THE LEGACY OF ALLEN IVERSON
â&#x20AC;&#x201D; Q U IL LE M O N S , P H
O TO G R A P H ER
—CYDENI, 21, PHOENIX, AZ
ARDSO SH RICH
PHIA 7 HILADEL
THIS IS THE STORY OF PERSEVERANCE, DETERMINATION, SACRIFICE AND GRIT. IT’S THE STORY OF ALLEN IVERSON. Against the odds, A.I. made a revolutionary impact not only on the
who were there from the start. They also spoke with creatives
game of basketball but on culture itself, and inspired generations
in fashion, photography, media and hair, who were inspired
of people to be themselves no matter what. A.I.’s legacy has led
by A.I., as well as a dozen Gen Zs who are continuing A.I.’s
us to where we are today: celebrating the 25th anniversary of the
legacy in their own lives, both on and off the court. Finally, they
Reebok Question Mid—reissued as the Question OG Red Toe—
interviewed “The Answer” himself.
one of the most beloved silhouettes in sneaker history and a flagship symbol of basketball heritage.
To Allen Iverson, his hometown of Newport News, VA, and to Black communities everywhere: “Thank you” for continuing to
In these pages, A.I.’s story is told collectively by eight Generation Z
animate change across sports, courts and culture. Without you,
writers, photographers, illustrators, designers, makers and
there is no vibrant sports culture and there is no Reebok; the
thinkers. They interviewed dozens of folks around the country—
pages of this magazine are blank. A.I.’s story continues to inspire
from A.I.’s childhood coach and longtime mentor, Gary Moore,
all of us here at Reebok to stay hungry, humble and real, and to
to legendary shoe designer Scott Hewett; from NBA player
always—always—leave it all out on the court.
Montrezl Harrell to Reebok executives, including Todd Krinsky,
TABLE OF CONTENTS
BUBBA C H UC K
THE Q UE STI O N O G RE D TO E
Before the nationally televised games and practices—yes,
A.I.’s first signature shoe, the original Reebok Question Mid—
we’re talking about practice—Newport News, VA, taught
reissued as the Question OG Red Toe—was born before A.I.
Allen Iverson how to survive.
even set foot in the NBA.
DA RE TO B E
GE N E RATI O N A . I .
As much swagger as A.I. brought to the basketball court, it
With his legacy in motion both on the court and off, A.I.
was who he was off the court that propelled the intersection
continues to inspire a new generation in profound ways.
of basketball and culture.
ALLEN I VER SON Basketball icon
STEPHA NI E SCHA F F Reebok, Senior Archive Specialist
G ARY M OOR E Manager & mentor
SCOTT HEWETT Artist & shoe designer
ALLEN BR OWN Reebok, Global Sports Partnerships
M ONTR EZL HA R R EL L Los Angeles Clippers
TODD KR I NSKY Reebok, Senior Vice President, Product
JOSH R I CHA R DSON Philadelphia 76ers
N IC O BONO Reebok, Classics Menâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Product Marketing
R OBERT M A R SHA L L Streetwear reporter
ERIN NA R LOCH Reebok, Senior Archive Manager
GUI NGUI Hairstylist
H OLLY R OBER GE Reebok, Senior Archive Specialist
ER I C EM A NUEL Fashion designer
MA ARTEN WA R NI NG Reebok, Communication and Content Manager Archive
QUI L L EM ONS Photographer
A J W I LE Y, 2 2 LI N C O LN , N E
ALLISON MINA PARK, 21 WAS HI N GTO N , D.C.
AJ Wiley is a graphic designer and illustrator
Allison Mina Park is a northern Virginia native
who specializes in outdoor and sports design. His
and covers stories at the intersection of politics
business, AJ Wiley Design, creates merchandise
and race. She is a rising senior at Yale University,
to raise money toward humanitarian and
where she studies political science and performs
environmental efforts. He also creates commission
with Low Strung, a 12-person, all-cello rock band.
work for small and large brands.
