Allen Iverson isn't done.
Yes, he's sitting in a hotel suite in Atlanta animatedly discussing his career — like the time a teammate pulled a gun on him (jokingly) after practice, and the exact moment he realized he couldn't stay out all night and play well the next day — in late April, when he'd ordinarily be preparing for the NBA playoffs. He'll turn 37 in June, his MVP season is more than a decade behind him, he hasn't been on an NBA roster since he left the Sixers in February of 2010. The easy thing to do would be sit back and watch that Hall of Fame clock tick down.
But doing the easy thing has never been Iverson's way. So less than a week after this interview he was off to China for an exhibition tour, then, who knows? His agent, Gary Moore, has plans. "I either want him to go back over in June and do another tour, or hopefully a team over there may offer him the opportunity to come over there and play, a year’s contract over there. And even better than that, maybe a team in the NBA will offer him an opportunity to come in, play in the summer league, sign on with a team."
There's no doubt Iverson looks like he can still play — he's still whip-thin under his usual triple-XL gear. But for now he seems content to look back rather than ahead. Reebok is re-issuing his classic red-toe Question (May 25th, $125), and both he and Reebok VP Todd Krinsky have stories to tell.
You remember what it was like lacing up shoes with your name and number on it for the first time?
Actually, yeah. When I first got these [holds up the Questions], I think it was a preseason game, because I didn’t start off in these—
Krinsky: We didn’t have them right away—
Yeah, you started in some inline stuff.
I remember that. It was one of those things, like, Let’s hurry up and get out here so people can see them, see that I really had my own shoe. You look at guys on the court, man. You got this guy with this brand of shoe, and this guy with this brand — they’re just wearing the shoe. But it’s a whole different feeling when you got a shoe on and it’s yours. I remember one of the best moments too, obviously when they were in stores, when you started seeing the college teams wear them and high school teams. That was it for me. All I ever wanted to do was wear Jordans, I think there was only one or two pair I never had. So it was crazy. And, you know, all the shoes I’ve had, the first time you look at them you’re satisfied—even though you know you’re not [laughs], but you’re satisfied because this is your new shoe. Then, after a while, I would tell them, “we need to change this. We need to change that.” Or, “add this, add that.” But the first one, soon as you see it, you’re like yeah. But then I let my friends see it; “Naw, Chuck, you need to change this, put that here, this color, that color.”
It’s a whole different feeling when you got a shoe on and it’s yours.
I think this time, one thing that’s important to me that I think we didn’t go right, we went wrong, with this shoe is we didn’t make it appeal to women. Like only shoe that they really wore was this one right here [points at red Question], this color. You do this shoe in pink, that’ll be incredible. I mean, every woman will want it. Even back then I was surprised to see women wearing this shoe; I thought they only wore Jordans when it comes to basketball shoes [laughs]. But yeah, different colors for women: pink, purple, anything.
Is this the shoe you get asked about the most?
Yeah, the red-and-white Question.
Just so many people, man, ask, “When are you coming back with the Questions, man?” I’m like, “Listen, man.” I mean, I was in Charlotte, I was at a Friday’s, and a guy called his brother and told him I was up there. “Man, my brother love you.” Man, he brought a pair up to the restaurant for me to sign that he had never worn. Like, he had never worn them. They were brand-new.
I feel like the biggest moment you had in the shoe, or still the one people talk about the most, is that Jordan game.
[Krinsky puts video on in background: Zumoff’s voice “Iverson and Jordan. The crowd is in to it. Allen shakes. Yes! Two!”] Everybody talks about it… They were the blue ones. Everybody talks about that one when they first meet me. “Man, I still remember the play you shook Jordan.” Everybody gonna always remember it because it was Jordan. And, you know, Mike’s probably been shook before — somebody probably got him before — but right there, at the top of the key like that, with everybody watching.
And I think it’s because you caught him, he came back and you got him again.
The only reason I did it the second time is because I seen how hard he bit when I wasn’t even doing a move, I was setting a move up. I said, “oh, he’s biting hard.”
What did your teammates say about that first shoe?
Man, my teammates used to destrrrroy me my first year about these shoes. Like, after every game — I promise you — my whole sock would be red, bloody, from this [toe] part of the shoe. I called Todd and said, “You’ve got to do something about these shoes, man [laughs]. I’m bleeding every game.” I mean, they’re sitting there joking the hell out of me — “you got that contract, but they got you payin’ for it [laughs]. You gonna earn that damn money.”
Krinsky: [Laughing] Who was saying that? Weatherspoon? Coleman?
Man, DC [Derrick Coleman], Mark Davis — I mean, they used to kill me — Lucious Harris.
