The 1996 NBA Draft is considered one of the best of all time. In fact, it might be the best of all time. Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Ray Allen, Antoine Walker, Marcus Camby, Stephon Marbury, Derek Fisher – the list goes on.
That’s a lot of MVP awards, a lot of NBA championships and a lot of All-Star appearances.
Well, there was also another noteworthy pick in that draft – the No. 1 overall pick, Allen Iverson.
“I just remember having all my family and friends there – a lot of high-fives, a lot of crying, a lot of emotion,” the former NBA MVP said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “It just felt like it was time. All the hard work and dedication I put in to get up to that point – and just to be picked period was a blessing for me. It didn’t even have to be No. 1. Being where I come from and be able to say I was an NBA basketball player, that was special.”
Yes, for many players, getting drafted is the beginning of their story. For Iverson, however, it was in many ways a culmination, in part because he almost didn’t pursue basketball as a profession.
“Football is always going to be my No. 1 sport,” said Iverson, who as a high school junior led both his football and basketball teams to state championships. “It was my first love. Obviously if things went another way, I probably would have ended up playing football instead of basketball, but God got his way of doing things.”
Iverson was incarcerated in high school following an incident at a bowling alley but was granted clemency. Born to a teenage mother, he went on to have an All-American career at Georgetown and was the top pick in the draft despite being 6-0.
He had quite a journey.
“A lot of people say, ‘You didn’t win a ring’ and things like that,” Iverson said. “Yes, I wanted to win a ring. That’s what I was in it for. But the things that I accomplished – coming from where I came from and all the circumstances – I was blessed to be able to do the things I’ve done in the NBA, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
Iverson would like to share his story – and he will. Showtime will air “Iverson,” a documentary, this Saturday, May 16, at 9 p.m. ET.
“There’ll be a lot of things, a lot of questions, answered – a lot of things that people thought they knew about me, but don’t,” Iverson said. “This is real. It’s deep and it’s me telling it my way and letting people see things they never thought they would see.”
Yes, you’ll hear about the 11 All-Star appearances, four scoring championships and countless other accolades, but you’ll get more than that. You’ll get memories and insights, some of which Iverson shared with Doug Gottlieb.
Iverson, 39, still remembers the first time he saw somebody wearing his shoes. It was a little boy. Iverson, who was driving, pulled over and just watched the child until he walked out of sight.
“It was just so crazy to me to see a kid with my shoes on,” Iverson said, “because I used to be that kid.”
While Iverson’s NBA highlight reel could be its own YouTube channel, he is best known, perhaps, for crossing over Michael Jordan – not once, but twice – and then sticking a jumper from the free-throw line over Jordan’s outstretched hand.
It was 1997. The Bulls were on their way to a 69-win season and a fifth NBA title in seven years. Iverson, a rookie, was on his way to superstardom.
“I remember walking on the court and I’m looking at him, and he didn’t look real,” said Iverson, who grew up revering Jordan. “You’ve seen the Rick James on Chappelle Show? I saw his aura. He didn’t look real to me. I’m looking at him, and I see the shorts and I’m looking at him like, ‘Those are the real Jordan’s! He got ’em on!’”
Iverson was 21 years old.
“I remember (the play) like it was yesterday,” he said, “but only after the fact – because when it happened, I was just playing. I didn’t even realize what I did until after the game, in the aftermath of everything. And then when I got the response from everybody and seeing it on ESPN and everything, that’s when I knew what I had done. But I was just playing basketball. It was just a reaction. It was like any other play.”
Iverson said that Jordan, a notorious trash-talker, never said anything to him about the play, which Gottlieb found surprising. Gottlieb remembers LaBradford Smith scoring 31 points against Jordan once and telling reporters afterward that he got the better of His Airness. Well, the next time Jordan faced Smith, he scored 31 points as well – in the first half. And then he told Smith to never tell anyone he got the best of him again.
“Trust me, I never got the best of him,” Iverson said. “I think we beat them one time out of my whole career. That’s Mike, man. That’s why the play is so monumental. That’s why it’s so great. That’s why everybody remembers it because it’s him. I crossed (over) a million people and it wasn’t a big deal. Just because it was Mike, that’s what made it everything.”