CO RIN NE D OR SEY, 19 DA L L AS , T X
JO RDY N BE N N E TT, 2 5 C HE STE R, PA
JO S H HO E P N E R, 24 K A N SAS C I TY, MO
Corinne Dorsey is a sophomore journalism
Currently pursuing his master’s in sports media and
Josh Hoepner is a designer who recently
major at Howard University. She is a multimedia
storytelling at Wake Forest University, Jordyn Bennett
graduated from college with a fine arts degree
journalist and freelance writer for The Grio,
is a print and video journalist and documentary
in graphic design and sculpture. He collects
and a contributing writer for The Hilltop, Her
filmmaker who focuses on depicting different aspects
sneakers and enjoys traveling. Next stop:
Campus and Teen Graffiti. Alongside her
of culture through the lens of sports. He graduated
editorial work, Corinne is an on-air host on
from Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania with his
WHBC radio station.
bachelor’s in journalism and philosophy. He’s received numerous journalism awards, and his work has been published in national outlets, including USA Today.
LUIS TOR RES, 22 PHO EN IX, AZ
RA LP H RO ME O, 24 S E ATTLE , WA
A LLI E LA I N G, 2 3 LI N C O LN , N E
Luis Torres is a recent graduate from the
With a passion for design, sneakers, fashion
Allie Laing is a graphic designer who’s
Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State
and sports, Ralph Romeo specializes in sneaker
motivated by social change, positivity and
University. He’s written about sneakers for the
and streetwear content. Ralph grew up playing
equality. Her passion lies with creating work
past three years, mainly covering basketball and
basketball, and despite not having an NBA team in
for businesses with huge creative visions. She’s
performance running shoes.
his hometown, he still actively keeps up with the
the founder of The Cold Hearted Co., a brand
league. (Bring back our Sonics!)
dedicated to embracing rebellious design.
THE “HAVES” AND “HAVE-NOTS” From the start, the kid known as Bubba Chuck was surrounded by a loving
At the time, Moore had ambitions for A.I. that went beyond simply
community of friends, family, confidantes, protectors and mentors—which
winning games: “I was really serious about teaching kids how to live
is what you need to survive the projects, according to Gary Moore, Allen
through football. I taught self-responsibility, accountability, team play.
Iverson’s youth league coach and longtime mentor. “You have the ‘haves’
Those things were important, especially in a young Black kid’s life.”
and you have the ‘have-nots.’ We’re called the ‘have nots,’” Moore said. “But
To this day, A.I. credits the fields of Newport News with teaching him
what we did have was an abundance of love and concern for one another.”
determination and tenacity. “You need all of that right there when it comes to surviving in life,” he said.
When it came to sports, Iverson wasn’t a “have” or “have-not”: he had it. A.I. had something else, too, that you can’t teach any young kid: Moore worked at a warehouse with A.I.’s mother, Ann, and ran a youth
self-confidence. “He had more than most,” said Moore. It would serve
football league, which Ann thought would be good for young Chuck.
Bubba Chuck well.
Moore remembers his first glimpse of the then-9-year-old A.I. playing pickup football with his friends in the Stuart Gardens projects. “He wanted to do everything,” Moore recalled. “He wanted to play everything. He wanted to be there long after the game was over.”
WIN AT ALL COSTS Early on, A.I. had no desire to play any sport other than football; to this day, he calls it his first love. “I thought basketball was soft,” A.I. remembered, laughing. That changed after his mom dragged him “screaming and kicking out the door” to basketball practice. When he got there, he saw his
“ YOU CAN’T REACH THE GOALS
football teammates trying out and decided to give
THAT I’VE REACHED, AND BE IN
it a try. “After that, it’s history,” said A.I. “I’ve loved
THE HALL OF FAME, BY YOURSELF.
basketball since then.”
