Allen Ezail Iverson was born in Hampton, Virginia, on June 7, 1975 to a 15-year old single woman, Ann Iverson. His father, Allen Broughton, skipped out on the family and he and his sister Brandy, born 1979, were left in the care of their mother Ann. In 1991, Allen Iverson, Brandy and their mother welcomed a new addition to the family, Leisha, who was very ill, which added to the family bills. By the time Leisha was born, Iverson at the age of 16 was often responsible for taking care of his younger sisters, which was especially difficult with Leisha, who suffered frequent seizures. Mounting medical bills pushed the family further in debt. Iverson had an extremely poor childhood, one often without the basic necessities like electricity, heat or water.
Iverson went to Bethel High in Hampton from 1990-1994. In Part 2, we looked closely at Iverson’s junior and senior years at this school. Now you know that while he was running the basketball and the football teams during those two years, and winning State Championships in both sports in the process, he was also teaming up with his Mom to take care of his two sisters, one of them with frequent seizures. The house that Iverson grew up in lay on top of the city’s sewer pipes. Whenever they burst, Allen’s floor would be coated with sewage.
Iverson’s biological father remained in Connecticut where the family lived before Allen was born. He never played a role in his life, and he was in jail from time to time, including from a jail sentence for stabbing a former girlfriend. Shortly after Allen’s birth his maternal grandmother passed away. The family was continuously broke to one extent or another. Due to unpaid bills, the house was often without electricity and even sometimes water. Iverson once hinted that his Mother sometimes engaged in black market activities to earn badly needed money.
It wasn’t just Ann, Allen, Brandy, and Leisha though; there was another member of the household. Ann’s boyfriend and Iverson’s de facto father, Michael Freeman, had been in and out of jail for most of his life. After a car accident made Freeman unemployed in 1991, a desperate for money Freeman was caught and convicted for drug possession with intent to distribute. Freeman never bought bling; he paid family bills with his black market income. Iverson has remained proud of Freeman through the years. "He never robbed nobody," said Iverson once. "He was just tryin’ to feed his family. It would kill him to come from jail and find out how his family was living. One time he came home and just sat down and cried."
Did you ever wonder who the first person was who taught a young Allen Iverson basketball? To tell him that basketball was his best bet rather than football? To give him the confidence needed to get him to work hard and to excel at basketball? Was it a hot shot agent or well off basketball camp entrepreneur? Was it someone who later got a huge money book deal or movie deal? Was it a famous retired coach or former player?
No, it was none of these. Both Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson come from serious ghettos, the kind where there is a truly large amount of violent crime and black market drug dealing. Because a serious ghetto is where Iverson comes from, it was a ghetto person who started Iverson’s basketball career. It was Michael Freeman, a felon but a striving and meaning well Iverson family benefactor in the time of need. Iverson’s mother enrolled him in a little league type basketball practice program, but the young Allen Iverson was more of a football fan. It was Michael Freeman who pushed Iverson away from football and to basketball.
On Valentines Day 1993, Iverson was connected with a fracas at the Spare Times Bowling Center in the city of Hampton, Virginia. He had a few weeks earlier finished leading the Bethel High football team to the State Championship and he was in the process of leading the basketball squad to the State Championship. Everyone knew Iverson, some were jealous, and a few wanted to ruin the reputation of the young sports hero who came from the wrong neighborhood, the neighborhood where you can buy illegal drugs, and the neighborhood where no sane person would walk down the street at night. I guess they thought there was something unjust about someone who came from such a terrible neighborhood being such a school hero. Surely someone from a good neighborhood should be the hero, right? Or so they thought.
So Iverson and a group of his black teammates went to the bowling ally to unwind from basketball, and to celebrate the recent historical football win. They were loud and were asked to quiet down several times. Eventually, Iverson’s group and another group of white youths started shouting at each other. Not long into the shouting, a big fight erupted, pitting the black youths against the white youths. There has never been agreement about many of the specifics of the fight, especially specifics on what role if any Allen Iverson played. At one extreme, the prosecutors claimed that Iverson was fully involved and that he threw a chair at a girl and another chair at an employee. At the other extreme, others including Iverson claim Iverson was not involved at all.
