Our Iverson Answer: No, We Do Not Know Who You Are

Just when you think you see a new Allen, the old one surfaces

Allen is at it again. Not so much doing bad stuff—cops pulled over his Lamborghini in Atlanta a couple weeks ago for changing lanes without signaling and discovered it hadn’t been registered for two years. Iverson was a passenger; a buddy was driving. Not exactly big-time trouble.

But Allen didn’t take kindly to the cops dickering over an old license plate. He wanted to go eat dinner. “Police don’t have anything else to fucking do except fucking with me,” he said to a cop, who called for backup. “Do you know who I am?”

We’ve been working on that—“Do you know who I am?”—for 15 years. A few months ago, I went to Istanbul, where Allen was trying to resurrect his life. He had been essentially kicked out of the NBA for letting trouble in his marriage, along with heavy drinking and gambling and a bad attitude, make his star-in-twilight-of-career turn short. Very short. Allen denies the drinking and gambling—as problems, anyway. What’s new—and undeniable—is this:

I was watching the end of a practice in Istanbul (for the last couple of months, Allen’s been home nursing a calf injury). He was just fooling around, alone. Allen dribbled toward a basket, and took off—sideways—as if he was going to jam the ball over his head. He used to be able to do that easily, and for somebody who on a good day flirts with six feet tall, well, of course that’s why he’s gotten away with doing what he damn well pleases for 15 years. But that moment, in practice back in November, Allen only faked the sideways jam; he aborted his takeoff, and then said to no one in particular, other than himself: “I have no idea.” He smiled. He had no idea if he could still pull that off. His day was here, when he couldn’t lean on athletic absurdity any longer. Which casts a certain light on that “Do you know who I am?”

When I interviewed Allen, he surprised me: He wasn’t the wide-eyed urchin seeming so open and vulnerable in press conferences, or the kid with the ink and chains and women and cars and posse. He was a 35-year-old man who talked, high up in the stands of his home court, about his marriage and moving across the world and hanging out in a Friday’s in Istanbul, where he discovered a Philly cheese wrap—“I never knew it was that good.” He answered the accusations of drinking and gambling and his own bad attitude driving him out of the NBA. Allen didn’t cop to much, but he was calm, not defensive. He smiled wryly about his wife’s enthusiasm for uprooting the family to Istanbul—but she was coming there. Allen was very likeable.

Then you wonder. He went on for 20 minutes about who he is, to the cop in Georgia. A PR guy I know who did some work for the Sixers marvels at how good Allen is, dealing with the press: When he returned to the team a year ago, after washing out of Detroit and Memphis, Allen went on and on about how happy he was to get this chance back in Philly, that he was home now, etc. We ate it up, and maybe we ate it up not because Allen was so real and vulnerable, but because he had arrived in Philly with a media handler. Maybe Allen knows exactly how to talk to us—“the best I’ve ever seen at that,” according to the PR guy. A couple weeks ago, after his Lamborghini was towed, Allen came back and apologized for “disrespecting the police,” as the cop would write. “He stated he was just upset about his car.” Sure.

Allen said in Istanbul that when he’s done playing, he wants to go fishing. And raise his family. And start a youth football league. Pretty thin goals, other than hanging with his kids. It’s hard to imagine Iverson not playing, as having a life beyond playing. And beyond acting out over Lamborghinis. It can only get worse.