THERE’S NO WAY. AND I’M NOT JUST TALKING ABOUT MY
He threw touchdowns in the fall and dunked in the
BASKETBALL TEAM; I’M TALKING
winter. No matter the season, there was one thing
ABOUT MY FAMILY, MY FRIENDS,
A.I. had a burning desire for: winning. By the age
MY TEACHERS, MY PROFESSORS.
of 13, he was playing basketball with guys twice
WHEN I BECAME AN NBA HALL OF
his age. “People called him a freak of nature,”
FAMER, THEY BECAME HALL OF
Moore said. “Nah, I just think he was a very gifted
FAMERS BECAUSE THEY HELPED ME
young man who wanted to win at all costs.”
As a high school athlete, A.I. would prove how bad he wanted to win. He set out on a quest to win state titles in both sports (which he did). He was in the national news, and recruiters from colleges across the country were in the stands. But, amidst his winning streak, an incident during a night out with friends threatened Iverson’s chances of ever winning another championship.
–A LLEN I VER SON
H I S JUN I OR Y EA R OF H I G H S CH OOL Iverson won state titles in both football and basketball, catching the attention of recruiters from around the country.
THE FIRST QUESTION On Valentine’s Day in 1993, during his junior year basketball
that he was going through and to come out of it never having a
season, A.I. was involved in a bowling alley brawl that would
bitter bone in his body… I don’t know a lot of kids who could’ve
lead to his arrest. At 18 years old, A.I. was sentenced to 15 years
survived what he had gone through.”
in prison. It seemed for a moment that he would become the greatest thing that never was.
After serving four months of his time, A.I. was granted clemency. However, he’d missed his senior sports seasons,
A.I. tapped into that never-give-up mentality that he’d learned
and there was not a coach in either football or basketball that
in youth football. “I was taught so early that ‘this too shall pass,’
wanted to be connected to a good player with a bad rap. But
and I’ve lived it to believe it,” he said. “When they locked me
A.I. refused to give up. “I still believed that the opportunity
up, took my freedom away and had no business doing it, I still
would still be there,” he said. “I remember [Moore] saying, ‘All
believed that the dream would come true.”
we need is one coach.’”
Gary Moore recalled having conversations with A.I. in prison about what they’d do when he got out. “As long as you could breathe, you always had a chance to win,” Moore remembers them saying to each other. “I think that it’s those types of beliefs that Allen had embodied that helped him overcome the mess
HOYA CHOIR BOY That one coach showed up in the form of legendary Georgetown University Men’s Basketball Head Coach John Thompson. After an emotional conversation with A.I.’s mom, Thompson signed Iverson to continue his basketball career for the Hoyas. Moore was happy to hand his protégé over to who he felt was the pinnacle of coaching.
A.I.—ready to make sure that Thompson’s leap of faith didn’t go to waste—adopted what he calls a “choir boy” persona. “Coach Thompson saved my life,” he said. “So I wanted to make sure that I did everything right. I wanted to be worth it for him.” Most importantly, A.I. wanted to prove himself to Thompson on the basketball court. He approached every basketball game as if it was the last he would ever play—a reality he’d only recently left behind. Describing his mindset at the time, A.I. puts it succinctly: “Everybody was dinner, and I’m starving.”
“ FROM 8 YEARS OLD ON, CHUC K ALWAYS HAD A PASS BUT WHEN ION FOR W HE WAS AB INNING. LE TO LEAR N TH E PSYCHO HOW IT W LOGY OF W AS MIND O INNING— VER MAT TE R—YOU HAD THE CHECK TO GO AH BECAUSE H EAD AND W E WAS GOIN RITE G TO CASH IT IN.” FORMER
GARY M OORE AND LIFE LONG M ENTOR
RHINO SKIN After a rusty first game, A.I. quickly became the focal point of his
Perhaps even more heartbreaking than the taunts was the fact that
college basketball program for all the right reasons—but he was
becoming a college basketball star meant A.I. had to give up his
still forced to swallow the burdens of his past. His earlier conviction
first love: football. He changed his walking route to the gym so he
made him a target for fans, media and hecklers. Opponents’ fans
wouldn’t have to pass the football fields, because it would make
would show up in the stands dressed in orange prison jumpsuits and
him “emotionally lose it.” Finally, he asked Coach Thompson if he’d
hold up signs that mocked him. When A.I. had the ball, none of this
consider letting him return to playing both sports. “I don’t think I can
seemed to phase him; but when the final buzzer sounded, the pain
say exactly what he said, but I never thought about playing football
took over. “Every time I’m at the free-throw line, the whole crowd’s
again after that,” A.I. laughed.
