Latest News, NBA / Mar 2, 2010 / 3:36 pm

Allen Iverson: We Were There For the Beginning of the End



Since late November a Word Doc entitled “Iverson Post” has been sitting on my desktop staring back at me waiting to be run. It was written by our own Austin Burton immediately after one of the most frustrating experiences of his professional career. Dealing with NBA athletes in general can often times be an exercise in frustration; patience that stretches beyond most normal human bounds is many times required in order to make even the most minor of interviews or photo shoots happen.

Austin’s experience with Allen Iverson over two days in L.A. though was unbelievably trying, even for a subject as legendary in his elusiveness as A.I. After Austin’s ordeal, he penned the following piece – maybe for the site, maybe for the magazine, or possibly just to exorcise the whole experience from his system. With news today that the Sixers are severing ties with Allen for the rest of the season, it seemed fitting to run Austin’s piece this afternoon, as he had front row seats to the beginning of the end of Allen Iverson’s basketball career. Check out Austin’s story in its entirety after the jump, it’s a must read.

- P.C.

The Artful Dodger

Sometimes my job allows me a front-row seat to a life people dream of. Not my life, necessarily, but the lives of those I cover. Working for Dime has allowed me to almost wreck Randy Foye’s car, to watch Lance Stephenson grow up from a boy into a man, to have the best view of Dwight Howard’s “Superman” dunk and see first-hand how much more famous he became that same night, to recount the surreal scene of Michael Jordan and Michael Bivins playing a game of pool while “Poison” played in the background.

Back in November, I was witness to another bit of history. I was right there for the beginning of the end of Allen Iverson’s professional career.

When the Memphis Grizzlies went on the now-infamous weeklong West Coast road trip that would include the quiet beginning, turbulent middle, and disappointing end to A.I.’s tenure with the team, I was scheduled to be in Los Angeles that Thursday for a Dime cover shoot with Iverson. At least that was the plan.

In a business where few promises are made and even fewer kept, two promises were at play here: Dime had promised to give Iverson the cover of the issue that would hit newsstands in December; and Iverson’s people promised to give us Iverson for up to an hour in a studio at the W Hotel in Westwood, where the Grizzlies were staying before a Friday game against the Lakers and a Saturday tip against the Clippers.

It had been three years since A.I., who graced the first cover of this magazine, had been on our front page. Three years, four teams, two trades, thousands of points, millions of dollars made worldwide by people not named Allen Iverson via Allen Iverson’s influence. Always a favorite of the Dime staff, the drought had little to do with the man’s stature in the game, but more with the logistics of making an Iverson cover happen. Truth is, securing A.I. for a photo shoot and one-on-one interview was often like securing an oil-slicked alley cat in your arms when your skin’s been coated with Vaseline. Horror stories are abound in the publishing industry of Iverson showing up four to eight hours late to shoots, blowing off interviews at the last minute, delivering less than 10 minutes when at least an hour of his time was promised.

One such story comes from the Dime archives. Years ago, a shoot/interview was planned with Iverson at a Boston hotel while he was on the road with the Sixers. Come show time, no Iverson. After one hour had passed, then another, then another, finally we were able to reach one of A.I.’s guys. Eventually our contact had a proposal: For two thousand dollars cash, he could convince A.I. to come down and pose for pictures. When he was told that wasn’t going to happen, he then told us Allen was at a casino in Connecticut and couldn’t do the shoot anyway.

Now I found myself in a hotel in L.A., waiting for Iverson. We had a studio rented from 2-5 p.m., just one of a long list of expenses incurred by this adventure. Cell phone on his ear while wearing a practice uniform, Iverson got off the Memphis bus at 2 p.m. A team employee asked A.I. when he’d be ready for our shoot. “Not right now,” he said, but he did imply it would happen soon. He’d let us know.

Cool. Assumption says he’ll take a shower, maybe grab a bite, maybe take a power nap – NBA players are loyal to nothing if not their sleep. So then a half-hour passes. Then another. Then another. Around 3:30, I ask my contact with the Grizzlies about Iverson’s whereabouts. He’s in his room, I’m told, but his manager doesn’t know when he’ll be out.

Another half-hour. More calls are made, texts are sent. Now it’s close to 4:30, and I get the word. Iverson’s manager says it’s not happening today, that a “personal issue” has surfaced. No details are given.

Now it’s time for us to make concessions, so this whole trip isn’t a waste: Tell A.I. he only has to come down for a few minutes. Tell him he doesn’t have to do the interview today. Tell him he can wear his pajamas if that’s what he has on. Tell him we’ll buy him the drink (or three) of his choice.