Do you still watch a lot of NBA games?
Is it tough?
Yeah, yeah. I mean especially when I know I can do what I do. I know I can play. Am I as quick and as fast as I was 15 years ago? Who is? I think the hardest time I’m having with it is being healthy like this. I ain’t never been to where don’t nothing hurt, don’t nothing bother me. I wish there was a season where I was playing and didn’t have no aches, no pains, no bruises, no nothing. Just feeling like this right now, I would love the opportunity to do it.
Reebok VP Todd Krinsky has been with the company for two decades, his official title has him in charge of Classics, Entertainment and Basketball. But for much of those two decades, he was basically VP in charge of Allen Iverson. Which basically meant missing holidays, weekends, and countless hours of sleep. As one of the first people at Reebok to believe in AI, he's been a member of the inner circle since the beginning. So as Iverson's products go from performance to Classics, there is no better person alive to manage the transition. And he's got stories, too.
What do you remember from that first campaign?
The thing for me, I was new to it, I’d only been with the company for a few years, the company in general wasn’t used to this, the signature business in general. We didn’t have a lot of athletes, this was our first real guy. Shaq never really was like — we had a lot of shoes, but they were never really huge commercial successes. AI was the first one, we didn’t really know how to react to like 5,000 kids from different urban areas just buying the shoe. We didn’t know. And we didn’t really know how to ramp up for it. So then after the first 5,000, then we started to make the mass one to go all over the country. It was really new for the company. What I remember it was just a totally new experience — we hadn’t really reached that consumer in the past, AI was really the first time we reached that urban consumer. And they were buying the shoe, people really liked the style of the shoe and obviously the excitement of AI. But it was one of those moments that you can only recreate probably a couple times in your career.
I remember the first meeting, Allen came in, there was kind of like an aura to him.
Were you involved with the first meetings with AI?
The first meeting was — the first first first time we ever met him, I’ll never forget, he was wearing this grey linen suit. Chuck, the first time we ever met him, down in D.C., David Falk’s office. He’s like an hour and a half late, to the first first meeting. We were waiting on him, waiting on him. We had something like that [points to Question prototype, see last image] already going, so we kind of told him “when you were a sophomore at Georgetown we were developing this shoe for you, we want to show it to you,” we didn’t show it to him at the first meeting, we showed it to him the second meeting, but I remember the first meeting, he came in, there was kind of like an aura to him. He had a presence. He walked into the room and it was like he had this swagger and he had this cachet right away. It wasn’t something he tried. He’s got this thing, you know? You could tell right away. That was the first meeting, the second meeting we showed him the prototype, he really liked it, we made some changes to it. But there was so much craziness around him in the beginning because there was so much anticipation, it was Philly, and it was like so much controversy over the pick. There was so much going on — and there was the crew, the excitement of being from VA and playing in D.C. and going to Philly. That doesn’t happen a lot. And then his size. All those things made him this incredible cultural phenomenon before he even played.
Why bring back the shoe now?
I think one of the main reasons, as you guys know — you’re one of the reasons for it probably — ‘90s sport is just trending so incredibly high with kids, everyone’s talking about what shoes to bring back. We’ve brought this back a couple times, but we’ve never really brought it back with him involved, and bringing Swizz in, and bringing you guys in to talk about it, talk about discussions of what it represents to a new generation of kids. The timing is really right to do it, and…
It’s the first time we’ve done it in this kind of capacity, and obviously there’s some other stuff coming out around the shoes. But I think the timing, to do it in the way we’re doing it, in the original colorways, with him involved — he’s a lot more engaged now, a lot more understanding of his legacy now than he was. If we had said “hey, we’re bringing back the Question” three or four years ago he probably would have been like, “all right, cool.” Now he wants to talk about it, he wants to know are we doing a girls colorway, he wants to be involved more, he wants to know what the plans are. Are we selling it outside the U.S.? He’s more aware of his legacy in the shoe game than he was when he was playing. And I think that also helps because him being here today, he likes to talk about the stuff, he likes to hang out and just talk.
Are you aiming for people who grew up watching him play to get another shot at it or…
I think there’s a little bit of that, but I think more of the lion’s share of what we’re hoping — and why we’re selling it to a Foot Locker and bigger chains — is because I think we think there’s this generation of kids like 16, 17 that are just into the whole ‘90s trend, their older siblings talked about it, they knew who AI was. They probably haven’t seen him play that much, but it’s this generation of kids who are aware of ‘90s sport and and all the athletes that came before the generation of LeBron and guys they’re watching now.