screaming, ‘JAILBIRD,’” A.I. said. “I acted like it didn’t bother me. But I remember going back to my dorm and crying, like, ‘Why do these
“ I’M AN EMOTIONAL DUDE. I GET HURT.
people think that I’m this type of person? And I’m not.’” He had to
THAT’S MY DNA. BUT YOU’VE GOT TO
develop what he calls “rhino skin.”
GET UP WHEN YOU HURT, AND YOU’VE GOT TO GET UP WHEN YOU’RE SICK. IN THOSE TOUGH MOMENTS, I’M NOT GOING TO LET THESE PEOPLE WIN. THERE’S NOTHING WORSE THAN WASTED TALENT.”
–A LLEN I VER SON
CROSSOVER The Hoya hardwood is where A.I. developed
practice. I put my ego to the side and I was like, ‘You
his soon-to-be-signature move: the crossover, a
got to teach me that.’”
hesitation with a subtle head fake which sends the defender flying to the left while the player
As a college rookie, A.I. was named Freshman of the
with the ball zips to the right and finesses their
Year. Soon enough, there was buzz about A.I. turning
way to the basket. Before A.I. made it one of the
pro and debate about whether he would be the No. 1
most lethal moves in pro ball, it was a move that
draft pick (spoiler: he would be in 1996). While playing
humbled him when employed by a walk-on player on
against his idols in the big leagues was enticing, it was a
Georgetown’s practice courts. “His shit was vicious,”
greater calling that motivated him to forgo his last two
A.I. said. “What I was doing to dudes when I was
years at college to join the NBA. “The responsibility is
in the league, that’s what he used to do to me in
on me to take care of my family,” A.I. said. “It was a job.”
THE QUESTION OG RED TOE
WHAT IF? In the early ‘90s, Todd Krinsky and Que
the cost of signing A.I., but Krinsky and Gaskins
Gaskins, two young members of the Reebok
convinced them all that Allen Iverson didn’t just
team, were in search of a star to spearhead their
walk the walk—he made it his own.
reintegration to basketball footwear. Krinsky and Gaskins were just two of the many basketball
Krinsky, Gaskins and Reebok designer Scott
fanatics with their eyes on the outsized aura of a
Hewett created a shrine to A.I. in Hewett’s
certain 6-foot sophomore guard.
small house in Quincy, MA. They collected every newspaper clipping and magazine article
After watching a college game where A.I. dunked
they could find about A.I. and (to the dismay of
on a player nearly a foot taller than him, Krinsky and
Hewett’s wife) covered the living room walls to
Gaskins returned to headquarters adamant that
get into the mind of this young player. They got
Iverson was a once-in-a-generation player. They
to work designing “The Prototype,” which would
had a now-famous “what if?” conversation about
become the Reebok Question Mid—a fitting
what it would mean for the brand to sign him. Some
shoe for the player who had come to be known
executives within Reebok were concerned about
as “The Answer.” 14
1. HEEL Originally, a “?” was set on the back of the Question Mid, to represent all of the questions surrounding A.I., his career and whether or not he would actually go pro. A.I. requested a “real logo” on the back, which resulted in the stitched Q with the Reebok Vector embedded.
