And he was — in football, baseball and basketball. He was lightning-quick and fast and fearless. Men around him — uncles, coaches — saw what he had. Their Hampton neighborhood was violent, riddled with drugs. He was too good to let slide away. They protected Bubbachuck, a star from the time he was a child. School — well, school didn’t matter. Often, he didn’t go. Often, he had to stay home to take care of his younger sister when Ann wasn’t up to it.
Then he became even more famous, at 18, way beyond Hampton.
There was a fight in a bowling alley. Accounts still differ. Bubbachuck and some black friends from the basketball team got into a melee with white kids. Punches were thrown, a chair was cracked over someone’s head. And Iverson, at 18, was sentenced to five years in prison. There were racially charged JUSTICE FOR BUBBACHUCK rallies. The story hit the national press.
Prison at a Newport News, Virginia, work farm pushed him deeper into his own world. His friends would appear outside the prison yard, as a show of support. Bubbachuck never made eye contact with them, but he knew they were there. His girlfriend, Tawanna, would come, too, to show him she still believed. But as far as he knew, there was nothing to believe. His God-given dream of the NBA, his ticket out, his family’s ticket out, had been snatched away.
And then it was given back in late 1993, when governor Doug Wilder, just before leaving office, granted Iverson clemency after he had served less than six months.
“I learned a lot about people from that experience,” Iverson would say later. “I really didn’t know how people were, or how they could be. I feel no pressure anymore. About anything. I know what time it is.”
Those half-dozen friends who came to see him at prison — his posse — Iverson would keep tight. He and Tawanna started having babies. He played two years at Georgetown, lighting up the Big East with his free-flow game, then joined the Sixers.
He was an electric player, one of the smallest and fastest, fearless in charging to the basket, smacked to the floor again and again by players who weighed almost twice as much as his buck-65. He never got angry at opponents. He simply kept attacking. He hogged the ball, often ignoring his teammates, but the speed and relentlessness made him impossible to stop, by either an opponent or his own coaches. He was going to do it his way, and we had never seen anything quite like it.
The NBA would not publish the photo of Allen Iverson being named rookie of the year: He showed up at the award ceremony in a white skullcap. Then it was cornrows. And heavy jewelry. And tattoos that crept all over his body.