Allen Iverson, Mentors, and the Game of Basketball

I woke up yesterday with a sore throat and one of those strange summer colds. As I habitually do, first thing in the morning, I prepared myself a cup of coffee and read the news — not exactly expecting for anything noteworthy.

I was a in a fairly gloomy mood, exhausted from my first week of classes. I could already tell that I had a long road ahead, which didn’t quite heighten my rather low spirits. Nothing in the news seemed all that interesting — except the fact that it was September 11. Fifteen years had gone by since the horrific events that occurred in New York City.

I then scrolled through my Facebook feed to hopefully read compelling posts and articles about 9/11. It feels like the only day of the year during which thoughtful writing overshadows the senseless clickbait that drowns our social media platforms most of the time.

Interestingly, coinciding with these posts and articles about September 11 was a great amount of material on Allen Iverson’s induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with the incredible talent who played for the Philadelphia 76ers most of his career, Netflix released a documentary on him recently. It’s called “Iverson”, and I highly recommend it.)

Iverson’s life contains a plethora of quasi-spiritual moments throughout which he seems to hit rock bottom, but then is pulled out of the gutter by coaches, family members, and other mentor-like figures who motivate and enable him to pursue his dreams.

For instance, while he was in high school, Iverson was heavily recruited by every single top athletic school imaginable. Yet, instead of graduating, packing his bags and heading to the Dukes, North Carolinas, and Michigan States of the American world of college sports, Iverson was caught in the midst of a brawl in his town’s bowling venue. Having been prosecuted, arbitrarily found guilty, and convicted for fifteen years in jail, Iverson was put behind bars — abruptly putting an end to his dreams of playing professional sports.

By some miracle, four months after Iverson’s imprisonment, the Governor of Virginia, his home state, pardoned him, enabling him to go back to his hometown and community. As expected, after being released, nobody wanted him anymore — he’d effectively lost the trust of every single person in the world of sports, except the head coach of Georgetown (of all places!) for whom he ended up playing.

His induction speech is humble, humbling, incredibly genuine, and comes straight from the depths of his heart. He challenges the conventions surrounding formal speeches by thanking Biggie Smalls, Jadakiss, 2Pac, and Michael Jackson. Although it sounded so inadequate, so informal for what it was — a speech for an honor bestowed upon only a select few in the world of basketball — it was perfect. Voiced by the man himself, it was exactly what everyone, at that moment, at that time, needed to hear.

It brought me back to when I was watching him play during my adolescence — listening to Rick Ross’ “Speeding” before my high school basketball games and Young Jeezy’s “Put On” while working out with my team. Although those memories seem to be placated in rather juvenile moments of my life, they’re as part of my DNA as is the study of law, among many things.

Listening to AI’s speech also reminded me of when the head of my basketball program sat me down — when I was about twelve years old — in his office, and asked me about my intention to change schools. At that age, my mind was focused on nothing else but being with my friends, a lot of whom went to another high school about a mile away from mine. It wasn’t rigorous academically, and wasn’t particularly known for anything. He knew that, and told me to stay, if only because of basketball. Because of the unforgettable moments that were right around the corner. He was right in advising me to do so. Incredibly right.

I glean from these experiences — although mine incomparable to those lived by Allen Iverson — that everyone’s habits and so-called gut instincts are highly fallacious instruments, if we’re incapable of staying the course — persevering through the murky moments and the tougher times. Although my basketball allegiances have changed over time (as you all may know by my obsession with LeBron James), Allen Iverson inspired me to outshine myself. To step out of the person I thought I was into a better person. For Allen Iverson — and all of the other sources of inspiration out there — let us all be grateful. They too have the power to straighten our paths.

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