2. TOE BOX
The colored toe is reminiscent of how A.I. used to tape
Essentially a sheet of thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU),
(or spat) up his football cleats, so the shoe’s color only
Hexalite technology works as a light and supportive form of
appeared on the toe. The original sample of the shoe
shock absorption. Hexalite had historically been hidden but—
came in a red and black pattern that the designers
in an era where visible technology was catching its stride—the
wanted to keep, however the design team had to keep
honeycomb design and lateral panels on the Question revealed
the toe box simple to comply with the NBA’s standards.
its distinctive aesthetic.
The original red suede toe gave the shoe a sophisticated look, but the suede bled so badly it made Iverson’s feet look like they were bleeding after games—so the
suede was swapped out for a pearlized red leather toe after the first run of 5,000. “The color pops on the toe
The Question merges two different concepts and colors for
and heel worked so well for a player like A.I., who sped
an attention-catching aesthetic: The upper sole has a simple,
up and down the court,” said Krinsky.
clean look, while the translucent iced-out bottom sole stands out from a style perspective.
3. MIDSOLE The midsole was engineered for A.I.’s signature crossover move. Although the midsole had a bulky look to it, Iverson’s speed turned the Question into a speed bullet.
6. GHILLIE LACING SYSTEM The ghillie lacing system allows the laces to zip through the loops and stands out aesthetically from typical eyelets. A Reebok logo adorns the lace system—a detail A.I. calls “icing on the cake.”
“ I REMEMBER THE DAY THAT A.I. HAD THE QUESTIONS ON FOR THE FIRST TIME ON-COURT. IT STOOD OUT LIKE NO OTHER SHOE. HE WAS MOVING AND RUNNING WITH THEM ON, AND JUST BLOWING BY PEOPLE. IT WAS INDESCRIBABLE.”
—SCOTT HEWETT, SHOE DESIGNER
SUPERHERO COLORS A.I. liked his shoes to always match his
laughed. Reebok would have to fly someone
uniform. “When I was coming up, I always
to China to have the shoe produced in time
thought basketball players looked like
for the game. Other times, A.I. would refuse
superheroes,” he said. “I always thought,
to wear a new color. “Allen was superstitious,”
‘Superheroes stick to their colors: red, blue and
explained Krinsky. “If he played well in a
yellow, or black and gold. Their boots aren’t
certain colorway, he didn’t want to switch to
going to be a different color.’” Iverson became
a different one, even though that new color
infamous for requesting new colorways, which
was arriving at stores and needed support.”
he’d need delivered in just a couple of days.
All the efforts were well worth it when A.I.’s
“I’d call up Reebok damn near every other
superstitions paid off. Regardless of what
day—for the playoffs, for big games,
colors he was wearing, A.I.’s heart and mind
TV games. I was just crazy with it,” A.I.
were always in the game.
ROOKIE REVOLUTION The Reebok Question arrived in 1996 at the heart of a revolution within
Reebok’s pitch was about even more than the shoe itself. It was about
basketball footwear. As an incoming rookie, it seemed unlikely that A.I.
their commitment to A.I. and his electric personality. The shoe was the
would be offered his own shoe before proving himself at the pro level.
platform for a bigger dream. Right out of the gate, Reebok ensured that A.I. would be the face of the brand rather than another roster filler. The
Reebok brought their Prototype sneaker to their very first meeting
best part? They didn’t want to change anything about him.
with A.I. Seeing it for the first time, Iverson was in awe. “It was a dream come true,” he said. “It was close to the same feeling of when you get
drafted. Only a certain amount of people have their own signature
F EELI N G
shoe; that really means you’re special. And for it to happen to me, it
was just a beautiful thing.” A.I. gave a couple minor fit tweaks before The Prototype became the first version of the Question Mid. Though, in some ways, it was enough just to have his own shoe—any shoe. “You
C LOS E OF
SAM E GET
AMOUNT OF PEOPLE HAVE THEIR OWN
could have got me a pair of boots and put a Reebok sign on them and I
REALLY MEANS YOU’RE SPECIAL.
would have played in them,” said A.I.
