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Only the Strong Survive: The Odyssey of Allen Iverson

Only the Strong Survive: The Odyssey of Allen Iverson

4.7 25
by Larry Platt, Mitchell Fink, Lois Mathias

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Part sports star, part antihero, part hip-hop icon, Allen Iverson has managed to cross over into the mainstream of American culture -- without compromise. Defiantly tattooed, with his hair in cornrows, the six-foot Philadelphia 76ers point guard is one of the most recognizable and controversial stars of the sports world. His meteoric rise from a troubled childhood in


Part sports star, part antihero, part hip-hop icon, Allen Iverson has managed to cross over into the mainstream of American culture -- without compromise. Defiantly tattooed, with his hair in cornrows, the six-foot Philadelphia 76ers point guard is one of the most recognizable and controversial stars of the sports world. His meteoric rise from a troubled childhood in the ghetto to NBA superstardom has been marked by five straight playoff appearances, including a finals berth in 2001 and an MVP award. From his rap sheet to his rap album, fans and journalists alike hound his every move. But never before has a biographer presented a full portrait of this complicated and intensely private star -- a man whose loyalty to his family, the streets, and his friends trumps any other concern. Filled with exclusive interview material and unprecedented access to many of Iverson's inner circle. Only the Strong Survive is the first in-depth look at the truth behind this newly minted legend.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Like his subject, Platt is at his best while running the court, his prose smooth and economical as he describes Iverson's explosive, creative playing style. A longtime journalist whose sports writings have been collected in New Jack Jocks: Rebels, Race and the American Athlete, Platt writes with an authority that Iverson fans will appreciate. But the compelling rags-to-riches biography of the controversial NBA superstar is bogged down by Platt's repetitive, heavy-handed critiques of the relationship between black athletes, their marketers and the media. Platt repeatedly outlines how white middle class America is not yet ready for Iverson's hip-hop persona, which is "too in-your-face, too black"-a provocative yet unoriginal insight that quickly grows old. Intent on portraying Iverson as a misunderstood truant with a heart of gold, Platt misses the opportunity to create a thorough, insightful portrait. In doing so, he succumbs to the very weakness he criticizes in so many of his fellow journalists: losing the player to the hype. 16-page color insert with b&w photos throughout. (Nov. 1) Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Allen Iverson, Philadelphia 76ers' enigmatic and brilliant point guard, has attracted a lot of attention from authors and sportswriters alike. Many of the books are for young adults (e.g., Mark Stewart's Allen Iverson: Motion and Emotion) and do not address the more interesting and important aspects of the Iverson phenomenon. Here is one of the first basketball books available to deal with race in a straightforward manner. Not only does Platt (New Jack Jocks: Rebels, Race, and the American Athlete) examine the various ways white players and National Basketball Association brass have reacted to Iverson's controversial style but he considers the reactions of older black players as well. The author's discussion of race and culture in the modern NBA is just as interesting as the nuanced and detailed story of Iverson's dramatic life and career. (With his father in prison for manslaughter, Iverson spent his childhood in such terrible poverty that he lived in a house without adequate running water until his late teens.) Platt had remarkable access to the most important people in Iverson's life as well as to the elusive man himself. Written in a lively style and with something meaty for anyone who reads it, this book is recommended for all sports collections.-James Miller, Springfield Coll., MA

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Read an Excerpt

Only the Strong Survive
The Odyssey of Allen Iverson


Tupac with a Jumpshot

Bubbachuck was looking like a damned Ethiopian bodybuilder. That's what he likes to call himself when he's shirtless, the bones of his wispy upper body jutting out at sharp angles. Allen Iverson without a shirt is a striking sight; he does not have the physical presence one would expect from a man who regularly challenges NBA behemoths under the boards and in the lane, men a foot taller and in some cases nearly twice as heavy. He's listed at six feet, 165 pounds, but on this May 2001 morning, in the bowels of his team's practice facility, he appeared willowy thin. A buck-fifty and maybe five-eleven, tops -- somebody who could easily be mistaken for a rambunctious ballboy, rather than a man who was about to be named the National Basketball Association's Most Valuable Player.

On this day that would name him, in his words, "the best in the world at what I do," Iverson knew how the accolade would be spun in the media. He was having none of it. He knew it would be presented as his redemption, even though he saw it as just another moment of vindication, another in a series of "I told you so" moments.

That is why his thoughts were strictly on those whom he never felt the need to prove anything to: the crew from back home. Iverson was raised on the rough streets of Newport News, Virginia, a small Southern city with a strong migratory connection to New York City. On those streets throughout the 1980s and early '90s, he'd brashly tell whoever would listen that he'd one day star in the NBA or NFL. Older guys, guys with rap sheets and shady connections, would shake their heads and laugh, but they'd look out for him, too -- because they saw a prodigy in the making, someone they could help make it out.

