A packed room awaits Allen Iverson at a studio a few minutes outside of uptown Charlotte, North Carolina. His arrival ignites a flurry of activity among the filming crew. They have been waiting to capture the diminutive guard who helped merge the NBA with hip-hop through his brashness, his style and, of course, his killer crossover. "He changed everything," Carmelo Anthony once told B/R. "An entire generation owes him."
Today, seven years after his last NBA game, Iverson walks into the crowded studio silently, wearing a long white T-shirt and white hat. He is 41 now but still looks like he could drop 20 points a night. (He'd probably say 30.) Iverson's cornrows are tucked beneath the hat, and a sparkling chain dangles from his neck.
Someone asks him to take it off.
"I didn't have no jewelry?" he asks and hands the necklace to his manager.
It's been almost 15 years since Iverson sat down for that press conference, and now he's re-enacting it for a commercial shoot. For the record: Yes, he was talking about practice, but no, he wasn't wearing any jewelry that day.
A few easy takes in, and it looks like Iverson might Jay Z his way through the commercial shoot. But it's hard to summon the fire of the original press conference. See, now, it's funny to him, too. He is retired and in the Hall of Fame. He can laugh at the memory.
After his last shot, Iverson joined B/R Mag for an exclusive discussion on his MVP choice in a crowded field, the state of today's NBA and his reaction to Tim Hardaway's allegation that the crossover is his move.
B/R Mag: Who's your MVP?
Allen Iverson: Russ.
Iverson: I just think he's headed to doing something that we never thought would happen again [in averaging a triple-double throughout a season].
B/R: Can you break down the MVP candidates?
Iverson: [Kawhi Leonard]'s the best two-way player in the league, plays the game the right way. Well, if you play with Pop [Gregg Popovich], then you're going to play the game the right way anyways. But he does everything on the floor to help his team win. Right there in the MVP race. In any other season, I think him or James [Harden]—LeBron [James], you could give it to him every year.
But this year, it's just one of those years for Westbrook, and we should cherish it and love it for what it is, because we never thought this would happen again, just like we never thought nobody will score 100 points like Wilt [Chamberlain] again.
It's one of them years like you're supposed to give that to him hands down with the great season those guys are having. I mean, Isaiah [Thomas] has been playing the way he's been playing. [Kevin] Durant's been playing the way he's been playing. A lot of guys are having MVP seasons, but this guy's just having a special season.
B/R: Your last NBA game came in 2010. Have you been able to take a step back and appreciate how you helped transform it?
Iverson: Yeah, I look at it now, because I look at guys' appearance on the court and the things they're enabled to do. I basically took a butt-whupping for it, but it made me feel good about it, being that they were able to express themselves the way they want to now. You know what I mean?
When I did it, everybody sent everybody into an uproar. So, now that these guys are doing it nowadays, it's normal.
B/R: Have you liked how the game has evolved aesthetically?
Iverson: Yeah, I love our game. People, they have their different opinions on it, have their different gripes about the game, but I love the way it's headed, especially all of the new talent. The older guys still being around and blending into what these new guys got going on, I think it's still fun. It's still exciting to me.
B/R: A big storyline that developed throughout the season centered around players sitting out games to rest. Where do you stand on the issue?
Iverson: To each his own. If coaches feel that that's the best way for them to succeed, then that's what you do. [Gregg] Popovich has been doing it for a while, and it's been successful for those guys. But for someone like me, it's something that I could never do, because I love to play so much. I just feel like I can rest once the game is over or rest me the next day at practice. (laughs)
I wouldn't have approved of missing no games. Me and my coaches would have had a big problem, but I definitely understand everything that Durant was saying as far as the superstar players, and other players are able to do it and it gets swept under the rug.
But like I said, to each his own, and the way our game is going, I love it and I don't have a problem with any of it.
B/R: What was your mindset coming into the league back in 1996?
Iverson: I was excited about it, because I knew that nobody could stop me one-on-one. I'm thinking going through box-and-ones and zones, two-threes and three-twos, through college was frustrating for me. They're going to run a zone and then got a man chasing me around the whole time.
I felt like once I got into the league, without them being able to do that, that I would be able to score when I felt like it, and that's how it was until all of a sudden they changed to zone for some reason, because you can't stop the 6-foot guy, the little guy on the court. So, they implicated a zone to try and slow me down.
B/R: One of your signature moments involved crossing over Michael Jordan some 20 years ago. Do you remember what was going through your mind as you made the move?
Iverson: I don't think I thought about anything. I just knew he was guarding me. I just wanted to put my move to the test on the greatest player to ever play—that ever played the game. I didn't think about it when it happened. I didn't realize what had been done until the aftermath.
ESPN's and my teammates talking about it and my family and friends calling me and talking about it. I was just playing basketball. It was just a basketball reaction.
B/R: Walk me through a perfect crossover.
Iverson: You just make them think you going one way and you got to sell the move going that way and you've got to really make them think that you're going that way and they're going the other way.
When it ends up ultimately being a perfect crossover is when you shake them so bad that they can't even get back into the play to play defense. You're already gone. That's what I think the perfect one is to where a teammate of his has to stop you from scoring.
B/R: Have we seen your best crossover, or did it happen in a pickup game somewhere that was never filmed?
Iverson: I've done so many that might be on film, but obviously you gotta make the shot. I've done some to where a person will fall down or the whole crowd ‘Ohhh,' and then you get so excited about hitting them with the move that you don't concentrate as much on making the shot. You don't make the shot, it don't make the highlights.
B/R: Did you hear what Tim Hardaway said about your crossover?
"I'm going to tell you this and I tell everybody this: Allen Iverson carried the basketball," Hardaway told NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper. "I had the original killer crossover and people are doing my move. They're not doing Allen Iverson's move. They're not doing nobody else's move. They're still trying to perfect my move as the killer crossover and it's my move, all right? That's the way it is. I brought a unique style to the game."
Iverson: Yeah, I heard about it.
B/R: Any response?
Iverson: I carried my crossover all the way into the Hall of Fame. So, there you go.
B/R: Kawhi Leonard is one of the only players still rocking cornrows. Any surprise that more players aren't wearing the style you helped introduce into the league?
Iverson: I mean, with me, it's just how I like my hair. It don't matter about it being in style or this, that or the third. I don't want to cut my hair low. I like my hair long. I see other guys doing that. I see [Andrew] Wiggins do it last night. He had the fishbones in his head. But everything comes back around.
You never thought Louis Vuitton and Gucci and all that other stuff would come back. You know what I mean? And now it's one of the highest brands there is out. Everything just comes right back into circulation. Baggy jeans might come back out again. Might be a while, but they might.
B/R: Do you finally see a light at the end of the tunnel for your Sixers?
Iverson: Hell yeah. Man, we just got the No. 1 pick [Ben Simmons]. [Joel] Embiid showed what he can do this year. We've got other role-playing guys on that squad and I be at a lot of games. And they lose a lot of games. They don't get blown out a lot of games like they had been in the past, and that's when you can see the growth.
They have a great coach in Brett Brown, and the atmosphere is always good there, because Sixer fans love basketball. You've just got to be patient with them. Our best player is hurt. Embiid went through injuries all season after not playing in a couple seasons. So, you add that veteran presence, a couple guys that been there, done that, know the ropes, and you put them with that young talent, the sky's the limit for us.
Jonathan Abrams is a senior writer for B/R Mag. A former staff writer at Grantland and sports reporter at the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, Abrams is also the best-selling author of Boys Among Men: How the Prep-to-Pro Generation Redefined the NBA and Sparked a Basketball Revolution. Follow him on Twitter: @jpdabrams.