AND FOR IT TO HAPPEN TO ME, IT WA S J U S T A B E A U T I F U L T H I N G .”
“ It was special for Reebok to just let me continue to go my way, not try to make me out to be nobody else,” said A.I. “Market and promote me for who I am. That was special.” At the end of the day though, A.I. said the deal ultimately came down to one big thing: “[Reebok] put up the numbers.”
A.I.’s impact on Reebok as a brand was revolutionary. Allen Brown, a Reebok exec who works closely with Iverson, has one word about where the brand would be without A.I.: “Nowhere.” As Brown puts it, A.I. sparked a shift within Reebok as the brand aligned itself with A.I.’s culture. “He inspired everybody inside Reebok… I was born and raised in the hood too, and having that mindset in corporate America—if he can do that then I can do that too,” said Brown. The partnership has proven to be mutually beneficial. “For us to still be here with each other decades and decades later, you know it was authentic from the beginning,” A.I. said. “Reebok has just been loyal as hell to me from day one, and it just never changed.”
STYLE & SWAGGER By 1999, A.I. was stepping into who he really was and where he was from. While the previous era’s players wore designer suits to games, A.I. became known for rocking 4XL white tees and jeans. His smile was nearly outshined by the jewelry draped from his ears, neck and wrists. A.I.’s first tattoo—a bulldog representing his alma mater, Georgetown—evolved into a mural across his body; his cornrows remained tight and crisp; and a single sleeve worn on his right arm to help with a nagging injury turned into an in-game fashion statement that has branched out to multiple sports.
A.I. decided not to change his style or who he was—and to just take the bad press. “I knew I wasn’t the guy that they were
Not everyone was happy about his renegade form of self-expression.
trying to make me out to be: this rebel, this thug, this out-of-
The NBA instituted a “business casual” dress code for all players,
control animal,” he said. “I would be lying if I said a lot of those
which many saw as a direct attack on A.I. But Iverson said he
articles didn’t hurt, but just like in school [at Georgetown] when
was never trying to make a statement with his style—he was
they were screaming stuff while I was on the court, I didn’t let
just being himself. “I was a 21-year-old guy that never had money
it show that it was really bothering me. My whole thing was,
before fulfilling my dreams. I would have had more tattoos in
‘Every time I look in the mirror, I don’t see that person anyway.’”
college if I could afford them,” he said. His style reflected the way
A new generation of fans and players saw themselves in A.I.’s
guys back home in Newport News, VA, dressed; wearing a suit to
independent spirit and in his message: If the rules don’t work,
a basketball game made no sense.
make new ones.
IVERSON BRAIDS Bronx-based hairstylist and specialized braider Guingui was
And he wasn’t… You ask yourself, ‘What happens if I’m like
a teenager in Puerto Rico when Iverson was first drafted.
that? What happens if I dare to be like that?’ I’m going to try a
Her mom often had NBA games playing on TV, and Guingui
little bit today. And then tomorrow a little bit more, to see if I
remembers the first time she saw A.I.’s now-iconic braids. “I
get away with it.’ And I still get away with it today.” To this day,
was blown away,” she exclaimed. “I had never seen anybody in
Guingui sees A.I.’s cultural impact continue to walk through her
the NBA with braids like Iverson’s,” where intricate styles were
barbershop doors. Recently, a 12-year-old came in with a picture
literally drawn into the scalp. Guingui and her friends would
of the braids that he wanted and she knew right away—he
watch basketball for hours—not for the games, but for the hair.
wanted the Iversons.
Guingui became good at emulating what she saw and soon became a neighborhood celebrity for the braids she did on her friends (and even teachers).
Beyond hair, Guingui credits A.I. with inspiring in her a sense of rebellion and creativity: “A lot of us would be on our best behavior if we got accepted into something as big as the NBA.