Still bare-chested, Iverson eyed two outfits laid out before him. His business adviser, Que Gaskins, awaited his verdict. Gaskins had received a phone call the night before from Gary Moore, Iverson's personal assistant. Moore was the grade-school football coach who took in a twelve-year-old Bubbachuck -- an amalgam of two uncles' nicknames -- when things got crazy at home; Ann, Allen's single mother, all of fifteen years his senior, couldn't care for him. Now Moore couldn't make it back to Philly from Virginia in time for the press conference; could Que find Allen something to wear in front of the cameras?

"I just want him looking fresh and clean," Moore said.

"Well, we know he ain't wearing no suit," Gaskins said, prompting both men to laugh. Iverson's disdain for business suits was well known. "If he's going to go urban, it should be sophisticated urban."

So Gaskins laid out in front of Iverson a baby-blue velour Pelle Pelle sweatsuit and a black sleeveless Sean John ensemble. "These are phat," Iverson said, looking them over. "And I will wear them, but I ain't wearing 'em today."

Bending over and rummaging through his locker, Iverson extracted a black T-shirt recently given to him by one of his friends from back home. bad news hood check, the T-shirt boldly read in front; a list of street corners adorned the back -- the toughest spots in Newport News, the very corners where Iverson came up. There was Sixteenth Street, where the troubled Ridley Circle housing projects were located, just blocks from the Stuart Gardens Apartments, where Allen lived for a time. There was Jefferson Avenue, where the hustlers hawked their illicit wares a chest pass down from the Boys and Girls Club.

"I want all my niggas back home to see this," Iverson said, pulling the shirt on. If hip-hop culture is all about carving self-identity while maintaining your roots, then Iverson is all hip-hop culture; its defiance fuels his demeanor, both on court and off, and its music was the sound track of his turbulent upbringing, from the very first time he heard Kool Moe Dee and Biggie Smalls flow about their lives as though they'd been living his. Of the twenty-one tattoos that adorn his body, two pay homage to Newport News and four salute Cru Thik -- his crew from back there, many of whom stay with him in Philadelphia during the basketball season.

When Iverson, wearing the Hood Check T-shirt, Timberlands, a scarf encircling his braided hair, and some $300,000 worth of ice dangling from his earlobes and around his neck, took the podium that day on May 15, 2001, it was much more than just another press conference to name a league's MVP. It was, in a sense, the end of an era, nothing short of a generational handoff. Suddenly gone were the days when a black athlete had to be deferential and nonthreatening in order to be loved. Iverson's team was winning and his name had just surpassed Anna Kournikova's as the most searched on the Internet, in or outside of sports. Of course, the talking heads would go on to paint a portrait of Iverson as a man who had undergone an epiphany. They'd give us a New and Improved Iverson: onetime bad boy morphed into heroic moral exemplar. But the press accounts said more about those who wrote them than about Iverson. The new conventional wisdom revealed a hunger to squeeze Iverson into a safe, familiar narrative. Which is a pastime made particularly hard by Iverson, because as well as he plays, he just refuses to play along.

For Iverson is neither hero nor villain, and he knew it that day. Instead, he is what the artwork burned into his skin shows him to be, a product of hip-hop culture never before seen in the "crossover"-oriented world of sports. The sound bites of his MVP press conference would focus on Iverson making nice with his old-school coach, Larry Brown, with whom he had feuded in the past -- and would again in the not-so-distant future. But a widely ignored part of his remarks that day spoke to the singularity of the event. Iverson looked to the back of the room, squinting, until his eyes settled upon his beaming, high-fiving friends -- his once much-derided "posse." They were dressed like him: baggy-jeaned, tattooed. These are the guys who took care of his mama and baby sister when he was in jail, the guys who kept a vigil for him on the other side of the prison's fence for five months, even though, not wanting to be seen in his county jumpsuit, he refused to make eye contact with them.

But on this day of his vindication, Iverson searched them out and his gaze never wavered. There was Ra, his eyes, as always, visibly red-rimmed. There was Eric Jackson or, as Iverson called him, "E." There was Marlon Moore and there was Andre "Arnie" Steele, who was busted in 1998 behind the wheel of Iverson's Benz CL 600 V-12 after allegedly taking part in a drug deal, and who was convicted in 1990 of cocaine possession with intent to distribute.

"What makes me proudest is that I did this my way," Iverson said, still looking straight at his boys, echoing the refrain long crooned by a previous generation's entertainer who was seen by some to have similarly remained loyal to gangsta roots. "I never changed who I was."

Months later, Iverson came face-to-face with the dark side of his "keeping it real" ethic. How real, after all, is too real? On the eve of the 2001?002 season, five months after being named MVP, four months after winning over fans with his hustle and determination against the mighty Los Angeles Lakers in the 2001 NBA Finals, and just two months after marrying his high-school sweetheart, Tawanna Turner, the mother of his two children, Iverson learned that his best friend, Ra, had been murdered in Newport News. Shot eight times. Killed after arguing with a guy over who could rap better.

