SALT LAKE CITY — Is Michael Jordan or LeBron James the greatest of all time? Former NBA star Allen Iverson had an opportunity to play against both.
“The Answer” doesn’t like answering that question, although he does have some sentimental love for Jordan, his childhood idol.
“I hate it because I love both of them so much and both of them did so much for our game,” Iverson told Andcape in an interview set up by the National Basketball Retired Players Association on Saturday morning. “LeBron, I think, to me is the best overall basketball player that we’ll ever see. If you look in the dictionary and look up basketball player, there’ll be a picture of LeBron. But for me it’s so different because Mike was everything to me. He gave me the vision. He made me want to play basketball. He’s my everything. I wanted to actually be like him, like the commercial, ‘Be like Mike,’ I really wanted to be him. I’m still starstruck every time I see him. I’m still nervous every time. Because he’s Mike to me. He’s my guy. So there’ll never be no one at the top of my list besides Mike. But LeBron is just everything that you want in a basketball player. He’s a total package. He’s God’s gift to the basketball world.”
Iverson sat down with Andscape at the National Basketball Players Association’s lounge during NBA All-Star Weekend. The Basketball Hall of Famer was a superstar in his own right: an 11-time All-Star, a four-time scoring champ and the 2001 NBA MVP who was also a trendsetter with his hip-hop fashion and cornrows.
The 47-year-old talked to Andscape about life now as one of the world’s most recognized athletes, his All-Star memories, the death of legendary former Georgetown men’s basketball coach John Thompson, mental health and much more in the following Q&A.
How are you right now? Every once in a while, you show up and then you disappear. What’s going on in your life right now?
Just happy. And I’m happy with the fact that I’m able to be able to do exactly what you just said. To show up and show out when I want to. That was a big part of me retiring. I was tired. I was tired of it all, and I was ready. People talk about how hard it is to walk away from it. Fortunately for me, I was at a point where I felt that God really looked out for me, just like he has always throughout my life and he prepared me to be able to go.
You got an award for fashion from GQ, but when you look at what you started — the cornrows, the hip-hop swag — you were more hip-hop than rappers. You were just doing you, but what do you think about the influence that you had on fashion?
I love it. I love it. I love it. It’s kind of bittersweet. Obviously, I’ve said it a million times before, because I really took the a– whupping for it. But now we fast-forward to 2023, these guys are being able to express themselves and look the way they want to look and really show their personality in the way they dress. And I think I had a lot to do with that and I feel that’s cool. Obviously, if I change a whole dress code in the NBA, you think it’s a bad thing, but then you get honored by GQ. Then obviously I know I was doing something right and I was doing something that was true to myself.
How do you look back on the dress code that the late David Stern implemented? Now, you see dudes wearing anything on the bench now. I know you are like, ‘Are you serious?’
You said it all. That’s exactly how I look at it. I was getting picked on. But see, mine was just, it was so different. It was something that was never seen before and I think people looked at it the wrong way. Opposed to looking at it as just a person just being themselves and being comfortable in their own skin and dressing the way I wanted to dress. Everybody was just so used to guys coming with the suits on and whatever. My whole thing was, I never wore a suit to the basketball court, to the playground. In my day, it was suits was going to the funeral or going to church. And as young as I was back then, 21 years old, after the game, I probably was going to the club or something. So why would I have on a suit? So it was just a misconception. Just looked at it the wrong way. I was just misunderstood. But today, we look at it now and guys able to do what they want to do. And I think I had something to do with that.
What’s your fondest memories when you look back at all your All-Star [Weekends] that you’ve been in?
Just being around the other guys that you at war with all the time, getting a chance to get to know them and be around them, to play with them and have the same agenda, everything, man. Just seeing the love that you get from all walks of life. Come in here and love our game, respect our game, and respect us as athletes. Just a great atmosphere.
When you retired, I think you could’ve made a lot of money in China if you wanted to. I’m sure somebody else could’ve given you another chance if you wanted to. Why at that time did you say, ‘All right.’ What brought you to, ‘this is the end’? Or had it run out with NBA teams, you thought? Because you did go to overseas for a second [in Turkey], right?