ONE OF US A.I. quickly became “the people’s champ” for a new generation. Robert Marshall, a lifestyle streetwear reporter, remembers feeling like A.I. was someone he and his friends could relate to. “He’s one of us,” Marshall said. “He listened to hip-hop, he wore baggy clothes, streetwear and all the hip-hop culture brands that were around at that time.” Even before A.I. dabbled in making his own music—his 2000 single “40 Bars” prompted the NBA to threaten to disqualify players who engaged in “inappropriate speech”—he brought hip-hop culture into living rooms across the country. He became a symbol for the hip-hop community that you can be your true self within any space.
TUNNEL ‘FITS According to streetwear designer Eric Emanuel,
culture to tunnel ‘fits. “The NBA tunnel would not
“Without A.I., there wouldn’t be a me. Period.”
look the way it does now if it wasn’t for A.I.,” he
Emanuel, who runs a basketball apparel-inspired
said. Even beyond the stadium, Emanuel credits
label by the same name, remembers begging his
Iverson with transforming the sportswear industry:
parents for a pair of Questions when he was in
“A.I. made sportswear a fashion item more than a
elementary school. He didn’t get the kicks until
fan item.” Over the years, jersey silhouettes have
years later, when he’d saved up his own money;
gotten tighter and sneakers have been updated with
ironically, he’s partnered with Reebok to design his
pops of color (Emanuel is partial to hot pink), but he
own spin on the yellow and navy Questions that
believes A.I.’s style will continue to be relevant. “His
he coveted back in the day. Emanuel credits A.I.
style has lived through today, and it’ll live forever,”
with changing the look of the NBA, from courtside
said Emanuel. 24
PHOTOGRAPHER Most inspiring thing about A.I. is his: Leadership On how A.I. leads: A.I. had so many people behind him and he changed so much. On not conforming: The generations that came before us had to conform so much just for survival. And I feel like anybody born between probably the later ‘80s and onward were just like, “I’m not doing this shit. I’m not doing this whole buttoning everything up.” Especially with what’s going on in the world right now, we don’t have to keep playing these games anymore. On changing the NBA: All these basketball players show up now with tattoos, and all these companies understand that we need to dress our basketball players in the latest fashions. A lot of basketball players are able to express their full personalities on and off the court. A.I. was a part of that change. American beauty: As a basketball player with full-on tattoos, A.I. was showing the mundane, and that an everyday Black man with tattoos is just as beautiful as anything else—and just as palatable as anything else in the world. On how A.I. inspires a new generation: They want you to bend as a Black man. I think A.I. was like, “I don’t give a fuck about any of this. I didn’t come here to play this whole game of the social politics of it all.” My generation has learned that.
PHILLY GRIT Philadelphia holds a view of itself as a gritty, blue-collar underdog,
I’m just like, ‘But that’s not me,’” Lemons explained. “Staying true to
and fans easily embraced A.I. as an adopted son of the city.
myself is something I’ve taken from watching A.I.” Lemons said he still
“Everyone’s always like, ‘New York! LA!’ No one’s like, ‘Oh my God,
sees Iverson as Philly’s biggest role model: “Even if he wasn’t always
let’s go to Philly,’ but we have so much culture,” said 23-year-old Philly
properly celebrated, A.I. is relevant to the streets and to our people.
native Quil Lemons. “Perseverance, resilience and grit are three things
No matter what, that No. 3 jersey is immortalized.”
that you get growing up here, and he had that.” Attending basketball camps as a child, Lemons remembers seeing how inspiring A.I. was to his community. “Young, Black kids are really good at a lot of sports, and it’s natural for them to want to connect to those things that they see people winning in,” he said.
