Iverson had hit rock bottom. At 34—having nearly exhausted his athletic gifts — he’d washed out of the NBA, largely seen as too troubled and demanding to finish his career with some team needing to get a few more fannies in the seats. That failed last year in Philly, after Iverson had already been pushed out of Detroit and bolted from Memphis. His career seemed done, and maybe he was, too.
So he has come to Turkey to resurrect not only his basketball career, but his life. In … Istanbul? How is he going to survive camped out in a Friday’s in Istanbul?
As one NBA official put it, the guy spent the past five years pretty much living in either bars or casinos. But word has it that his family is coming, that he and Tawanna have reconciled and she’s about to arrive with all five kids, ranging in age from two to 16. The team has checked out schools and is finding the family a villa to live in. It’s a new beginning.
On this night, after my conversation at Reina, I head to Friday’s, which even in Istanbul looks like Friday’s everywhere, with stained-glass lamps, and TVs viewable from every angle (soccer!), and signs on the wall for the Farmers’ Almanac 1879 and Frank’s Cattle Manure.
Iverson was in earlier, a waiter tells me, he and his boys, drinking Corona and playing cards. “He’s a nice guy, Allen Iverson!”
But now, 11 at night in Istanbul, he has slipped away.
HE IS EXTREME. HE ALWAYS HAS BEEN. His beginnings might be familiar to us, but require understanding to fathom him now. Iverson comes from nothing — he’s said that himself — or, more precisely, from Hampton, Virginia, born of a single mother, Ann, who had him at 15 and supported herself however she could. Cousins and uncles piled into one tiny house. Sometimes there was raw sewage on the floors. He was called Bubbachuck, and Ann believed he had something special — something extreme — from day one. She marveled at his long arms and his long fingers even while he was an infant. He was going to be a ball player. A great ball player.