On Iverson Vs. Garnett, Allen Iverson’s Last Game As A Free Man At Nike’s 1993 All Star Game

By: 02.28.14  •  16 Comments

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The game itself went smoothly and Nike cashed in on yet another instance of positive publicity. ESPN even broadcasted the game; it was a sign of things to come in prep hoops coverage over the next three decades. The legacy of Kevin Garnett, however, grew tenfold.

If he wasn’t on the national radar before, he was now. Garnett’s energy and activity from end to end bedazzled coaches. Even the game’s announcers struggled to grasp the body of talent encapsulated inside KG’s wiry frame. He was a man-child amongst his own peers. The top peers in the country, at that. A rarity amongst a collection of rare talent. The seeds for an undeniable next 24 months were planted.

Questions about KG’s diet, dedication, friends and responsibility followed him, but the wave of potential and franchise cornerstone possibilities forced then-new Pistons coach Doug Collins to define Garnett before the 1995 Draft as “…a genetic freak. All the great ones are.”

No one was outwardly predicting double-digit All Star Games, MVP honors, Hall of Fame nods and perhaps being one of the five best power forwards in NBA history just yet. But a storm was forming. Nike’s ’93 ASG was the breeding ground for what became the undeniable hype machine that perched itself upon Garnett’s lanky shoulders.

NBA executives first sniffed the aroma at the game and by the time his senior year at Chicago’s Farragut Academy rolled around–which produced a mythical season average of 26 points, 18 rebounds, seven assists and six blocks–front offices were practically sacrificing their firstborns to risk the investment.

Unbeknownst at the time, the arrival and dominance of Kevin Garnett on July 11, 1993 was a two-part cultural explosion. An explosion in which the wave of high school-to-NBA talent would completely alter the basketball landscape forever.

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Calling a spade a spade, no player was in Iverson’s weight class that afternoon. Garnett was great, but A.I. was transcendent.

He ran faster, was more agile, saw the court and attacked with the tenacity of an uncaged, famished lion that separated him from any of his contemporaries. In sort of silent “eff you” to all his critics, too, he found open teammates through an array of marvelous passes. Again. And again. And again. Allen Iverson was by far the best player on a basketball court in Indiana the same way he was in Virginia.

USA Today went as far to refer to A.I. as “the jewel” of the 125 prospects in attendance. Gibbons told the paper, “Every school in the country wants him. If he was John Dillinger, they’d take him.”

Chuck’s performance represented a swan song moment, however. His case was garnering national attention and becoming bigger than just a small town brawl. Examples had to be made. Prosecutor Colleen Killilea used Iverson’s Nike getaway as a method of belittling him by telling Judge Nelson T. Overton to find him guilty.

“Now it’s our turn to just do it.”

Within 48 hours of putting the college basketball world on notice, an example was indeed made. Iverson was convicted of maiming by mob, which carried up to 20 years of prison time. Within three months, he was sentenced to 15 years (five for each count, but had ten suspended).

“Mr. Iverson had two choices: either stay and participate, or get out,” Judge Overton said. “He stayed and participated, and became a member of the mob. He made the wrong choice.”

His senior year was toe-tagged. He served four months at Newport News City Farm before then-Virginia Governor Douglas Wilder gave him a pardon. The rest of the story, as we know it, is history, and his conviction was overturned by the Virginia Court of Appeals in 1995.

Nike’s 1993 All Star Game represents the last time Allen Iverson suited up on a basketball court as a free man. With the weight of the world on his 18-year-old shoulders, Iverson approached an exhibition as if life depended on it–and through so many degrees of separation, it did. The next time America saw its most decorated high school basketball player would be a year later at Georgetown University under the watchful eye of John Thompson.

A situation like this is why Iverson took on the game of basketball the way he did for the majority of his career. His faults were impossible to ignore and occasionally even more impossible to defend. Yet, those same faults became the olive branch endearing him to millions. Iverson approached basketball with a life-or-death aggression because it sort of was for him.

For young Black males who never officially graduate high school because of the stain of prison time attached to their names, their prospective futures aren’t exactly classified information. It doesn’t require an Ivy League degree to predict an adult’s life peppered by jail time might result in more of the same or death. Allen Iverson could have been a statistic if life’s cards fell in a slightly different formation. We see it everyday, in every town, in every ‘hood across America. The story isn’t uncommon.

So when Iverson officially becomes part of Philadelphia 76er immortality tomorrow night during his jersey retirement, realize it’s more than just numbers. It always has been. It always will be to the majority of his fans. Appreciate Bubba Chuck for being a cup of tea whose taste never ceases to vary from person-to-person. Appreciate Bubba Chuck for embodying the bigger picture.

Basketball saved Allen Iverson’s life.

And he made ours more exciting, at times frustrating, but ultimately better in the process.

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