"I don't want to die in no projects, man, laying in the grass, people walking by, and be bleeding to death," a crushed Iverson whispered to his former bodyguard Terry Royster when he called to tell him the news. They talked about a supposed friend of Ra's -- and theirs -- who goes by the name of Fiend. He was there and could probably have prevented the altercation from escalating -- but didn't. Now Fiend was nowhere to be found. "It just don't seem real, you know what I'm saying?" And then he paused. "But it's also too real. I don't want nobody telling Tawanna and the kids I died like that, over something so stupid." He donned a black elbow pad with Ra's name on it. From then on, he'd tap it before every foul shot. "Some people see too much too soon," Gary Moore had once said of Iverson, who witnessed his first murder at eight years old. In one summer alone, eight of his friends were felled by gunshot wounds. With Ra's death, Allen Iverson would once again take his pain and use it as fuel to excel on the basketball court, the one constant sanctuary of emotional escape he had found in his twenty-seven years on this earth.

Whether he is proclaiming to the media throng that he's "maintained who he is," privately agonizing over the cost of keeping things too real, or, most recently, staring down felony weapon charges, Allen Iverson has left an indelible cultural mark. More than any other athlete on the public stage, he is, by virtue of his groundbreaking game and his unwillingness to sanitize his ghettocentric style, at once a product and a shaper of his times.

Since 1993, Iverson has heard himself described as a thug and a drug dealer and an ex-con. His response? To simply represent. After years of hearing himself judged, he made of his body his own personal billboard and advertised his ethic on his very own skin. (Not surprisingly, Iverson had all but two of his tattoos etched onto his body only after he became a multimillion-dollar basketball star.) White men in suits -- like the white men in suits who sent him to jail at seventeen -- lectured him about what he'd have to do to "cross over," to garner mainstream acceptance as a modern-day "role model" sports star. Instead, he defied the sports punditocracy and NBA old guard with the tattoos and by catalyzing a youth culture trend as the first basketball star to braid his hair in cornrows, a style prevalent among black prison inmates.

The sportswriters and league elders alike were used to athletes, from Julius Erving to Michael Jordan, who subscribed to their middle-class "role model" mores; they were mystified by Iverson's in-your-face persona. It was a classic culture clash; they saw Iverson as a basketball player, when, in fact, he had already transcended his sport and become a hip-hop icon.

"In a sense, Allen Iverson is Tupac with a jumpshot," says cultural critic Michael Eric Dyson. "Like Tupac, he carries his history with him. Usually, America says to somebody, If you want to be successful, you gotta be blanched, you gotta be whitewashed. This is the United States of Amnesia -- we want to distance ourselves from everything. Get over your blackness. Now here comes this basketball player who understands that the ghetto is a portable metaphor for how he has faced odds and won. Like Tupac, he says to America, ?t's not that I've transformed -- you have changed your understanding of what is capable of coming out of a black body from the ghetto with writing all over it and cornrows, the very things that once signified the worst elements of blackness to you.' "

Indeed, cared for by drug dealers, abandoned by his biological father, raised by another man who was constantly in and out of prison for dealing crack cocaine, Iverson often seems to be living a rap lyric. When he first heard Biggie Smalls, it was as if the Notorious B.I.G. were speaking directly to him: "Either you slinging crack rock/Or you got a wicked jumpshot . . ." The previous generation of ballplayers, from Erving to Jordan, embodied the integrationist vision found in the politics of their day and were made over for the comfort of white America, even while Madison Avenue marketed the likes of Joe Namath and John McEnroe as rebels in the tradition of James Dean and Elvis. They had to make concessions Iverson would never consider. Erving, for instance, cut his trademark Afro in 1979 when he decided he wanted to be a businessman. Jordan, early in his career, spelled out his marketing strategy: "I smile a lot and I get along with everybody. People understand me as much as I want them to."

Now comes Iverson's story, containing the four elements that characterize the generation of black youth that came of age during the Reagan eighties: basketball, rap, dope dealing, and the ethic of "getting paid." He is known for basketball's crossover move, having done for dribbling what Erving did for the dunk: turn it into a weapon of intimidation. But he has also garnered cultural crossover acceptance -- without compromising. Like rap mogul Master P, who has gone from (reputed) drug dealer to music impresario to tryouts with the NBA's Charlotte Hornets and Toronto Raptors, Iverson embodies the New Crossover, where (seeming) street-level authenticity trumps Madison Avenue glitz. It's no accident, after all, that some 70 percent of hard-core rap CDs are bought by white kids in the suburbs, or that Iverson's sneaker and jersey sales at malls across America dwarf the numbers racked up by Kobe Bryant, dubbed "Karaoke Jordan" by USC cultural studies professor Dr. Todd Boyd.

As the baby boomers age, a vibrant, even dominant youth culture is up for grabs. Kids raised on MTV and hip-hop are eager to embrace sports stars who have what marketers call "edge," who reflect antiestablishment mores. "Madison Avenue has seen how powerful the urban consumer is," says Gaskins, Iverson's cornrowed, baggy-jeaned business adviser, who holds an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management. "They've seen [urban fashion company] FUBU [For Us, By Us] explode on the scene, they've seen Lauryn Hill maintain her identity while getting the cover of Time magazine. There's a new audience out there that craves authenticity and embraces characters like Allen, who won't let himself get pimped out."