That’s the funny part is he did wear Jordans when he was a kid, is it that the ghilly lacing was a thing then, or was there a more cognizant thought of “oh, Allen is wearing the Jordan XI a lot so…”
No, it wasn’t really — it was more we were trying to bring some familiarity to the shoe in general with different elements, but there was no like, look to something. We didn’t say ‘OK, he likes Jordans, let’s try to make him comfortable.’ Our goal was to make things that were really going to stand out on the court. Things that were — we felt he was all about speed. One thing that we met originally with David Falk they really wanted to create this image of him as speed standing still — he was speed, they were going to try and do a phone company, a water company, and Reebok, and have them all speak about the speed and fluidity of Allen Iverson. So we were just trying to create product that gave that incredible speed look, whether it was the flashy toe or the big graphics. Some shoes did it better than others.
Going with Reebok was gonna allow Allen to be the face of the brand.
Was the Question design started before Allen was even a thought? Was it a shoe that would have happened no matter what?
Nope. In November of his sophomore year, Reebok was talking of signing another player, and myself and this guy named Scott Hewett who was the original designer and Que [Gaskins] went to Scott’s house, in his living room, and Scott’s just a great designer but not a basketball guy. So we took everything we could find who Allen Iverson was at the time — which wasn’t a lot, because it was ’95. You couldn’t just go print a bunch of shit off Google. It was like how the fuck do you get all this information? How do you take a really talented young designer and bring him into the world of who Allen Iverson is? And so we tried to do our best. We took his living room over and made it into this whole shrine basically, everything we could find of who he was, and then he started sketching. And we talked about things like an iconic element, and we talked about kind of speed lace, we talked about what would the logo be, we explained to him what “the Answer” means, and then there was all these questions about Allen at the time, “will he go pro?” and “if he does is he too small?” so that’s what the Q on the back came from. That was built with Allen in mind, we were gonna go after Allen. There were some boardroom meetings, I’ll never forget, with some of the upper management people, and I was real young at the time, but “why this guy?” “why do we need this guy” “there’s gonna be so many guys coming out, why this guy?” and there were just a couple of us convinced he was gonna be a game changer given his style, his swagger, what he meant culturally and of course his ability to play at that level in an exciting way, so we pushed it, pushed it. But there were a lot of questions along the way whether he was the right guy, and do we need to really go so hard because Nike was gonna want him, and coach Thompson was on the board at Nike, and we were up against a lot — David Falk had him and Michael, so we were like holy shit, this is not gonna be an easy one. But Allen also had conviction, when he sits here and talks he has the confidence and he wanted to set himself apart, he wanted to be different. And I think going with a brand like Reebok was gonna allow him to be the face of the brand.
Did you have a plan B?
You know, somebody asked me that like last week, and I don’t think we did at the time. I don’t really think we did. Not for what we were trying to do in our world. And that’s what we said at the meeting in the boardroom. I remember Paul Fireman, who was definitely interested in Allen, I remember Paul saying in the meeting “why does this have to be the guy?” and we were like “Paul, you have to trust us on this, he’s everything you need in this game,” I’m not saying we’re sitting around the board room as GMs getting ready to make a pick, I’m saying in the world we live in he really relates to kids and he has that swagger…
Would you consider doing an all-new Iverson shoe?
I don’t know. I don’t know. It’s interesting — I think we’d have to really have a story behind it, like what does it represent so it’s perceived as being something real, versus OK, Reebok needs to do this because they’re trying to figure out their relevance. So I think we have to figure it out. I think what we’re really comfortable doing right now is bringing back his shoes in the right way, with Swizz, with John Wall, having John wear them on court, bringing them back in limited runs and kind of seeing where it goes from there. He would love to be involved in the process again I think, because I think that’s something he misses. He doesn’t miss the 10-hour shoots, you know…
Going back to the Question, I think that shoe probably helped develop a relationship…
No question. There’s no question he had concerns when he first did the deal — I mean, who wouldn’t? You grew up a Nike kid, you grew up wearing Jordan, and all of a sudden now all eyes are on you, there’s all this skepticism around your game, and you go do a deal with Reebok. Clearly there was people waiting to see him fail. And I think when this came out and everyone was talking about it and we did those ads about the shoe and people were running everywhere to get the shoe and they were being told it was sold out, then he’s starting to walk with a little more swagger, he’s like “OK, I made the right decision, these guys do know what they’re doing.” Then the Answer 1 was really strong, the DMX shoe. He built — he started to feel proud, you know? And then, he told you, all the other guys asked to wear his shoes in the League, all the guys that we had wanted to wear Iversons, Baron, and then Mateen Cleaves and Mo Pete wear it to win the championship, he’s just starting to think “I made the right call."