Allen Iverson remains a cultural lodestone for the NBA. But he still thinks of himself as a regular guy, and carries himself that way. If you've ever had the chance to talk with him, it's apparent—despite all the punditry's pontificating in the late '90s and early aughts about the tattoos, durag, cornrows, hip-hop lyrics and baggy clothing—he's not wearing much of Paul Laurence Dunbar's mask. This genuine realness is a big part of his appeal, and also the theme of his first Players' Tribune piece, entitled simply "Allen."
There's a lot to digest in the long essay, with anecdotes about Georgetown's John Thompson saving Allen from the ignominy of playing in front of a ridiculously racist sign; choosing Reebok over Nike; Philadelphia's Process; what Meek Mill means to the city of Brotherly Love (Meek feels the same way about AI); the movie Heat and how it overlaps with the reaction from the media about his clothes; plus, so much more. You should read the whole thing.
But there's one story AI brought up about Michael Jordan we hadn't really heard before, except as an aside from an NBA interloper years ago. He told the story because "I’m hearing a lot of people these days fronting like they have LeBron over Mike!!" The story exemplifies to AI—and since we're a part of his generation, to us as well—why "Mike is the GOAT...Mike is always going to be the GOAT."
It's set at the 2003 All-Star Game in Atlanta, which would be MJ's last. Iverson rocked "those classic MJ throwbacks" because "I'm wanting to pay tribute to my man," he writes. So he brings home the throwback and cuts out the Nike swoosh off because he's "a Reebok man," before putting it on along with a Bulls fitted. When he gets to Phillips Arena, he wants to find Mike to show his outfit off; he's looking everywhere and can't find him. No one knows where he's at. "Then finally I make my way to the coaches’ office," AI writes. "Figure they’d have to know where the man is. Open the door...But there’s no coaches in there. It’s just Mike."
This section perfectly illustrates why Iverson connects so deeply with basketball heads while simultaneously revealing why, for a certain generation of basketball fan, MJ can never be surpassed as the GOAT; he's just too damn cold-blooded:
It’s just Mike, and man…It’s Mike, and he’s got his uniform on...and he’s in one of those reclining desk chairs, leaning back in that thing like he doesn’t have a CARE in the WORLD. In the world. Got his feet kicked up like he’s on some beach! And then to top it all off?? He’s smoking one of those big-ass Mike cigars. [...]
ARE YOU SERIOUS!! Man, I think I’m a cool guy. I’m alright. But Mike is the only person I ever—I mean ever—met who can be so effortless in his cool that he leaves this...GLOW. It’s almost like I’ll remember the details about that moment and then I’ll get worked up from remembering it, just thinking about how cool that man is, you know what I’m saying?? I mean...He’s smoking a CIGAR, with his UNIFORM on…before the NBA ALL-STAR GAME. And man, he’s in the COACHES’ OFFICE...You’re smoking your big-ass cigar in the coaches’ office...You run EV-ER-Y-THING!!
That's the abridged story AI wrote to explain why he thinks MJ's the GOAT, no matter what LeBron or anyone else does on a basketball court. For most of Generation Z, younger millennial fans, and the white, Baby Boomer sportswriters who derided AI as selfish and a thug for much of his career, they will certainly decry the lack of actual basketball evidence in the yarn AI spun about MJ. But they just don't get it, not like Iverson.
Michael Jordan was the maddest motherfucker on the planet, and AI captured that truth perfectly with his tale.