At a time when P. Diddy is partying with Donald Trump and Martha Stewart in the Hamptons and the oft-obscene rapper Lil' Kim is doing Calvin Klein ads, Allen Iverson has similarly come to embody the New Crossover by suggesting a new way to think of the American Dream. It's no longer solely about "rags to riches." It's still about attainment, yes, but it's also about achievement born of a ballsy, antiestablishment style; in rap song after rap song, after all, none other than the Donald is celebrated as much for his renegade mind-set as for the fortune he's amassed.

And so we get Allen Iverson, holding a defiant press conference at the end of the 2001?002 season in which he blasted the press and, by extension, his old-school coach, for publicly questioning his practice habits. The media compared it to a Mike Tyson?ike public meltdown, yet people ate it up. Here was a sports star unafraid to speak his mind, or to turn the dynamic around on his interlocuters.

And then we get a series of felony and misdemeanor charges against Iverson in the summer of 2002, for allegedly threatening two men with a gun when he was in search of his wife late one night. His mug shot adorned newspaper front pages, Jay Leno made him a running gag, and the sports columnists called for Iverson to be traded, without citing even one on-court reason for such a move.

At the same time, far from the hand-wringing pundits, there were different perspectives. On the streets, people -- usually black people -- wore free iverson T-shirts. On Philadelphia playgrounds, kids and young adults of all ages wore Iverson number three jerseys. Not only that, countless wore long, protective sleeves on their left arms, from their biceps to just below their wrists. Iverson, of course, had played the entire season like that to protect a still-tender surgically repaired elbow. Yet, because he had, the sleeve had been adopted as an inner-city style statement. Yes, at all of twenty-seven years old, Allen Iverson had achieved rarified status: that of a true American antihero.

Chapter One

Newport Bad News

I grew up in Newport News, Virginia,
but we call it Newport Bad News,
'cause a lot of bad shit happens there.

It sounded like the house was about to collapse. The boom was so loud, it would send Butch Harper to the window, time and again, just to make sure. Yep, he'd chuckle to himself. They're throwing that kid around again.

Harper, an environmental engineer and substitute teacher in the Hampton, Virginia, school district, lived at 35 Jordan Drive, a tree-lined street of shoe-box one-story, two-bedroom homes in the Aberdeen section of Hampton, the neighboring town of Newport News. Next door, in a faded yellow house with a cramped backyard, lived a large, boisterous, rotating cast of Iversons. There was the matriarch, Mrs. Mitchell, and her eldest granddaughter, Ann, known as "Juicy." There was Ann's sister, Jessie, called "Li'l Bit," who ran track at nearby Bethel High, and there were the boys, Stevie and Greg, not to mention an ever-present cast of cousins and aunts and uncles and friends. They slept, thirteen of them, in the two bedrooms. "I smelled my share of stinky feet," Ann Iverson remembers today.

And there was Juicy's son, Bubbachuck, the kid who, at all of four and five years old, would be there, every time Harper looked out his window, day and night, playing football with the older boys. They wouldn't coddle him; far from it. Harper would watch this tiny kid -- the football was almost as big as he was! -- pivot and stutter-step and run, eluding his frustrated elders. He was always in motion -- that is, until they caught him. Then they'd hit him, and they'd hit him so hard he'd go slamming into the back of the house; sometimes Harper swore he could feel the reverberations under his feet next door. But the kid would get up, time and again, shaking his head, not letting them see him stagger, and then he'd be right back out there, running and cutting and running some more.

Harper got some peace and quiet when the Iversons got booted from the comfort of Jordan Drive three years later. They settled at the Stuart Gardens Apartments in Newport News's east end. Stuart Gardens wasn't the projects per se -- but it was close enough to the dicey cluster of government-provided housing that, over the years, its residents had come to see themselves as indistinguishable from those, say, in the troubled Ridley Circle Homes just blocks away.

The east end of Newport News was only a ten-minute drive from Aberdeen, but the differences were vast. When it came time for Allen to play in a rec league, Ann -- no stranger to the perils of the street -- didn't want her son walking from Stuart Gardens to the Boys and Girls Club or the Dorrie Miller Rec Center in downtown Newport News. So she called Harper, who was also commissioner of the Aberdeen Athletic Association. He waived the rule that forbade those living in Newport News from playing in Hampton leagues, and vice versa.

That's when the legend began to form, well below the surface of media attention. The Bubbachuck phenomenon was grassroots all the way. In barbershops and on street corners, from the take-out line at Wilkes Bar-B-Q on Victoria Boulevard to the makeshift pews at the Gospel Spreading Church of God in the shadow of the projects, people started talking about this eight-year-old who just couldn't be caught, let alone brought down.

Football came first. Gary Moore, who had been a collegiate baseball standout at Hampton University, coached him in Aberdeen and couldn't believe what he saw: a lethal combination of speed, quickness, fearlessness, and toughness. Just as he did on Jordan Drive, the kid would spring back up no matter the ferocity of the hit that had -- finally! -- taken him down.