Iverson’s camp doesn’t budge.

I talk to the manager: “A personal issue came up. It was unforeseen, it’s a family thing,” he says. “So we’re not able to do the shoot today. … I’m sorry … We’ll make it up to you guys … I understand you flew people in to do this … You guys have always been good to us and done right by us … I wish I could make it happen … We just can’t do it, sorry.”

One more thing before getting off the phone: “When everything comes to light, it will all make sense.”

And that’s it.

At least for Thursday. On Friday, game day, the plan is put back in action. The studio is acquired from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., thankfully for no extra charge. Cameras and recorders are ready to go. Perhaps the shock or sorrow or rage from yesterday’s personal crisis has settled. Perhaps today is the day.

It’s not. Although A.I.’s guy said this shoot was important to them, that they knew about it for a week in advance, it’s not going to happen. The Iverson camp told us they were looking for good press; that few publications outside of Dime would be willing to give good press; that Allen wanted to “tell his story and have someone tell it who would get it right.”

That somebody was me, I suppose. Having never interviewed A.I. one-on-one before, I had 15 years worth of questions to ask him, questions still in my notebook that may never be asked now. My goal was to write the realest Iverson story you’ve ever read. One as harsh as a hit of Christian Brothers brandy. One that didn’t apologize for A.I. nor take every opportunity to beat him down.

Shortly after 5 p.m., as the Grizzlies begin loading the team bus, I’m actually pacing the hotel lobby like a groupie, waiting to see Iverson or his manager. Minutes before the bus is scheduled to leave, I do. Iverson makes a beeline for the bus. I swarm in close enough to get his manager.

New set of concessions: Have Allen come to the studio and stand in front of a camera for two minutes. He doesn’t have to talk about whatever is going on personally. We’ll worry about the interview later. You don’t have to worry about making anything up to us. You’ll have your cover and your good press. Everyone gets what they came for. Last chance.

Looking back I wonder; Did he know? Did Iverson know that night’s game would be the last he’d play for the Grizzlies? Did he know after that Thursday practice he didn’t want to be on the team anymore? Did he know he would ask for a leave of absence on Saturday? Did Iverson refuse to do the photo shoot thinking (erroneously) that we wanted to be boring and stick him in a Grizzlies uniform when he knew it would almost immediately become null and void?

I didn’t know. When I watched A.I. get on that bus in clothes that seem to engulf him – leather jacket, jeans, du-rag under a Washington Nationals cap – I never thought it might be the last time he’d get on a bus headed to a game. Maybe it was because his 34-year-old face could still pass for an undergrad at UCLA (just up the block from the W). That was one thing I always liked about Iverson; in the 15 years since I first saw him play, he never lost that youthful part of his on-court game or off-court demeanor. He was always the kid on the playground. Seeing him that day in L.A., he could have been any teenager getting on his AAU team’s bus, looking forward to a thousand more games. He didn’t look like a man at the end of the road.

“I’m sorry,” Iverson’s manager says to my last-ditch effort. He runs back into the building for something A.I. has forgotten in his room. “We’ll work something out,” he says as the elevator doors whisper shut.

I’m still waiting to hear back. Given what has since transpired in Philadelphia – when the one situation that should’ve been guaranteed to work out for Iverson still fell apart – I know I never will.

More on A.I.

- The NBA’s 10 Toughest Players

- Top 10 NBA All-Star Moments of the 2000′s

- We Reminisce: Allen Iverson High School Basketball Highlights

Follow Dime on Twitter at @DIMEMag

Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.

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  • Jeffco

    Great Article!!

  • http://dimemag.com/author/adam/ Adam Flomenbaum

    Amazing piece – his career went downhill too fast – if only he conceded a little bit, but I guess that’s just not him.

  • quest???

    one of the best articles, if not the best, ive seen here so far. Austin do you think Iverson has played the last game? Do you think that his absence has more to do with that he does not want to play basketball anymore?

  • PWEEZY

    Man Austin is a sucka for believing he would show up…too bad for iverson he can’t even do it up for his fans at least…Iverson and Marbury are finally done their careers in the nba…it was fun

  • The Journeyman

    Dang man wanna make people cry with this story.

    Great write tho, first time I actually read one completely.

    DAMN Celebs man…can’t even honor a commitment.

    Yours in basketball,

    Sam

  • SWAT

    wow…nuff said.

  • GoEasy

    great article, props AB. that’s all I really have to say.