Prosecutors ironically used a Civil War-era statute designed to protect blacks from lynchings to charge a group of black teens with mob violence. Seventeen-year-old Iverson was tried as an adult, convicted of “maiming by mob,” and sentenced to five years for throwing a chair at a girl. The judge, who was friends with one of the victim’s family, first denied them bail and then sentenced all four to 5 years in prison
Witnesses unaligned with either of the two groups testified that Iverson threw the chair at the girl. But at least according to prosecutors, no one heard Allen Iverson being called a nigger. Kristi Alligood, one of the witnesses, testified: "During a break in the fight, the girl went up to one of the black guys and said ‘Why do you have to make this racial?’ He [Iverson] just pressed two fingers against her face and pushed her away."
A bowling center employee testified that Iverson used a different chair to hit him in the head as well.
The prosecutor, a life-long NAACP member, pointed out that none of the blacks in the fight wanted to pursue charges, and that there were several black witnesses joining white witnesses identifying Iverson as the main culprit.
IVERSON AND HIS SUPPORTERS ACCOUNT
Iverson and his supporters maintain his innocence to this day. They claim that he left the alley as soon as the trouble began. Evidence against Iverson at trial was limited to witness statements only. Iverson could not be seen on an amateur video tape of the incident, and he claims he left the alley as soon as the trouble began. "For me to be in a bowling alley where everybody in the whole place know who I am and me be crackin’ people upside the head with chairs and think nothin’ gonna happen?" asked Iverson not long after the incident. "That’s crazy! And what kind of a man would I be to hit a girl in the head with a damn chair? I wish at least they’d said I hit some damn man."
Allen’s supporters were enraged that only four people were charged after the fight, all of them black. They were upset with the media’s allegedly biased coverage of the incident. And they claim the whole thing started when one of the white boys called Iverson a "nigger". "It’s strange enough that police waded through a huge mob of fighting people and came out with only blacks, and the one black that everybody knew," said Golden Frinks, crisis coordinator for the National Association for Advancement of Colored People. "But people thought they’d get a slap on the wrist and that would be the end of it." But the little fight in the bowling ally resulted in large 5-year prison sentences.
I remember at the time cracking jokes to myself about how Virginia is the kind of state where you might get a year in the slammer for littering, or two years for allowing your dog to take a dump in a park, or three years for driving with a suspended registration, but with a valid license and insurance. You get the idea; Virginia was a state you wouldn’t want to live in if you thought there was even a 1 in 100 chance that you would make a mistake that would constitute breaking a law. Live anywhere but Virginia. Virginia is not for lovers; it’s for jailers.
But this strange story gets stranger. Virginia’s first black Governor, Doug Wilder, granted Iverson a conditional release from the long sentence after four months behind bars because he became convinced that Iverson had been treated unfairly. While granting clemency, Wilder told Iverson to stay off the courts and to concentrate on receiving his high school diploma. Some time after this clemency nullified the sentence, the conviction itself was overturned on appeal. Therefore, what happened at the Spare Times Bowling Center in Hampton Virginia on Valentine’s Day 1993 remains both factually and legally uncertain to this day.
Iverson was supposed to have been a Kentucky Wildcat, but due to his incarceration, Iverson missed out on a scholarship to Kentucky University.
He studied while in jail, and after 5 months behind bars, Iverson was set free. In the meantime, Ann Iverson went to Georgetown University to convince Coach John Thompson to be her son's guardian, to be both his coach and a father figure. Once Thompson saw Iverson's talent, he accepted, and Iverson was offered a full scholarship to Georgetown University, which of course Iverson accepted.
But no matter what happened after the Valentine’s Day incident, Iverson was now destined to be trapped permanently in a no-man’s land between fully integrated into and accepted by society at large, and being an untouchable outcast. If you are a convicted felon, your pro sports career is pretty much over whether or not it has ever gotten underway. Iverson was a convicted felon, but then he was not one. So he was still technically qualified to become a basketball star, but he would never be fully accepted by basketball fans, including fans of his own teams. Fans in Philadelphia often yelled out nasty slurs when Iverson was near the sideline close to them. For example, they would yell out “Get a haircut,” or “How are the crack sales going?”
Do not forget these details of what happened when Allen Iverson was young. We will return to these things in later parts. For example, this series will explain how Iverson’s upbringing in general and the 1993 Valentine’s Day incident and what resulted from it in particular helped start a fire in 1997 that resulted in Iverson’s course through the NBA to be substantially different from what should have and could have been. The Denver Nuggets, their fans, and to some extent Allen Iverson himself are all still damaged from what the 1993 Valentine’s Day incident played a huge role in causing. In future parts, we will explore the chain of events that began with that stupid incident in the bowling center in Hampton, Virginia and that end with the present day Nuggets playing an offense that is clearly inferior to those of the top teams of the West.