But Ann wasn't satisfied. "You're going to basketball practice today," she told an eight-year-old Allen one day after school.

"Hell if I am," he snorted. "Basketball's soft. I'm a football player."

Ann stood in the doorway. "Well, you ain't coming in until you go to basketball," she said, arms crossed. Grudgingly, alternately sobbing and cursing his mother, Allen Iverson headed for the basketball courts for the first time in his life.

Once there, he was surprised to see all his buddies from football. He sat back and watched for an hour, picking things up. So that's a layup, he observed, when a player scored close to the basket. That's a jumpshot, he noted. When he got in his first game, knowing only one speed, he was a blur. After two possessions in which he literally did whatever he wanted, it dawned on him: I'm the best player here.

Allen's de facto father, Michael Freeman, known as "House Mouse" on the streets, would take a ten-year-old Bubbachuck to the courts at Anderson Park and knock him around, one-on-one. "Get yer ass up," the five-foot six-inch Freeman would growl every time Allen would hit the asphalt. Freeman was an aficionado of playground ball; his favorite team was Dr. J's high-flying Philadelphia 76ers, who had been changing the once-staid NBA. Along with such colorfully ghettocentric characters as World B. Free and Darryl "Chocolate Thunder" Dawkins (who, after a magazine writer made an oblique reference to his "Devastating Dunker" in the locker room, penned an eloquent letter to the editor: "Been looking at my dick, motherfucker?") and, later, Andrew "The Boston Strangler" Toney, Erving was making the once-taboo one-on-one street game a fundamental staple of NBA play. That was the game that Allen was first introduced to, one born of creativity and freedom, where shots were celebrated for their degree of difficulty, regardless of whether the ball actually made it through the twine. From the earliest age, Allen Iverson was shown that basketball is art, not craft, that playing and self-expression go hand in hand.

Eventually, Allen started to run with the older guys in the early evening at Aberdeen Elementary School. Uncle Stevie and Greg were among them, as were a bunch of the older guys who would spend the next few years looking out for Bubbachuck, including Tony Clark, a mentor. Soon the legend extended to basketball. Mike Bailey, the basketball coach at Bethel High, had heard the stories about this Bubbachuck kid, this playground phenom, a skin-and-bones energy freak who would outrace all the older guys, despite the fact that he was dribbling while sprinting. Bailey had to see for himself. He walked into the gym at Jefferson Davis Middle School, where, it was rumored, Bubbachuck would be. He poked his head in and saw a kid in desperate need of Ritalin throw a behind-the-back pass out of bounds. He also saw that every eye in the gym was on this indefatigable child.

It would take some time -- years, really -- for the basketball establishment to take note of Iverson. For now, he was an underground phenomenon, a gift to a town in need of one. For a time in the 1980s, Newport News was flourishing. The Newport News Shipyard, at the height of the Reagan era's upsurge in defense spending, was the area's largest employer -- some thirty-two thousand locals were on its books. When the 4-p.m.-to-midnight shift let out, the town would be ensnarled in a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam in the dead of night.

By the late eighties, though, the Cold War was over and the Shipyard was faltering. But even when the Shipyard boomed, other policies of the Reagan eighties started to have a deleterious effect. Throughout the country, an underclass began to develop; the gap between those doing well and those barely making it broadened. The top 1 percent prospered while the bottom 90 percent treaded water, at best, waiting for their promised windfall to "trickle down." Corporations, finding themselves competing in a newly global marketplace, began exporting low-skilled manufacturing jobs. Words like downsizing and outsourcing entered the national lexicon.

Iverson saw the adults around him bounce from odd job to odd job, or turn to hustling in the burgeoning underground economy. Those dealing crack cocaine seemed to be the only businessmen making it in the new economy. As the drug-dealing character of Nino Brown, played by Wesley Snipes, pointed out in 1991's New Jack City, "You got to rob to get rich in the Reagan era."

Ann, by turns, drove a forklift, was a typist at Langley Air Force Base, manned a cash register at a local grocery, and welded at the Shipyard, where she met Freeman, the man who raised Allen and fathered Allen's two sisters, Brandy in 1979 and Ieisha in 1990. Freeman had spent a good part of his adult life in and out of prison for dealing crack cocaine. As far as Allen was concerned, his stepfather had only been trying to put food on his family's table. Unlike the fictional Nino Brown, he wasn't chasing some new twist on the American Dream; he was just trying to stay afloat. Watching Ann, Freeman, and others in the neighborhood, Iverson began to get the message, even then: sports would be the only way out.

It's a message Ann had long accepted as the gospel truth. Many of our feel-good sports narratives portray the mother of the indigent athlete pushing education -- sometimes even after the kid has made it, as when Isiah Thomas, later in life, completed his undergraduate degree at his mother's urging. But Ann Iverson didn't subscribe to the "you need something to fall back on" school of thought. No, her baby was born to make it. When folks started talking about her son as if his mere presence had been divinely granted, she didn't humbly object. No, Ann Iverson had long known that God had a plan for her and her baby.

