I grew up outside sports-crazy Philadelphia in the ‘70’s, and when it came to the NBA 76ers, as crazy as it got was “Dr. J” Julius Erving.
Of course, I had not seen Allen Iverson.
He would come onto the Philly sports scene years later – Reeboks, tattoos, hip-hop culture and more — and emerge as one of the greatest sports stars of a generation – and one of their most troubled, reportedly blowing a lot of his $154 million fortune on gambling, jewelry, fancy cars and who knows what else.
“Philadelphia Daily News” sports writer Stan Hochman seemed to capture both sides of him in a 2009 column.
Hochman wrote of the good: “People love Iverson because he’s small, yet willing to dart among the fierce giants. Gets knocked down, picks himself up, pinballs back into the fray. Everybody under 6-2 adores him, which accounts for a big portion of the population.”
And Hochman wrote of the bad (& the ugly): “Uh-huh, the same Allen Iverson who broke most of the rules while he was here and bent the others. The same Allen Iverson who spent too many hours hunched over a three-card poker table in Atlantic City, who saw too many dawns break. The same Allen Iverson who humiliated coaches, who said he’d run through a wall for Mo Cheeks and then wound up leaning against one, weary, too bored, too rebellious to practice.”
Hochman called him “our quintessential nonconformist.”
So when I was invited to see a documentary film made about Allen Iverson on Sunday night to close out the Tribeca Film Festival in New York, I went wondering which side of the man director Zatella Beatty would capture in “IVERSON”.
Turns out, over 97 riveting minutes, Beatty captured it all — and then some.
Told largely in Allen Iverson’s own words, what emerges is a stirring portrait of a gifted but complicated athlete. And a hero. And a trouble maker. But at all times a family man.
You see him emerge from the rough and tumble streets of Hampton, Virginia, to show his brilliance on the gritty football field and then on the basketball court, only to end up in a criminal court and then jail.
But he rises above it and you go along for the wild ride.
Who else but Allen Iverson can count out-of-control comedian Chris Rock and straight-as-an-arrow NBC newsman Tom Brokaw in the same breath as close buds?
This film is must-see. It’s not about sport, it’s about life.