  • http://heckler@aol.com Heckler

    typical allen iverson.
    he never did care about too much; especially the media.

    after 15yrs of allen iverson, jokes on you Austin. and shame on you Dime.

    why would you expect anything different than the actual outcome?

    there was (a) good reason why he didnt make your cover 3yrs prior to this….

  • http://Diiimebitch Chris Ballz

    Heavy stuff

    choice tho

  • Jayo

    @ Austin

    I feel your pain bro. I’m in a similar line of work. It pisses me off how some guys will be upset b/c you didnt wait around for them after they were 3 hours late. Just when you think you’ve had enuff. All of a sudden you get that one moment or interview that makes it worthwhile. But yeah, a lot of these guys can be real jerks while the good guys are some of the best people in the world.

  • http://www.dimemag.com Aron Phillips

    Wow. Awesome story Austin!

  • BiGShoTBoB

    Damn good article as usual AB your definitely the mvp at Dime…If you find out let us know what’s really going on with Iverson and what is it that’s going to come to the light because it still hasn’t so far. What’s his big family emergency his been going through ever since?

  • V

    Wow, so sad, Austin what’s your opinion of A.I. now? I love the fact you never put him down in any of your pieces, hmm it would of been a great article, I wish he could of seen that though

  • http://twitter.com/PoppiGEE POPPI GEE

    AB nice one again. Need to hear the real like this more.

    Tell us the real. I know you all (Dime) have had to deal with some things in regards to players. Give us that inside look tell us the good and bad.

    This was like some behind the scenes type ish. Loved it.

  • LakeShow84

    Good write up AB.. especially how you didnt sound pissed or bias considering the circumstances.. big ups doo..

    And i give props to Allen after being such a (seemingly) selfish individual his whole life he is finally doing something totally unselfish.. he couldve stuck around and proved a lot of people wrong but he put his family first.. anyone should respect that..

    Dude mightve honestly just sacrificed whatever bball career he had left in the NBA.. sad but completely worth it..

  • Kermit The Washington

    Dag man. I just don’t get it. This is kinda indirectly referencing LakeShow’s comment…I get that he has family issues, and things apparently pop up without warning and he has to be out. That’s not selfish of him at all. BUT…he’s at Foxwoods Casino and can’t come to a shoot? You got people waiting for him at a hotel and he can’t come out of the room to at least acknowledge the people that flew across the country because he told them he’d give them one hour? To me, in those instances, it sounds like he’s using his family’s situation as an excuse to blow off responsibilities he has. You were in that room for 4 hours and NOWWW you have to bounce because of a fam issue. OK yeah right.

  • shiptar

    nice words Austin.
    A.I. went from being NBA’s leading scorer to the end of his career in like 2 years. And it even wasn’t for an injury or something like that. Sad, but I never really liked him, though I was rooting for him in the 2001 finals.

  • TO

    nice article, and altough AI had a legitimate excuse in this case, this read reminds me of exactly why AI’s ship went sinking so quickly.

    Call him what you’d like, but theres one problem he DOESNT have an answer for…and thats himself.

    good riddens.

  • http://www.twitter.com/patmuldowney That’s what she

    Great article. It’s a tough position you’re in, wanting to be as real as it gets while maintaining a balance of a healthy relationship with the players you interact with. This was well written and in good taste, and I highly doubt there would have been a tie to sever with AI at this point anyways.

  • http://www.edthesportsfan.com Kenny

    Great piece, brother. Absolutely great.

  • bliz289

    great article AB.

  • monina

    excellent story, austin! thank you for sharing your gift of writing with us.

  • haslem

    amazing article, I never had heard about this side of AI. Excepted I guess, but now not only will you never know but neither will we the public. AI squandered a real chance to restore his legacy

  • Miz alicia

    Good shit Austin! Very well written.

  • sh!tfaced

    The Artful Dodger… lol… good one, AB.

  • That’s What’s Up

    This has GOT TO make it into the Mag somehow…

    very well done AB

  • solomon

    superb article.

  • Trey bing bay

    @Austin,

    Do you think you’ll still get to interview him even though he’s not in the league? Would you guys even do an interview with someone that doesn’t play anymore?

    Iverson has been one of my favourite players to watch ever since he entered the league, it would be great to know what exactly went down that last couple of years.

  • control

    Excellent article, great behind the scenes read.

    I’ve never really liked AI at all throughout his career. I think the style of basketball he brings to the table is selfish and hurts teams more than helps teams.

    If the guy’s daughter has health issues, then my heart goes out to her. It’s just tragic that anyone has to deal with a health issue with their 3 year old.