Like her son, Ann Iverson doesn't just smile; she emits joy. First, her mouth, framed by liberal swipes of righteous ruby lipstick, begins to widen, revealing gleaming white teeth, and then the smile keeps expanding, wide and bigmouthed, until Ann Iverson is beaming the way her red Jaguar's headlights beam. But the smile predated the red Jag; it was there, in fact, on June 7, 1975, in the maternity ward of Hampton General Hospital, when her boy was handed to her; suddenly the pregnant lady who hadn't stopped talking and bitching and demanding more drugs to ease the pain of childbirth, this mouth that ran a mile a minute and had nurses rolling their eyes, started to beam when she took in one specific sight: the length of her baby's arms, which dangled down to his kneecaps. "He gonna be a ballplayer!" she cried.

She knew it then, just like she knew it when the whole clan landed on Jordan Drive in Hampton -- you think that's coincidence, she'd say, that my baby lives on a street the same name as the guy who is The Man of the NBA?

Because she knew God had a plan for her, see. She'd inherited from her grandmother, Ethel Mitchell, a strong spiritual sense, and she just believed. In her view, Allen was her Baby Jesus; she even later claimed -- in the hallowed pages of Sports Illustrated, no less -- that he was immaculately conceived, which would make her the Virgin Mary.

Ann grew up in Hartford, Connecticut, a tomboy who climbed trees and kicked little boys' asses. Her mother was a waitress; her father was long gone. In the fifth grade, she met Allen Broughton. They started dating in seventh grade.

Like Ann, Broughton was a basketball player, a teammate of Rick Mahorn's. (Mahorn would later spend a year as her son's teammate in the NBA.) She and Broughton were in love, according to Broughton, who is currently serving time in Connecticut for assault after stabbing his girlfriend six times in 1998. It was Broughton she was talking to on the phone the night her mother, Ethel, was rushed to the hospital for an appendectomy. Doctors botched the operation and Ann's mother died on the table. The hospital paid the Iversons $3,818.18 to settle any future legal claims.

Ethel Mitchell committed to raising her grandchildren over her husband's objections. "I've already raised mine and I don't want to raise no more," he said.

"I guess you better be on your way, then," Mitchell told him. Without her husband, she moved her brood to the comparatively safer streets of Virginia, where she'd grown up. Before the move could take place, however, Ann decided to lose her virginity with Broughton on her fifteenth birthday, though she claims he never penetrated her. Not so, recalls Broughton. "We were in love and we wanted to make a baby and be together," he says. They were in the eighth grade and consumed by the tragedy of their impending separation. "I wanted her to have a part of me," says Broughton.

The possibility of divine intervention notwithstanding, Ann and Broughton certainly passed on basketball genes to their son. Ann played point guard in high school, rumbling the length of the court while five months pregnant. Broughton, five-six, was the playmaker on the men's team. He was lightning quick and tough -- almost as tough as Ann.

Once the move took place, Ann and Broughton kept in touch for a time. He even visited once, buying baby clothes for Allen. "We were kids, man," Broughton recalls today. "Kids making a kid." Ann soon met Michael Freeman, and they had Allen's sister Brandy together. She had started a family with another man. Allen Broughton was out of the picture.

So this was the school skipper extraordinaire. She had heard a lot about him, but she hadn't been prepared for just how engaging he could be, or how talented. And she wasn't even thinking of his athletic skills.

Sue Lambiotte was a teacher and president of the Peninsula Literacy Council. Along with her husband, Butch, a lawyer, the Lambiottes were steeped in sports. All four kids had grown up playing. Clay Lambiotte, Sue's youngest, played in Boo Williams's Summer League with a thirteen-year-old Iverson, which is how Sue came to be on Williams's board of directors, which is how she first came across Bubbachuck.

Boo Williams is well known and widely respected in basketball circles. In 1982, Williams came back home to the Peninsula area after starring at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia. He started a summer league with $400 in his pocket. Over the years, it has grown into one of the premier summer programs in the country, and Williams has earned accolades as one of the nation's great barnstorming Amateur Athletic Union coaches. AAU coaches often come under fire as the scourge of college sports; unregulated and operating in the shadows, they have been accused of steering their high-school ballplayers to sneaker companies and college coaches with whom they have forged under-the-table deals.

Williams, though, enjoys a stellar reputation compared to most. And he has coached some of the most talented basketball players in the country. Alonzo Mourning, J. R. Reid, Joe Smith, and Bryant Stith have all passed through his program. The thirteen-and-under team that went to a national tournament in Kansas with Sue Lambiotte as a chaperon was no exception. In addition to Iverson, Williams put on the floor Tony Rutland, who would star in high school with Iverson and go on to play with Tim Duncan at Wake Forest; Aaron Brooks, now a quarterback with the New Orleans Saints; and Damon Bacote, who would go on to play hoops at the University of Alabama.

