SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Allen Iverson continues to keep people on their toes — years after retiring and the day before being inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Iverson was absent from the class of 2016 introductory press conference Thursday afternoon, where it was announced he would be in attendance Friday for the ceremony. Instead of missing the entire day, Iverson unexpectedly showed up during the breakout media availability.
"Personal situation, family," he said, continuing, “that’s the first thing you want to know about things? God, man. Why can’t it just be great, man? Why can’t it be a monumental moment?”
Iverson made up for lost time by answering a wide range of questions with thought and consideration, and concluded the interview session with a tearful reflection.
With all that happening on the eve of the induction, what can be expected from Iverson at the ceremony Friday night?
Iverson will be presented by a trio of Hall of Famers: former Sixers head coach Larry Brown, Sixers great Julius Erving and former Georgetown head coach John Thompson (see story). For his own opportunity to address the crowd, Iverson said he will outline a speech to acknowledge those who helped him. Judging by how sentimental he has been leading up to the ceremony, expect all emotions to be out in the open once he takes the stage.
Here are six other highlights of Iverson's arrival in Springfield:
Realizing the significance
Iverson looked unshakeable on the basketball court. For someone so cool in big moments, the enormity of the Hall of Fame ceremony has gotten to him at times.
"I think the hardest part leading to all of this is pressure being on me for no reason," he said. "You’ve got all those people that you love asking you, ‘Are you nervous?’ and ‘Are you ready?’ and this, that and the third. It makes it harder when they say that because it adds that much more tension to it.”
His achievement for the keeping
Iverson came under scrutiny during his career. He frequently attributes his success to those around him who provided support and encouragement. As for those who didn’t, Iverson says their words and opinions can’t touch this esteemed honor.
“I can’t tell you how many — because I don’t know — but how many nights I cried from criticism and people critiquing everything about me and my life and the choices that I made and the mistakes that I made," he said. "To be able to say after all of that, still to be recognized as one of the best ever to play the game was, and it still is, just a great moment for me, my family, my friends, my teammates, my coaches. I just think it’s the best. And especially my fans. You know me. The real true ones. The ones that never gave up and never felt that I wasn’t who in my heart I know I am (see story).
“All of the people that criticized everything about what I've done in my career, they can't take this from me, all the barbershop talk and all that stuff. The ones that support me can always say, ‘This guy was immortalized by being a Hall of Famer.’”
Getting choked up
There was time for one last question in Thursday's media availability, and the topic caused Iverson to pause and wipe away tears: teamwork.
"The only thing that got me here is my teammates and my coaches. That's the only reason I'm here," he said. "All those guys sacrificed their games and sacrificed different things for me to be honored like this. Without them, it wouldn't have happened. Without my coaches putting me in a position to succeed, Mike Bailey did it on my high school level, Coach [John] Thompson did it on a college level and Larry Brown molded me into an MVP and Hall of Fame player. Without those guys, I wouldn’t be here."
Dressing the part
Iverson never has been one to conform to the latest trends. In fact, he set his own style and has stuck with it over the years. But being inducted into the Hall of Fame comes with a bit of a uniform — a specially designed orange suit coat by Haggar. One he wore with his navy Yankees hat and layered gold chains.
"I’m uncomfortable," Iverson said with a laugh. "But this is a jacket, when it comes to suits, I would always remember and cherish because of the significance of it."
Still thinking of gold
Iverson was a member of the 2004 men’s basketball team that underwhelmed in Olympic competition, winning bronze. He looked forward to returning in 2008, especially coming off of a standout season, but was left off the squad. Years later, it is a topic that still gets to him.
“That was a very touchy situation for me because when everybody didn't end up going, me and Tim Duncan went," Iverson said. "We went to represent our country. That's no shot at the guys that didn't go. I totally understand why they didn't. … When they had the next Olympics, as great of a season as I had, arguably one of the best seasons I had as an NBA player, I wasn't invited to go. That's something that I wouldn't say it hurt me to this day because I don't lose sleep over it, but the acknowledgement is there and the hurt will exist because that is a team I felt I should have been on. I should be saying, ‘I have a gold medal’ at 41 years old.”
Eyeing the end zone
Growing up, Iverson envisioned himself becoming a Hall of Fame-caliber talent. Only he didn't picture himself reaching this level in basketball. Iverson thought he would be setting records on the football field, a topic he said he was glad to talk about ahead of the induction ceremony.
“The craziest feeling that I have is the fact that when I have my conversation with God, to me, in my heart — and people can vouch for this — I thought I was the greatest football player that God ever created," Iverson said. "I honestly think that. I say to myself, and I have conversations with Him, like, ‘And I’m in the Hall of Fame for being a basketball player?’ If I thought that he gave me all the talent in the world for being a football player and thought I was on my way to the NFL, had all the tools and recruited by every team in the whole country, and I end up at the end of the day being a basketball player? That’s why I know God loves me.”