Yeah, at that point, I just wanted to play. And then I think I had got to a point where all of the diva s— goes away. You get to a point where it’s like, OK, you want to play in the greatest league in the world, but the opportunity is not there. And then you just want to play. The love for the game is there, and it is there so much that you just want to be out on the dance floor and you want that feeling. And that’s where I was at, I think, at that point in my life. And I took a chance, but it was never like [Muhammad] Ali, never like that. I didn’t even scratch the surface of getting that same feeling.
Correct me if I’m wrong: Basketball season’s over, you took a break. When training camp came, then you picked the ball back up. You literally took the summer off. Do you ever think, ‘man, if I would’ve hit the gym,’ how that could elongated your career?
You have all those thoughts. That’s a great question. And I look at who I was and what I did in this league and the impact that I had in this league. And I never was a guy that did it the ‘right’ way or worked out the way I supposed to, or the way somebody, I don’t know, somebody that’s not a Hall of Famer thinks that you’re supposed to work out or whatever. Everybody got their own notions of what you supposed to do if you are Allen Iverson, what could’ve happened if you were Allen. But you not. You’re not me. God didn’t give you the talent that he gave me. So you can think of it the way you want to and you can draw it up the way you want to, and it might’ve went this way, it might’ve went that way or whatever. I coulda got strong and been a bodybuilder out there on the basketball court and not been able to accomplish none of the things that I accomplished.
So, I don’t look back on it and have no regrets in any type of way. Only regret that I have basketballwise is that I didn’t embrace the constructive criticism that coach [Larry] Brown gave me in the beginning. That’s it. Other than that, I’m satisfied of being a Hall of Fame basketball player. Could I have done things smarter or better? That’s anything in life. There’s a whole bunch of things you can tap into, but I don’t punish myself like that.
My objective was to be drafted. That’s my most memorable moment. My most gracious moment was being drafted after what I’ve been through and where I came from. And I ended up being a Hall of Famer. So why would I look up at God and say why? Why would I ask him, ‘Why couldn’t it have been this way or that way?’ Man, I’m lucky. I’m blessed for it to be the way that it is now. Do I think about if I would’ve been more dedicated to being stronger or whatever? The thought, yeah, it comes into my mind, but it’s not something that bothers me.
Mental health is a big deal in the NBA now. Every team has somebody that works with the players or they’re available to the players. What could that have meant to you to have that at any point in your career? And how do you deal with the PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) of your life now?
I just dwell on the positivity that happens in my life and knowing that I’m blessed to be 47 years old and to still be here and going. To have kids and to have a family that still love me and that I love. I just don’t dwell on anything negative. I just think about the fact that I’m blessed, and I look forward to being able to just wake up. That’s the coolest thing to me, is knowing that I’m blessed and there’s people around me that love me.
I know a lot of people that’s dealing with the mental health issues, but it’s something that I’m not qualified, I’m not educated enough to speak on. Because I don’t know, I can’t talk about something that I don’t know about. So, I stay out of the way and I let the people that’s experts in that field deal with that.
But do you think that could’ve been helpful for you if you had that back when you played?
I had that.
You did have that?
I had that. They might not have had a title or anything like that, but I had family and friends and people in the organizations that helped me in every area that I needed them. I don’t think there’s no excuses for anybody in this league as far as not having the resources of what we need to get help. We have it and NBA does a great job of making sure we got it.
LeBron James recently had a quote where he said he wished he could just go to Starbucks and get a coffee and put his name on it.
I’m that guy. I’m that guy. I would never let that get in my way. I understand where he comes from because I go through it every day, every time.
’Cause you were as big, bigger than him?
It’s what I go through now. Every day is a struggle for me leaving out of the house. But I love going to Publix. I love going to Walmart. I love it. It’s just a great feeling. And I’m not going to let anybody take it away from me. I love being Allen Iverson. If I die today, I want to come back and be me all over again. ‘Cause I love the way people embrace me, I love the way people treat me, and I love the way people let me be me. A lot of times, I’m in a restaurant and somebody will say, ‘Well, what are you doing it here?’ And I’ll be like, ‘S—. I’m in here just like you, to eat.’
