On a hot day in late September, Allen Iverson arrived at the Boys & Girls Club of the Virginia Peninsula, just minutes away from his hometown of Newport News. Ever the superstar, but uniquely approachable, the former NBA MVP was back where he began piecing together what would become a Hall of Fame basketball career. This wasn’t just any day for Iverson, it was a work day—he’s back on board as a pitchman for Reebok and has a brand new signature sneaker, the Iverson Legacy, that launches on Nov. 17. He has ambitious goals for the line moving forward too.
“I want it to have the same longevity as Jordans. You know what I mean? The bar is very high and I know that,” says Iverson. “But why would you want anything else? You gotta want to be like the best and that's what it is.”
Iverson has looked up to his childhood hero Michael Jordan since he first picked up a basketball at eight years old. There aren’t any professional sports teams in southern Virginia, so anyone who grew up in the area would have likely been drawn to who or what they saw on television and magazines. In the late ‘80s and throughout the ‘90s, all you saw was Jordan, and as Iverson stated in his 2016 Hall of Fame speech, he wanted to be like Mike.
His first professional encounter with Jordan took place on November 2, 1996, at the United Center in Chicago. Iverson recalls the surreal nature of taking the court with his idol for the first time, describing seeing a Jordan with a “glow” surrounding him.
"I was a fan. That's what I've always been. I'm thinking he's glowing. I'm looking down and I'm like damn he got on the Jordans. The wristband on and all that,” he says. “And I'm looking at all that, because that was my guy, that was my hero. But once they threw that ball in the air, you're going to remember 23 tonight like you always have, but when you leave here, you're going to remember number, 3 too.”
Iverson put up a modest 15-point outing in a lopsided loss to the eventual champions.
Four months later, a more-seasoned version of Iverson matched up against Jordan for the third time, resulting in one of the all-time most memorable plays in league history. In the fourth quarter of a game against the Bulls in Philly, Iverson was met by Jordan at the top of the key, then proceeded to shake him with two crossover dribbles and make the shot. The moment not only put Iverson on the map, but also provided a signature moment for the Reebok Question and his line.
"I always knew that once I got to the league that I was going to try my move on the best,” he says. “So he was just a victim that night."
While Jordan is the bar is signature sneaker marketing, Iverson is a bar in his own right. His run of 15 official signature models over a 22-year span, along with several team-inspired models, hybrids, lifestyle options, and apparel is unprecedented outside of the Nike/Jordan Brand umbrella. The earliest models from the line held their own against what many describe as the golden age of sneakers in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. Now, as Reebok lacks presence on NBA hardwood, the Answer is once again being tapped to reignite the brand’s fire in the basketball market.
Following the somewhat quiet release of the Answer 14 in 2014, Iverson’s line went dormant, limited to re-releases of classics such as the Question, Answer 1, and Answer 4. In part, the Answer 14 was hurt by the absence of Iverson’s public co-sign. That’s not the case with Reebok’s latest effort for its most prominent signature athlete: the Iverson Legacy.
Purposely reminiscent of the earliest days of Iverson’s signature line, the Iverson Legacy is a hybrid designed by the I3 team with input from Iverson himself. The model features recognizable elements from the Question and first four Answer models fused into its design. According to Iverson, the idea was to jump back into the signature sneaker market with a product that reminds fans of the shoes they fell in love with in the first place.
“I feel like, for us being on a hiatus like that, once you come back with the next shoe, it's gotta be special,” says Iverson. “It's gotta be something different, but somewhat the same. That's how I felt.”
The Iverson Legacy doesn’t mark a departure from the Answer series. Instead, it’s meant to act as somewhat of a bridge, connecting the first 14 models to a new era of Iverson signature sneakers that will follow.
“That's the comeback shoe, and then from here on out, every shoe has its own thing,” he says. “Has its own agenda. Has its own personality. Has its own look and style. And it has nothing to do with the rest of the shoes.”
Like Jordan, the challenge for Iverson now is to deliver and market a signature product as a retired athlete. Without his own feedback from 82-plus games of basketball each season, Iverson is leaning more on his I3 design team, while also making sure not to stray too far away from the concepts that made Answer models successful.
“I've seen big men and little guys be comfortable with the shoe. So obviously all those years we were doing something right. I think the most important thing is what they fell in love with, you're bringing it back,” he says. “There were some years where there weren't any Iverson shoes, so now you bring that one back. You see how everybody feels about it. And then we keep doing what we've been doing.”
Iverson is no stranger to embracing fresh concepts to market his sneakers. Throughout the 2000s he and Reebok famously infused street-based hip hop into Answer advertising campaigns, most famously pairing him with rapper Jadakiss for a series of commercials promoting Answers 5 and 6. Nowadays, it’s commonplace to not only see rappers featured in campaigns, but starring in campaigns of their own, a strategy Iverson is on board with only if the partnerships are authentic.
“Depends on the way you do it, how you approach it, and if the idea makes you comfortable. Not doing because you seen Allen Iverson doing it and it was successful—you gotta believe and want to do it,” he says. “I think long as as it's original and whatever the company is, is backing you to do it your way, man. Sky's the limit.”
For now, the Iverson Legacy and its marketing is all about Iverson, who takes center stage for a new campaign that will not only feature his new sneaker, but is said to include apparel and accessories to round out a true lifestyle collection like Reebok has produced in years past.
Reebok’s willingness to let Iverson do things his way is a large part of the reason the game-changing partnership is still running 22 years after the initial pact was signed. From his family and friends, to his teams, to his fans, Iverson’s unwavering loyalty has always been part of his story. His commitment to those committed to him explains why his relationship with the brand that handed him the keys in 1996 is as strong as ever.
“This is where I started. It just wouldn't feel right being with somebody else, unless it was me manufacturing it, me making and producing them and putting them out as Iverson. I just think it's important because I have flashbacks of the relationship and how great it was. The ups and downs, the success, and I can't remember any failures.”
For Iverson, who makes it clear that he’s completely hands on with I3, re-establishing himself as a signature athlete marks a new, but familiar, challenge. Though no longer on the court, he still finds himself chasing his childhood idol. And like the 21-year old who went right at the G.O.A.T. and put him on skates in 1997, Iverson refuses to back down, pursuing greatness the same way he always has: trying to be like Mike.