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Allen Iverson is shooting pool at a Dave & Buster’s outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. He’s lived here for the past few years and has made the restaurant—housed in a local mall—one of his go-to spots when he wants to unwind. Today, the place is virtually empty, and he’s coolly sinking shots against an old friend, crooning Burna Boy’s Yoruba refrain—“Shayooo!”—as balls sink into pockets. For a minute, he looks like any other suburban dad spending a day with one of his fellas. He’s wearing what he calls an “everyday” fit: black tee, black sweatpants tucked into white tube socks. Those iconic cornrows of his, now threaded with gray, sit beneath a black Raiders snapback. If anything gives him away, though, it’s the jewels—diamond bracelets, a bust-down Patek Philippe watch, a diamond-encrusted Cuban link with a flooded I3 logo. That and the way he moves. Because suddenly he lunges to his left, pantomimes his legendary crossover, and for an instant you see him again—that long-ago rookie who showed us the future.
It hardly feels possible that he’s been out of the league for over a decade now. For many of us, he was a meteor across our youth, the underdog the NBA didn’t know it needed, the prototype for the perpetually moving, bucket-getting, lane-slicing, fast-breaking, no-look-passing point guard. His first step was science fiction. He toyed with defenders, warned them his glitchy crossover was coming and still vanished. Haters will say it’s a carry. In 2021, The Athletic ranked him at number 40 on the NBA’s list of the 75 greatest players, and we all know why he’s not top five. He took a lot of shots. He was not good to his body. He didn’t win a championship or a gold medal at the Olympics. He didn’t “play the part.”
What he did win was more important. He won the people. He won the undying love of the city of Philadelphia. And he won the generation that followed him by unlocking the joy of the game. In no small part, he did this by fusing style and substance—changing the way basketball was played by altering how it looked. His moves were linked with what he wore while making them. The black-and-white Reebok Answer IVs that stepped over Tyronn Lue are now called the Step Overs. His fearlessness, quickness, and skill extended what seemed possible. Every reverse layup through a seven-footer’s arms, every twisting runner in the lane, every spontaneous burst of creativity felt surreal, like you were watching to see if he could really keep doing it. And he could. And did. Night after night. Season after season, until the accumulated wear on his body became too much.
If his reign was brief, his influence has been unwavering. Iverson emboldened team owners to build dynasties around small, skilled players, and inspired small, skilled guards to believe that teams could be built around them. “He was playing a quarterback position on the court,” explains Pat Croce, who was president of the 76ers from 1996 to 2001. “They would claim that he didn’t pass the ball. Bullshit! If you would score, you’d get the ball, but if you didn’t, he knew that he could. I don’t even think there’s a title for the position he played.” He became a template not just for the next generation of quick, evasive, genre-bending point gods (Steph, CP3, Kyrie) but for the bigs with handles (KD, LeBron, Luka) who grew up in awe of what A.I. could do with a ball.