GONE GLOBAL Iverson nurtured a global impact as well, thanks to his playing days
Today, Lemons is a photographer focused on Blackness and
overseas. His resonance with people around the world was tied to the
masculinity, and A.I. continues to inspire the way Lemons navigates
fact that everyone wanted to be like A.I., a sentiment that stretched
his own creative expression. “In my career, people are always telling
well beyond the game of basketball. “No one around the world had
me, ‘Oh, you need to be shooting this, and you need to be doing that.’
seen anyone in the game really play the way A.I. did. It touches human nature,” said Nico Bono, a Reebok product marketer, who sees Iverson’s appeal span across performance and lifestyle. “Fans want to cross opponents up on the court, and they also want to be cool and be their own person off the court.”
A.I.’s impact is particularly strong in China. “He’s a rock star,” said Reebok’s Allen Brown, remembering trips with A.I. to Asia. “We get off baggage claim, and you have lines of people. I see people faint. We have 30 security guards. People are trying to grab him. I’ve learned to really appreciate what he went through and what he sacrificed to be that person.” To this day, A.I. travels to China every year to show his fans love.
—JOSH RICHARDSON, PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
—MICAH, 22, LOS ANGELES, CA
With A.I.’s induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016, any
Off the court, new generations continue to learn about A.I. from their
final questions about his impact on the sport of basketball have been
parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings. “Being a fan of A.I.
answered. Look no further than NBA courts (and tunnel walks) around
is generational,” according to streetwear reporter Robert Marshall.
the country to see his legacy in motion. Montrezl Harrell, of the Los
“He was so many people’s favorite and especially people that are
Angeles Clippers, grew up watching A.I. play. “I see myself now just like
embedded in basketball and street culture. So they’ve passed down
I saw him back then,” Harrell said. And according to 26-year-old Josh
these stories of, like, ‘This is what this guy did.’”
Richardson, who joined the Philadelphia 76ers in 2019, “The confidence and the grit that Iverson always played with, I try to carry that with me.”
The underdog from Newport News, VA—who became one of the best basketball players of all time—continues to inspire a new generation in
A.I.’s highlight reels now spark inspiration in a new generation of players, and his killer crossover is required curriculum. 27
“ WHEN I WAS YOUNG, I LOOKED UP TO IVERSON AS SOMEONE WHO ALWAYS STAYED TRUE TO HIMSELF.” —MONTREZL HARRELL, LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
—ETHAN, 11, NEW YORK, NY
21, PHOENIX, AZ Most inspiring thing about A.I. is his: Tenacity Family affair: My dad loves basketball too; it was always our thing. I was sitting on the couch watching games with him by the time I was 7 so that’s probably when he introduced me to Iverson. My dad still wears his jerseys. On giving it your all: You can tell by how many shots A.I. took in games that he wanted to win. He’d throw his body on the line just to draw a foul and make the other team turn the ball over. He went hard in every single game, and there was no doubting he wasn’t doing the best he could in every play. Small stature, big heart: A.I. made me feel that as a little Black girl I was able to go out on the court and dunk on every single person out there. I was only 11 years old by the time he played his last game in the NBA, but I had already made my mind up that I was going to be that speedy, relentless player. I was absolutely sure I was going to dunk by my senior year because that’s the mentality Iverson had; if it’s something you want to do, just do it. On A.I.’s legacy continuing in the next generation: Now more than ever, you see young people speaking their minds and letting the world know that we are fed up with certain things. We’re protesting in the streets and trying to get our message across, no matter the repercussions. Iverson always did that, no matter how people viewed him.
12, PHILADELPHIA, PA Most inspiring thing about A.I. is his: Heart On-court inspiration: I practice A.I.’s moves and use them in basketball games, and they help me get space and win games. Off-court inspiration: A.I. has a heart for helping the community. I’m inspired by the way he travels all over the world and plays ball with the youth. I know we have a lot in common because I have a big heart for helping others too. How he’s continuing A.I.’s legacy: When I grow up, I want somebody to look up to me. I want to leave my own legacy like A.I. Remembering what he has accomplished will help my friends and I keep the torch lit to make the world a better place.