Born in Virgina in 1975, Allen Iverson overcame early legal problems to become a star basketball player at Georgetown and the first overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft. A tremendous scorer despite his small stature, Iverson was named NBA MVP in 2001 and earned 11 All-Star selections, but was also criticized for selfish play and several off-the-court transgressions. He retired from the sport in 2013, and was inducted into the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016.
Allen Ezail Iverson was born on June 7, 1975, in Hampton, Virginia, to Ann Iverson. A single, teenage mom, Ann moved with her infant son to the Newport News, Virginia, apartment of new boyfriend Michael Freeman, who became the father figure in Iverson's life. However, Freeman was arrested in 1991 for dealing drugs, and Iverson and his sisters soon had to endure deplorable living conditions at home.
For all the hardship, Iverson proved a gifted athlete. He led Bethel High School to basketball and football state titles as a junior, earning AP high school athlete of the year honors for both sports. However, his promise was nearly derailed by his involvement in a bowling alley brawl in February 1993. Despite differing accounts of what transpired -- Iverson claimed he left before the fighting even started -- he was convicted of three felony counts and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Iverson was released after serving four months after Virginia Governor L. Douglas Wilder granted him conditional clemency, and he earned the chance to play for Georgetown University men's basketball coach John Thompson. Iverson rewarded Thompson's faith with his stellar play, averaging 22.9 points per game and twice winning the conference defensive player of the year award. As a sophomore, he led the Hoyas to a berth in the Elite 8 of the NCAA Tournament and was named a First-Team All American. He was then selected with the No. 1 overall pick of the 1996 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers.
NBA Stardom and Criticism
Iverson quickly became one of the NBA's must-see spectacles. Barely 6 feet tall, he blew past defenders with his blinding speed and fearlessly attacked the much larger players guarding the basket. With an average of 23.5 points and more than two steals per game, he was named the NBA Rookie of the Year.
He also became one of the league's most polarizing players. Critics pointed to his missed shots and turnovers, and wondered why, as a point guard, he wasn't passing the ball to his teammates. To some, he became a symbol of everything that was wrong with the NBA, his selfish play marking the demise of fundamental basketball, and his tattoos and cornrows celebrating its proliferation of street culture. Iverson embraced that image by releasing the rap single "40 Bars" in 2000, and bolstered it with his arrests in 1997, on misdemeanor marijuana and gun charges, and in 2002, on more serious gun charges (that were eventually dropped).
But there was no denying the breathtaking talent. Iverson led the league in scoring for the first time in 1998-99, and earned his first All-Star selection the following year. Having moved to the shooting guard position, he averaged an NBA-best 31.1 points per game and was named the league's MVP in 2000-01, capping the season with a spirited effort in the NBA Finals against the powerful Los Angeles Lakers. At the end of the year, he signed a lifetime contract with Reebok.
Iverson continued to both amaze and frustrate his fans. He led the league in scoring and steals for the second consecutive season in 2001-02, before concluding the campaign with a famous rant in which he seemingly mocked the importance of practice. He won another scoring title in 2004-05 and averaged a career-best 33.0 points per game the following year, but was also sued for an incident in which he failed to stop his bodyguard from beating up another man, and was later ordered to pay $260,000 in damages.
Iverson was traded to the Denver Nuggets in December 2006, and then to the Detroit Pistons in November 2008. He briefly joined the Memphis Grizzlies before returning to Philadelphia in January 2010, and played in what would be his final NBA game the following month. An 11-time All-Star over his 14 seasons, he led the league in scoring four times and steals three times, and finished with an impressive average of 26.7 points per game.
Post-NBA Highs and Lows
Iverson sought to continue his basketball career overseas, but he lasted just 10 games with the Turkish club Besiktas before undergoing leg surgery in early 2011. He subsequently turned down an offer to join the Texas Legends, an affiliate of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, as well as to play in a professional indoor soccer league. He formally announced his retirement in October 2013.
Meanwhile, Iverson was reportedly in dire financial straits. In January 2012, a judge commandeered Iverson’s bank account to pay off outstanding debts to a jeweler, and by early 2013 he had lost two homes to foreclosure. Also around that time, he reached a divorce settlement with his wife, Tawanna.
However, not all of the post-retirement news was bad. In March 2014, the 76ers honored the former MVP by retiring his No. 3. Two years later, he was inducted into the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame, cementing his standing as one of the most exciting players and prolific scorers in the sport’s history.
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