I don’t remember the first time I saw him, but I do remember when he etched a spot in my heart. It was 1997, and a diminutive young man, Allen Iverson, broke the ankles of the God of Basketball Michael Jordan.
This week AI was announced as one of the 2016 Naismith Hall of Fame finalists. For many seeing him reach this milestone is a God dream. This is everything. It’s especially heartwarming for the culture as AI was/is hip-hop when it wasn’t as profitable as it is today. We watched as commentators and journalists demonized him and called him everything but a man because he wore cornrows, jewelry, and tattoos. He was the snowball that started the avalanche that became the NBA’s “dress code.” But we saw us in him. He was the bridge that connected hip-hop and basketball. He was the hood makes good. And we loved him for it.
When I get my hair braided I can say “give me some AI’s” and my braider knows exactly what I mean. That’s cultural relevance the likes of which most will never see. I can only speak for myself, but for me AI was unabashedly and unapologetically black. I love that. If there were ever any question please see the above picture. Seriously, his mama braided his hair during a game. That’s hall of fame worthy in my eyes uncontested.
Also this move. So simple but so disrespectful.
AI gave us everything he had. When he played he was loyal and dedicated to the game. He was honest albeit to his own detriment with the press. He was always one hunnid emoji with us. He was a cultural icon. He didn’t belong to anyone else. He was ours.
Plenty of people have said he could have been bigger, played longer, ended his career more ceremoniously had he just had a “better attitude” or was more of a “team player, but AI was just AI. He was a comet. If you didn’t see it, you missed it. And the likelihood you’ll see it again in your lifetime is doubtful.
Of course there were missteps along the way. Even he would admit to mistakes in hindsight, but he made it. Regardless of the negatives, roadblocks, and obstacles. He made it.
And now 20 years later I wish him comfort. I wish him contentedness. He’s earned it.