face. With Allen, it happened so quickly that there was almost no time to prepare him.”
Throughout the trial, college coaches were still interested. “Unless he’s behind bars, we’re recruiting him,” said George Washington assistant coach Eddie Meyers. “It’s as simple as that.” Allen’s mom felt he needed a strong coach to help him if he got out of the situation he was in. And Coach Thompson at Georgetown seemed like the perfect coach for it. And she went up there and talked to him, and asked him, would he take Allen under his wing, and he said yeah. And that’s why he ended up going to Georgetown. The football program wasn’t too big at Georgetown, so it was basketball from then on.
Allen once asked coach John Thompson: “What you think about me playing football?” And he didn’t answer. He just looked at Allen like he was crazy, so Allen never thought about playing football again after that day.
While sitting in jail, he lost a scholarship offer from Kentucky. I’m sure that if Allen had ended up at Kentucky he wouldn’t have been the same player, the same person he is now. And in the end John Thompson and Georgetown seemed the best bet, since the coach is renowed for taking risks and giving urban kids with troubled pasts a shot at division one basketball. ‘Cause instead of giving up basketball, Allen went to Georgetown, the prestigious catholic school that has found it’s position in the projects. There he found what he had been searching for his whole life. A father. Coach John Thompson took care of Iverson who needed a protective coach who could give him advice.
Info taken from XXL basketball© and SLAM©
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