Many things change in this life, some for the better and some for the worse. One person that will never change, though, is Allen Ezail Iverson. So it’s only fitting that the last couple days of Hall-of-Fame activities perfectly reflected the man Iverson has always been, and likely always will be.
It started when Iverson missed his flight Thursday and was about 90 minutes late to the public press conferences and roundtable discussions. I’m sure there was some more serious reason for his tardiness (Iverson said it was a family situation), but you can just imagine him wanting to play one more shoe of three card poker at the casino, or ordering one more round at the T.G.I. Friday’s on City Ave like the days of old.
When he did arrive, Iverson was sporting ripped, washed jeans, gold chains, a Yankees hat, and dark sunglasses, along with his newly fitted, orange Hall-of-Fame blazer. With his sense of style bucking convention at what are fairly formal proceedings, you couldn’t help but reflect back on when the NBA implemented a dress code policy–in most people’s minds as a response to Iverson’s choices in fashion.
A reporter began the interview session with a question about his being late, garnering a response from a typically candid AI reminiscent of his famous practice rant: “That’s the first thing you want to know about me? God, man. Why it can’t just be great? Why it can’t be a monumental moment?” He’s supposed to be a Hall-of-Famer, and we in here talking about being late.
The following day, Iverson also failed to show up at a speaking engagement to students at a local high school earlier in the day Friday. Most view his inability to routinely follow through with his commitments as the predominant reason Iverson has never received the sort of front office job he’s expressed a desire for in his post-playing days.
Of course, despite his flaws, Iverson almost always manages to win people over. It’s hard to really think too badly of a guy when he speaks so simply, yet so profoundly, on the topic of staying true to oneself. As he told J.A. Adande in an interview Thursday:
“I always looked at it, and I always felt like … why isn’t it cool being you? What’s wrong with being you, with your flaws, with your mistakes, with the way you look, with your financial status, the way you talk? What’s wrong with that? God gave you all of those things. That’s how He wanted it to be. So why are you ashamed of it?”
At the main event on Friday night is when he really stole the show, though. This time, Iverson wore an all-black suit, shirt, and tie, a decision he said Thursday would have made his late grandmother proud. He spoke for over a half hour, thanking family, past coaches, former teammates and rivals, members of the Sixers organization, and Philadelphia fans. It was oftentimes a touching, emotional speech from a man that seemed genuinely appreciative of the number of people that helped him reach such lofty heights.
Still, most people accepting awards, from athletes to movie stars, follow the “thank those that got you there” acceptance speech formula. But Iverson being Iverson, there were also those wonderfully idiosyncratic portions that rang true with the hip-hop culture he helped bring to the mainstream during his early NBA days.
AI compared meeting Michael Jordan to an episode of the Chappelle Show and thanked Biggie Smalls, Redman, Tupac, Jadakiss, and Michael Jackson for being his theme music throughout his career.
Then, with the “Wrap It Up” clock having read 0:00 for quite some time (remember, AI has never been one to adhere to other people’s schedules), Iverson closed his speech with one last act of defiance:
“I want to thank the guys that are not my friends anymore. I’m glad that you blew your cover, for me to recognize that you wasn’t any good to my family, or me. I appreciate y’all for that.”
I believe Kevin Negandhi said it best in an open letter on SportsCenter: “Philly never wanted someone perfect. They wanted someone real.”
Here’s to Allen Iverson. Forever the realest.