The Five Most Surprising Moments from the New Allen Iverson Documentary

Rys: The practice rant? Maybe isn't what you remember.

Tomorrow night marks the premiere of Showtime’s Iverson, a 90-minute documentary that traces Allen Iverson’s life from his childhood in the mean streets of Newport News to the day the Sixers lifted his #3 jersey to the rafters, through archival footage and a new one-on-one interview. Considering the project is executive produced by Gary Moore, Iverson’s longtime advisor and father figure, it’s also a more balanced view of his career and personal struggles than one might expect. For those who experienced the AI era as Sixers fans, following every game—along with all the controversies—much of the film plays more like a nostalgia trip than a revelation. But even die-hard fans of the Answer will find a few surprises. (And that time he crossed up Jordan!)

1. Revealing home videos

We’ve all seen the highlights from Iverson’s basketball career, but some of the film’s most memorable images are taken from home videos that show him in rare unguarded moments. In one from 1995, he’s laying on a couch kissing a baby. When the infant spits up on him. Iverson simply looks at the camera and flashes that million-dollar smile. In other, the night before he’s sentenced to jail for his role in a bowling alley brawl, an 18-year-old Iverson talks with his buddies about what he’ll say to the judge: ““First of all, I want to thank my family and friends for sticking behind me.” He also makes it clear he wasn’t part of the fight, and knows his future is in jeopardy. “You know damn well I ain’t come with y’all niggas, man,” Iverson says to his pals. “That shit can ruin everybody’s lives. That judge can tear four black people down right now. That white motherfucker got some power.”

2. Tom Brokaw, AI homeboy?

The bowling alley trial and Iverson’s bid in prison is covered extensively, including an interview with one of his guards who complains about the sackloads of mail Iverson would get. (“Ladies were sending him unmentionables.”) Tom Brokaw lands an exclusive jailhouse interview, and in the film, takes some credit for helping to change the perception of his plight. (Iverson was later pardoned by the governor of Virginia after serving less than four months of a five-year sentence.) Surprisingly, Iverson agrees with the newsman. “I got a lot of love for NBC, Tom Brokaw,” he says today. “He did a lot for me, and I appreciate it, and I owe a lot to him.”

3. Life before stardom

Iverson’s turbulent childhood has been well-documented, but interviews with those who knew him then sheds light on the human being inside the superstar. One pal talks about sleepovers and Iverson teaching him to throw a football; Iverson calls that friend’s mother a second mom. His high school coach still gets choked up at the memory of Iverson’s conviction and what he feels was “a plan” to make an example out of the young athlete. Race is an undercurrent throughout the film—a theme that grows larger as Iverson’s career explodes—and it’s interesting to note that both his friend and his coach are white.

4. Iverson’s impact

The closer you are to something, the harder it is to see what surrounds it. In Iverson’s case, it’s easy to forget how much he changed our culture, in sports and far beyond. His hip-hop style led the NBA to create a dress code, thanks in part to whining from everyone from Phil Jackson to Chris Matthews that doesn’t age well in old clips. When you see a pro athlete covered in ink, that’s Iverson’s influence. And the sight of a sea of #3 jerseys during a frenzied promotional trip to China drives home his status as a global icon.

5. Reframing the “practice” speech

Even for Sixers fans who saw the entire press conference in 2002, it’s easy to forget the context for Iverson’s “We talkin’ ‘bout practice” rant. (Or as sportswriter Scoop Jackson calls it in the film, Iverson’s “I Have A Dream” speech.) Today, it’s become a punchline, suggesting entitled athletes and a lack of work ethic. But the Sixers had just lost ugly in the first round of the playoffs after making it to the NBA finals the year before. Iverson was fresh off another loss as well: a longtime friend who was murdered. The true context of his comments—Iverson wasn’t saying that practice doesn’t matter, but was essentially asking, Why are you asking me about practice over and over again in this interview when there are bigger issues to discuss? Here’s part of his speech that few remember: “I’m upset for one reason. I’m in here [in a press conference instead of on the court]. I lost. I lost my best friend. I lost him. And I lost this year. Everything is going downhill for me…I don’t want to go through this shit.”

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