Iverson, Allen Ezail

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IVERSON, Allen Ezail

(b. 7 June 1975 in Hampton, Virginia), professional basketball player regarded as one of the most dynamic players in the National Basketball Association.

Iverson was raised by his mother, Ann Iverson, who was just sixteen and living with her grandmother when Iverson was born. Iverson's biological father, Allen Broughton, disappeared before Iverson's birth. The family gave him the nickname "Bubbachuck" after two uncles.

When Iverson was still a baby, Ann moved in with Michael Freeman, who worked as a welder for the Newport News Shipyard and Dry Dock Company. He and Ann later had two children together. Freeman lost his job after a car accident in 1988. In 1991 and again in 1994, Freeman was arrested and convicted for selling drugs. This meant that Iverson grew up in severe poverty in an apartment that sometimes had no electricity or hot water. To make ends meet, Ann worked for Amway, at a convenience store, on an assembly line at Avon Fashions, as a secretary at Langley Air Force Base, and as a welder at the shipyard. They moved from one poor neighborhood to another around Hampton and Newport News, Virginia.

When Iverson was eight years old, Ann introduced him to basketball. Ann herself had been a varsity player on the women's basketball team at Bethel High School in Hampton in the 1970s. She taught Iverson ball handling, shooting, and the crossover dribble, the move Iverson would become known for later in his basketball career. Gary Moore, Iverson's elementary school football coach, recognized the boy's gift and helped him become a tough player. Moore would eventually become Iverson's personal manager when he played with the Philadelphia 76ers.

During his junior year of high school, Iverson led the Bethel High School football team to the Virginia State Class AAA championship. He also led the basketball team to a state championship by averaging 31.6 points per game. He was named Virginia High School Player of the Year in both football and basketball by the Associated Press in 1992. In that year, Parade magazine named him the National High School Basketball Player of the Year and among the top ten football players in the nation. His performances earned him the nickname "The Answer."

On 14 February 1993 Iverson was involved in a racially motivated brawl at the Circle Lanes bowling alley. Iverson and three other African-American teenagers were arrested and charged with "maiming by mob." Iverson was convicted and sentenced to five years in jail. The conviction drew national attention because of Iverson's athletic fame and the nature of the case. After serving four months at the Newport News City Farm, Iverson was granted conditional clemency by Virginia governor Douglas Wilder. The state court of appeals overturned the conviction in 1995 because of insufficient evidence.

During that period, Ann contacted Georgetown University's basketball coach, John Thompson, who had a reputation for helping talented but troubled young athletes. Iverson finished high school at Richard M. Milburn, an alternative high school for at-risk youth located in Virginia Beach, and received his diploma. In 1994 Iverson arrived at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

During his two seasons with the Georgetown Hoyas, Iverson averaged twenty-three points per game. He was selected Big East Rookie of the Year in 1995, Freshman of the Year by Basketball Weekly in 1995, and Big East Defensive Player of the Year in 1995 and 1996. He was named All-American First Team by Associated Press in 1996. He also led the United States to the gold medal in the 1995 World University Games in Japan.

In May 1996 Iverson announced he was turning professional. Iverson's decision to enter the 1996 National Basketball Association (NBA) draft before he graduated from college was made mainly because of his family's financial problems. On 26 June 1996 Iverson was the first round number-one pick by the Philadelphia 76ers. Iverson was the first point-guard to be drafted number-one since Earvin "Magic" Johnson in 1979 and the smallest, at six feet tall and 165 pounds, number-one pick ever.

Iverson quickly established himself as one of the most promising players in the NBA. He scored thirty points in his first NBA game against the Milwaukee Bucks. His lightning-quick crossover dribble confused defenders. He broke the NBA rookie record by scoring 40 or more points in five consecutive games. During his first season Iverson averaged 23.5 points per game. He was named NBA All-Rookie First Team and in 1997 was Shick Rookie of the Year.

During the off-season, Iverson was arrested when Virginia police found a handgun and marijuana in a speeding car he was riding in. He was given two years probation with monthly drug tests and a hundred hours of community service.

