In a Q&A session last week, director Steve James revealed that the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, “No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson” wasn't really about “The Answer" but the Hampton, Virginia community’s reaction to the search for answers about the bowling alley brawl and trial that landed its brightest star athlete in prison.
The Oscar-nominated director of "Hoop Dreams" took questions for an hour after a screening of his ESPN 30 for 30 documentary as part of the Master Class series running at Maysles Cinema in New York City.
Joyce Hobson—one of the organizers of SWIS, a group that fought for Iverson’s release from prison—said in the film, “It is important for African-Americans to tell their stories. [White people] cannot paint our stories for us.... We lived it!”
Since Iverson tweeted about his own documentary film shortly after “No Crossover” was released, I wanted to know what James thought the differences would be between his documentary and Iverson’s.
James said that he’s aware Iverson’s manager Gary Moore has been trying to make the film and he thought that the trailer released online looked terrific, but the real challenge was going to be for the film to be candid.
According to James, one big difference is that Moore’s film, “Deconstructing Allen Iverson," would be all about Iverson while “No Crossover” was about the Hampton community’s response to Iverson.
James said another difference was that he wasn't sure whether Iverson’s own film would be critical of him. As an example James said he heard that an interview for “Deconstructing Allen Iverson” with Jim Spencer was canceled when it became clear that the local newspaper reporter was critical of Iverson.
None of Iverson’s family members were featured in the film. James explained that ESPN really wanted Iverson to be in the documentary, but he could not get him on camera. They contacted Iverson’s manager Gary Moore and his agent Leon Rose, but both refused.
James said he was surprised that Moore allowed him to film Iverson’s basketball camp in Hampton for the documentary, since he refused to consent for an interview on camera.
The director also said he tried several times to contact Iverson’s mother to be interviewed for “No Crossover” but she did not want to be a part of the film either.
She did see the film at a screening in Hampton and called the director afterwards asking that he remove a scene where Iverson’s high school football coach said AI told him he was at a drug dealer’s house buying drugs for his mom. Iverson’s mother said she never asked her son to buy drugs for her.
That scene was originally used in the film because James was told a similar story from a private investigator who was hired by the Philadelphia 76ers to check Iverson’s background before the 1996 draft. However, he said a friend of the family told him the scene should be taken out because he did not believe it was true. After speaking with Iverson’s mother, James decided to remove the scene before the film aired on ESPN.
James said he could see Iverson telling that story to his high school football coach to get out of trouble, but he also believed his mother’s claim that it was not true.
Finally, James said he believed Iverson was guilty of injuring a woman in the brawl at the bowling alley but does not believe it was intentional and thought his sentence was unjust.
When he posed the same question to the audience, one-third thought he was innocent, another third thought he was guilty and the remaining third was unsure.
Iverson will always be remembered as “The Answer” on the court, but question seem to dominate the discussion of him off-the-court.