“Typical Allen Iverson,” my friend says with a sigh as he shakes his head over a plate of chicken wings. I shrug. We’re in a dimly-lit dive bar in Philadelphia and A.I. has just canceled on our scheduled interview.

While my friend—who worked with Iverson on a marketing campaign for a Philly-based retailer two years ago—helps me drown my sorrows over the wasted day with pints of beer and baskets of chicken, he recalls his personal experiences dealing with The Answer. Some of his anecdotes are outright unbelievable. Others aren’t surprising at all.

I’d never met Iverson before. Like most casual basketball fans, all I knew about him was what I grew up seeing on television: The ankle-breaking crossover that made the G.O.A.T. momentarily look like a goat. The Reebok commercial where he rapped with Jadakiss over a Trackmasters beat. And, of course, the diatribe about practice. (Iverson later explained that his rant was sparked by the death of his close friend and the fact that he was embroiled in trade talks at the time.)

But opposite those highlight memories are also the tales that my friend and other writers who’ve dealt with Iverson have to tell. It kind of comes with the territory for a rapper to possibly show up four hours late, semi-drunk, with an unexpectedly large entourage. An elite pro athlete whose livelihood mostly depends on being physically disciplined and showing up on time to, well, practice? Not as common. 

Iverson’s reputation precedes him. To me, Iverson didn’t just bring hip-hop to the NBA, he embodied the cross section of the lifestyle we grew up seeing in late ‘90s music videos and sports. Iverson was as much of an ambassador for hip-hop as Shirt Kings, except his spray can and air brush was a durag, arms inked with tattoos, and a hair-trigger shooter's mentality both on the court and with the press.

“That dude battled every night and he had that flair and that creativity,” reigning NBA MVP Steph Curry told me during NBA All-Star Weekend, as he raised his right arm to mimic Allen Iverson’s signature crossover. “I loved watching him play. He was a competitor and fighter.”

Players who shared the court with Iverson in his prime tend to view him differently than how he’s historically been portrayed in the media.

“It was hard for me to play against this guy,” said Shaquille O’Neal, whose Lakers went head-to-head against Iverson’s Sixers in the 2001 NBA Finals. “Usually, I needed to make something up about a person in my mind to play against them. But, I couldn’t do that with [Iverson] because I liked him too much.”

I finally catch up with the elusive Answer in Charlotte, N.C.—where he now resides—during a scheduled photo shoot for Finish Line. The event is for the relaunch of his first signature sneaker—the Reebok Question. The brand, which Iverson has a lifetime endorsement deal with, is dropping 20 different versions of the shoe this year to mark the Question's 20th anniversary.

The call-time for today's shoot is scheduled for 2:00 PM and Iverson walks through the doors at 2:04 PM, catching the camera crew, who expected delays, totally off guard. Iverson makes a beeline for his mark on set and skips out on the Bojangles chicken and Coronas that the company prepared for him and his crew. On this day, The Answer is all about business.

In between takes he peruses through all of the sneakers when one in particular catches his eye—​a yellow and blue colorway that is a totem to his rebellious ways in the early ‘00s. The quick and dirty version of the story is that Iverson was meant to wear the yellow sneaker in his first All-Star game, but refused because he was getting roasted in the locker room by fellow All-Stars for having to take the the court in such a brightly-colored shoe (This was the year 2000 when players actually matched the colors of their sneakers to their uniform). Despite pleas at the time from his manager at Reebok, who hyped up the sneaker with retailers across the country and even enlisted Iverson’s own mom to plead Reebok’s case for him to wear the shoe, the player was not about to put his pride on the line. 

“I probably cost Reebok a lot of money that day,” Iverson says with a laugh as he picks up the yellow sneaker. “I was not having it.” 

Such is the gift and the curse of Allen Iverson. Adored by millions for living life like an open book while nevertheless struggling to balance the volatility of that life.