The 76ers started the 1997—1998 season with Larry Brown, a veteran coach who had experience with young teams. Iverson and Brown argued on and off the court. During the 1998—1999 season, Brown switched Iverson from point guard to shooting guard. The result was that Iverson led the NBA in scoring with 26.8 points per game and was named to the All-NBA First Team.

Before the 1999–2000 season, Iverson signed a six-year, $70.9 million contract with the 76ers, the largest contract ever in the team's history. However, in the summer of 2000 Iverson's habitual tardiness and disrespect for Coach Brown prompted management to initiate a trade that would send him to the hapless Los Angeles Clippers. The trade did not go through for a technical reason, but it served as a wake-up call to Iverson, who did not want to leave Philadelphia. Iverson entered the 2000–2001 season a changed man. Disciplinary action became unnecessary; in fact, at his request he was named co-captain. He led the team to a 10–0 season start. Iverson's 31.1 points per game made him the first player to average more than 30 points since Michael Jordan in the 1995–1996 season. Brown praised Iverson for his work ethic and commitment to the game. In the NBA All-Star game in February 2001, he was named Most Valuable Player (MVP). The 76ers faced the Los Angeles Lakers for the NBA national title.

The Lakers had just racked up a 15–0 postseason record, and their superstars, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, were healthy. But the 76ers had just finished a seven-game series against the Toronto Raptors and the Milwaukee Bucks, and almost every 76er played with injuries. To "Answer" the challenge, Iverson scored forty-eight points in the finals opener, and the 76ers stunned the world by beating the Lakers 107–101. It was the Lakers first defeat in sixty-seven days, breaking the Lakers' expectation of becoming the first undefeated champion in the NBA history. Individually, the 76ers swept all important NBA season awards. Larry Brown earned his first NBA Coach of the Year honor, Dikembe Mutombo grabbed Defensive Player of the Year, Aaron McKie won Sixth Man of the Year, and Iverson won Most Valuable Player. He was the smallest player ever to win the regular season MVP award.

Besides basketball, family and friends are the most important things in Iverson's life. He has financially supported about a dozen relatives and several longtime friends. He sent his stepfather to a substance-abuse rehabilitation clinic. Iverson and Tawanna Turner have two children, and Iverson married Turner on 23 August 2001.

Iverson's physical appearance, which often flouts NBA standards, featured cornrows, tattoos, heavy jewelry, and long baggy shorts. The league and the 76ers' management also have questioned his choice of friends, a group known as the Iverson Posse. He recorded a controversial rap CD titled Forty Bars, which drew criticism from several civil rights groups for its harsh words toward gays and women.

Quick, fearless, and tough are the words usually used to describe Iverson. He is so quick on the court that he makes the best defenders look slow. Despite his small frame, Iverson is fearless navigating among taller players and making acrobatic shots and creative passes. He ignores injuries and plays tough. Iverson has established himself as one of professional sports' most exciting athletes.

There are several book-length biographies available, including Charles E. Schmidt, Jr., Allen Iverson (1998); Mark Stewart, Allen Iverson: Motion and Emotion (2001); and Stew Thornley, Allen Iverson: Star Guard (2001). Biographical essays can be found in Sports Stars (1994–1998) and in Contemporary Black Biography, vol. 24 (2000). Phil Taylor, "Courted and Convicted," Sports Illustrated (26 July 1993), details the bowling alley incident and Iverson's troubled past. Other extensive biographical articles include Bill Brubaker, "Iverson in Transition: Troubled Past to NBA Future," Washington Post (16 June 1996); Mark Heisler, "76ers' Brash Rookie Allen Iverson Does It His Way as He Takes the NBA by Storm," Los Angeles Times (29 Dec. 1996); Rick Reilly, "Counter Point," Sports Illustrated (9 Mar. 1998); Charles Pierce, "Iverson, Allen," Esquire (Nov. 1999); Gary Smith, "Mama's Boys," Sports Illustrated (23 Apr. 2001); and K. C. Johnson, "Changing Direction: Iverson's Growth Has Pushed 76ers to New Heights," Dallas Morning News (11 June 2001).

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