    That being said, I’ve been hearing lately that he’s been out partying at clubs, etc. Honestly, if the situation is so bad with your daughter that you can’t play basketball and live up to a commitment you made, then how can you justify going out and clubbing, etc.

    AI is, was, and always will be out for one person: himself. His style of basketball reflects this, the way he lives his life reflects this. He might be the most selfish person ever in basketball. I really hope I don’t have to see him play another NBA game again.

  • Prof. TX

    Iverson sounds like an ass. I’ll be glad to see him actually gone from the league. He should never have been voted in as an all-star this year, let the younger guys who are really putting in work get their shot.

  • RC

    I’m not sure if it’s AI who actually keeps on making Dime wait or it’s just his people. Who knows if his personnel even tells him about everything going on.

    A.I. is a warrior and definitely has a deep love of the game. Unfortunately his selfish acts on and off the court made teams avoid him and give players hesitation to play with him. Good luck to him and his future. He has done a lot to basketball and basketball fans all over the world.

    I actually tried to see him one last time before he retires. It’s against Toronto and I was hoping A.I. would at least play 10 – 15 mins in that game. I wasn’t aware that he was not with the team at that time because of personal reasons. At least I made an effort to see a great player before he leaves the game.

  • deeds

    Great article. I have never liked AI and probably never will. I don’t want to make light of this situation with his daughter, and if she truly is very sick I hope her all the best and all the Iverson family the best. However, as someone else mentioned I have heard the stories about AI going clubbing. Given his selfish past it wouldn’t surprise me if he simply gave up on Philadelphia just as he did with Memphis and took his ball and went home so to speak. If that is the case I can’t say i will really miss him

  • life-p

    Nice AB. Iverson’s life, as everyone’s life is a combination of the choices we make. What we sow in our youth is what we reap in the latter stages of our lives.

  • BCap

    great article! Maybe Iverson’s management is the reason he neevr got all the endorsements etc.. he deserved. for his effect on hip hop culture he sure didn’t reap much of the rewards

  • Ehis Murphy

    Best article ever. AI would be back with the bobcats next year. He still have alot to offer

  • http://www.WhyCandaceWhySheldon.thatbastard.com Chicagorilla

    @AB,

    Great Read. I can only imagine what that feels like. You must love your job, because me… I woulda been like PEEEEEaaaaaccceeee!!! “You’re not that hot, don’t believe the yes men”

    As far as AI, if his daughter is really sick like that, then I feel for him. I could only imagine. Personally, I don’t think it’s close to being a real illness (and I hope I’m right for the childs sake), he’s just making up excuses to sit out every place he goes. Det/Memph/and now Philly again!

  • Cdunk

    Sounds like a douchebag to me!

  • etherealmiss

    AB

    Wonderful article.

  • Winnipeg Canada

    Respect AB!!!! Great, Great article….

  • http://none OOB

    Been reading dime for several years. Even called up dime once when they put “Tim Duncan is like cockwork” on the front page. Never commented, mostly because of the haters that seem to flock to this precious message board because no one will listen to them in real life. OMG LBJ IS GAY NO THAT DUNK WASNT NICE ANYONE COULD DO THAT, ect, ect. We get it. He’s annoying and supremely talented.

    With that said, great article. One of the best I have read on dime. I will always love A.I’s skill set, but this is a unhappy ending to a long journey.

  • Freezy

    Great article!
    You can’t change a guy after the career he’s had. But if only he changed a little bit, he could have a ring right now.

  • Mike Mihalow

    Now his wife is leaving him, taking custody of his daughter, and her mystery illness. Does this mean he can play now?

  • 2 Easy

    I dun post as much as I used on Dime but AB you deserve kudos for this article. This is prolly one of the best basketball articles I’ve ever read, a pretty objective piece on a player whose fan base is pretty black and white, love or hate.

  • Rich

    Great article, Patrick, and arguably more insightful than any piece that would have resulted had you won a cursory 10 minutes of talk from the man himself.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Pardeep

    Damn sick article but you guys got to understand that Iverson probably would have showed up to the photo shoot had he known he was going to stay with the Grizzlies. Dude was probably contemplating leaving the team after the first game where he only played 17 minutes. He should have stayed patient and stayed with the Grizz because Hollins would have been starting this guy in 5 more games. AI messed up by causing problems he mustev thought his comeback with a vengance season is going to be ruined if he continues coming off the bench for Michael frikin Conley

  • Tbone

    @TO BTW, riddens doesn’t mean anything. You’re looking for ‘riddance.’