During that trip, Lambiotte was taken by the happy-go-lucky class clown that was Allen Iverson. In Kansas for a week, Lambiotte insisted on taking the team to local museums. There was no need for a tour guide, however, as Iverson -- a talker, when he gets going, right out of the mold of hi Only the Strong Survive
The Odyssey of Allen Iverson
. Copyright &#copy; by Larry Platt. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Larry Platt is the editor in chief of Philadelphia magazine and the author of Keepin' It Real: A Turbulent Season at the Crossroads with the NBA. His work has appeared in GQ, The New York Times Magazine, Playboy, and Details. He lives in Philadelphia.

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Only the Strong Survive: The Odyssey of Allen Iverson 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
danhollar57 More than 1 year ago
The powerful tale of The Answer, Allen Iverson, was truly a remarkable biography and really captures his true image. Growing up, Allen Iverson has been one of my favorite athletes, and to learn more about him and what he has gone through to get where he is now, it has been a phenomenal read. The Answer was labeled by most as a thug, or a gang member by the public. He had an attitude that knew he was going to be one of the greatest athletes in football or basketball. He was that good. Iverson grew up in Newport News, VA which was a very rough area. Lot of gang violence, and drugs on the streets. A lot of Iverson's friends have been killed in Newport News due to gang violence. He had a lot of difficult obstacles to overcome in the slums of Newport while he was dominating on the court and football field. People from his hometown saw a bright future in Iverson. He was a star quarterback and one of the best athletes Virginia has ever seen. Also he was averaging 31 points a game as a junior in basketball! A night at the bowling alley changed everything. Allen and his friends got into a brawl with a white crew of guys. Allen was accused of hitting a girl in the head with a chair during the brawl. He was sentenced to 15 years improsment with a 10 year supension, but with good behavior he was out in 10 months. After all the drama, Iverson was offered a scholarship to Georgetown university where he proved to everyone why he was the number 1 prospect in the USA. He left for the NBA his sophmore year and he was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers. Allen went on to dominate the league goin to the NBA finals and becoming the MVP. Through all the hardships in his life, Allen overcame losing close friends, getting in trouble with the law, and is now what I belive one of the best players to play in the game. He is a spectacular example of someone who comes from a troubled environment that they can make it up out the hood if they have the talent and the determination to get there. I extremely enjoyed the author's voice he realy made you feel what The Answer felt throughout his life and carreer. If you are a sports fan or just love an inspiring story I highly recommend Only The Strong Survive. It really brings home the bacon and fries it in the pan for all sports fans without a doubt. I disliked how the author showed how he made AI look bad in some situations, although he was in trouble he seemed to exaggerate some of the crimes. All in all this book really shows that, for a guy with a rough image, rough childhood, and so difficult obstacles, you can still conquer them and become successful in whatever you try.
dcross03 More than 1 year ago
It is no stretch of the imagination to label Allen Iverson as one of the most controversial players to ever play in the NBA. A majority of people who have heard of Allen Iveson are quick to call him a thug, and a cocky player with no work ethic. A couple moments that helped put this label on him was his fashion choice when accepting his rookie of the year award, where he wore a Reebok skull cap, and his famous press conference after he missed another practice I which he said, "I am a champion and we are sitting here debating practice. Practice?" It would be easy to label Allen Iverson as the villian to the game of basketball, but in Only the Strong Survive: The Odyssey of Allen Iverson, author Larry Platt shows Iverson in a much more positive light. Allen Iverson was a freak of an athlete as a kid. He starred on the football field as well as the basketball court in high school and his amazing athletic ability was the one thing that saved hima nd his family from the poor streets of Newport News, Virginia. His life changed completely the day after he decided to enter the NBA Draft and leave Georgetown University behind. Taken as the first pick of the 76ers in 1996, Iverson instantly became one of the top players in the league. However, even though he was one of the most respected players on the court, he was the least off it. Many people disapproved of his gangster looks and the way he carried himself outside the gym. Nevertheless, fans of the NBA eventually fell in love with not only Iverson's play, but also the person himself. Larry Platt does a great job of giving the inside story on Iverson's life. He uses a lot of memories as examples from Iverson's life as if they were his own. He also used various statistics from Iverson sports career to describe the way he played, telling you that he really did his research. In addition, the book was very dramatic seeing as Iverson had a very dramatic life story. The only thing that brought down the overall enjoyment of reading the book was the author repeatedly playing the race card. It seemed like almost every time Iverson had some sort of problem Platt would write something like, "they were against him because of the color of his skin", or something similar. Nonetheless, Only the Strong Survive is still a great read for any Allen Iverson fan, or even any sports fan.
chrishyland More than 1 year ago
In Only the Strong Survive, we learn about the struggles Allen Iverson had to overcome to get out of the ghetto and into the NBA, becoming one of the league's top players, and also one of the league's most controversial players to ever play the game. The major message in this book is to never give up, no matter how low you get and how hard your life becomes, because only the strong survives, and you have to be strong to get through the struggles life throws at you. I loved this book because Allen Iverson is one of my favorite players and I learned a lot of things about his life, and his struggles in his early years, that I never knew about. It was hard to find something about the book that I didn't like, but the one thing that I disliked was the beginning of the book. I found it was hard to follow who the author was speaking about, but after the first chapter it became easier and I couldn't put the book down. I recommend this book to anyone who likes a good "rags to riches" story of a young kid with a lot of potential, but a lot of troubles surrounding him. If I had to rate this book on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best, I would give it a 9 1/2. So if you're looking for a great novel, pick up Only the Strong Survive, and you'll get hooked from the beginning all the way to the end.