And I’m not going to let no one steal that from me. I know I’m protected by God, I trust in him, I believe in him, and I don’t question him. Whatever happens, happens, and I live my life. I don’t have to walk around with a entourage of people or whatever. I like doing stuff with my daughters and going places and being out in public and embracing the love that I have from my fans and all that. I’m not going to let my celebrity take away from my freedom of being who I want to be and how I want to live my life.
But you also love the love?
I love the love.
Because you get it daily, no matter where you go?
I love the fact that people love me because it’s a honor and it’s a gift to the people that help me become me. Because you can’t become Allen Iverson, you can’t accomplish things that I’ve accomplished in my life, without help. It’s so many people that helped me become who I am. A lot of times you talk about teammates and you talk about coaches and fans and all that, but nobody talk about the medical staff, the trainers, the PR people, all of the people that help you become … That’s why my Hall of Fame speech was so long.
And nobody rushed you.
And it should have been longer because I forgot so many people. I was actually hurt afterwards because I forgot so many people that helped me become a Hall of Famer. And that’s a big thing in our game, ’cause you’re the cream of the crop, once you are a Hall of Famer, but you cannot become a Hall of Famer without a whole bunch of Hall of Fame people helping you get there. And that’s not just the positive people. A lot of negative people helped me become that too. To be able to cut my grass and to be able to clean my house and get rid of a lot of the people that was in my way, to help me become a Hall of Famer.
Late former Georgetown head coach John Thompson passed away a couple years ago. You were obviously at the memorial. You’ve had some loss in your life, but John Thompson, how did that hit you?
Life, just another obstacle in life that you have to get through, I guess it all go back to believing in the God that I love and I believe in. And knowing that that was supposed to happen. It was supposed to happen that way. And I’m supposed to take it on the chin, understand that, not question him, and believe that he’s with him. He’s in a better place and everything’s going to be all right. He’s still going to look down on me.
What were the best teachings coach Thompson gave you that you live with today?
Just him, I think him. Basically, he let me know that he’s satisfied with who I am. And regardless of what everybody else think in the world, you concentrate on the people that love you. If nobody’s out there criticizing you, nobody’s out there judging you or whatever, then you wouldn’t be who you are. Nobody has a whole bunch of conversation about a nobody-a– person. So he just solidified with me, being comfortable in your own skin is cool, and being who you are is cool. My relationship with Coach … I still have those moments where I talk to him and he don’t talk back. ’Cause I don’t hear the bad language no more. But I just be feeling like he still watches over me. I just know that there’s no place that he can go in life to where he’s not going be looking out for his little MF.
Do you see today’s NBA’s the way it’s played, the way it’s scored? The way the NBA is played today, if Allen Iverson in his prime could fly into today’s NBA, what could you do?
I don’t know, man. And I don’t look at it like that. I look at it [like] I respect these players. I respect the players and I respect the game so much that I don’t have a definitive answer to that. I don’t actually know what I would’ve done.
You don’t think about that when you watch games today?
No, because I just see basketball. I just know with me, I would adjust to however you play, whatever it took to win or be successful on the basketball court. And from my knowledge of the game and knowing how to play, I just know that I will be able to adjust now.
But you averaged 30 in a slowdown era …
That’s what I’m saying. But see, you know how a lot of people talk about … A lot of guys … I think one of the worst comebacks to an analyst or something is this guy never played the game, this guy. So what?
If you watch it … you could watch Mike Tyson and know that Mike Tyson knocks people out. His thing is knocking people out. The eye test says this is what he do, from just watching. You don’t have to be a boxer to be an expert and know that Mike Tyson knocks people out. And I don’t like when basketball analysts get a bad rap because they never played the game. That don’t mean that they don’t know the game. So my whole thing is I can look at the game and say certain people, like [Kevin] Durant, makes it look easy. Steph [Curry] makes it look easy. He makes it [look easy], but it’s not.
And for me to say, ‘OK, well, I averaged all this through my career and if I would’ve played in this era right here I would average blah blah,’ would be … I have a hard time being modest, but I wouldn’t just be like, ‘OK, I would average 40 in this era.’ Just that I think I would adjust … I could play it in any era. And I would let everybody else that talks about the game or whatever, I’ll let them determine whether I would’ve did this or I did that, ’cause we’ll never know. Right now, we still comparing Mike and Kobe.