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Believe me I've read many Allen Iverson books and by far this is the best one. I absolutely adore this book!! It's a great biography and i think that it shows so much about his life. I've read this already 5 times (i love Allen Iverson) and it's just really great. If you have to do like a report or something on someone this really gets inside of who he really is and how people take him on the outside and in. I highly recommend this!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love Allen Iverson...He is one of my favorite NBA stars. I really liked reading this book because it shows the struggle everyday people go through. It really tought me to appreciate everything I have, and the people I have surrounding me that love me and try to help me.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. I thought it was honest and more detailed than most books about athletes. It did not sugar-coat or villanize the subject. For the most part it just presented situations and let the reader be the judge. There were some things in the book that made you not like AI and there were things that made you really like AI. In the end, I think the book really captured who AI is: A work in progress, an honest guy who plays with enormous passion and lives the same way. What makes him interesting is his unpredictability. His life off the court seems like the one on the court. You never know his next move. Yet you never doubt his confidence and self-awareness. This is a very good book for AI fans and anyone interested in knowing the details of his seemingly tumultuous life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Nods. "Let's take that back to the clearing and then you can tell Ebonypaw about advantiges and disadvantiges." (She just got back.)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She nods, carrying the dead bird in her mouth. She pads back.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
We aint talking about a game but practice. Lol
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I don know i crazy
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Davario More than 1 year ago
In Only the Strong Survive. I've learned about then struggles Allen Iverson had to overcome to get out of the bad neighborhoods, and into the NBA. He became one of the leagues top players. He also is one of the leagues most controversial players to ever play at the point guard position. I think the message of this book is to never give up no matter what goes on and what happens. Older guys are quick to judge A.I. by his appearance. Soon fans started to love Iverson for is skills and personality. He decided to enter draft, his life slowly starting changing. Allen Iverson was drafted first round first pick to 76ers in 1996. Iverson instantly became top player. Platt had pictures of all his tattoos and described them. Iverson is a great player on and off the court. If you want to know more detail go read is book, ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVES.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This Book Is Brilliant If You Want to Know the Real Allen Iverson You Have to Read this Book!!! Great Source Of Information...
Guest More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
do u think a 12 yrs old should read this allen iversons great but i dunno if i should really read this. The only really thin i`m looking for is will it inspire me or will it bring to you NBA basketball in pages plz email me at PitchingHeat15@Aol.com
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was interesting to me and very intriging to my future and i look up to allen iverson because he is a player that never gives up on a challenge and believes in his team
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book about Allen Iverson for several reasons: it was very interesting, I love A.I., it told me so much more about him that I didn't know and I felt I really could appreciate what he does for the game. He is a great player and one that should be admired by many, not just because of his great basketball skills, but also as a model for others to prove that anyone can overcome anything if they are strong enough and driven as much as he was. Please read this book if you have any doubts about his 'character'. Larry Platt's bio of A.I. will not leave you disappointed!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. It gave me a new perspective on a superstar talent that I was already admiring for his wonderful talent as well as how much tragedy and problems he had to go through growing up. Anyone who just calls him a 'bad role model' as many of my teachers and adults I know claim he is should read this book to find out who he really is. The one thing I love about this book is that it shows how true to himself he stayed. I haven't read a more indepth book on Allen Iverson and love the stories that Larry Platt included. I suggest this book to anyone who appreciates the game and does/doesn't appreciate Allen Iverson. Because you will after you have read this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I would love to read this book can someone tell me if it is cape able for a 12 year old to read this book who is in sixth grade i have lots of books of him I am his biggest fan i have every shoe of his sorry for getting of the topic
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book really changed the perspective I have given Allen Iverson. I just thought he was a good ball player but a punk. This book explains how he grew up with a goal. Get outta the ghetto and save his mom. The only way was sports. Good book highly recommended.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is one of the best I've ever read. It made me respect him even more... if thats possible. Like him or not, u gotta respect him after reading this book. It's amazing. Iverson is #1
Guest More than 1 year ago
This story describing Allen Iverson's life is real, and it feels like you were there to see him being raised before your eyes. You also see how he has made it today. Reading this book you will relise that if he had one misfortune in his childhood you wouldnt know who he is today. Simply this book will leave you in aw.
Guest More than 1 year ago
An amazing story about the best basketball player in the world. If you don't like Allen Iverson, you will respect him after reading this book. It gets to your heart and you feel like you know A.I in a way other people can't if they dont read this book. Bastekballs fans would truly enjoy it. A.I is #1 in my book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Allen Iverson Story is a story that every kid that has ever picked up a basketball should read. If U think U have it bad then read this story about ALLEN IVERSON (The Greatest Basketball Player Of ALL TIME!)
Guest More than 1 year ago
i love iverson i never actually read this book but ai is so amazing....