For those who were there at McDonough Gymnasium on August 4, 1994, few will forget the arrival of a 6-0 freshman guard who needed no introduction. The rumors of Allen Iverson's arrival to the Kenner Summer League were true, and by game's end, Iverson had scored 40 points. By the Sunday afternoon final, before an overflow crowd inside the gym and a crowd of those outside who could not get in, Iverson finished a combined 99 point effort in three days against some of the best collegiate talent in the city. This, of course, from a player that had not played organized basketball in over a year.
The Allen Iverson years had begun.
A brief profile can't do justice to tell the story of one of the greatest pure athletes ever to attend Georgetown, a man without peer in his talent over two years at the collegiate level. Just a year before his Kenner debut, few would have imagined Allen Iverson ever playing college basketball.
Iverson was not only a 31 point a game guard for Bethel HS, but a football player of tremendous skill. As a quarterback and defensive back his sophomore season, he produced nearly 1,600 yards offense and 13 INT's. By his junior year, he accounted for 2,204 yards, 21 touchdowns by rush or interception, and 14 touchdown passes. In a region which has produced NFL quarterbacks such as Michael Vick and Aaron Brooks, there are those who will still say "Bubbachuck" Iverson was better than both of them. Schools such as Arkansas, Kentucky, Duke, and three dozen other top programs across two sports were vying for perhaps the greatest two-sport star the Tidewater had ever produced.
When he led Bethel to the state title, someone asked what it was like to win the title. "I'm going to get one in basketball now," which he did. In late February, 1993, en route to the state title he had promised, Iverson was one of a large group of Bethel teammates at a Hampton bowling alley when a fight broke out between students from rival schools trading racial insults. Three people were hurt in the aftermath. Despite conflicting testimony from eyewitnesses and no clear evidence linking him to the crime, Iverson was one of four black students arrested.
Racial tensions were heightened when the prosecutors passed on a misdemeanor assault charge and charged Iverson with three counts of felony "maiming by mob", which carried a 20 year prison sentence. Despite video evidence which did not place Iverson in the crowd at the time of the fight, he was convicted in a racially charged case.
The 20 year sentence was later reduced to five, and Iverson was granted clemency by Gov. Douglas Wilder three months later, sending Iverson to a detention program at an alternative high school. (The original charges were thrown out by the Virginia court of appeals in 1995.)
In the spring of 1994, with Iverson still in detention, his mother approached John Thompson with a plea to help her son get to college and start a new chapter of his life. Though Thompson had passed on a number of troubled players in the past, he offered Iverson a scholarship in April of that season, contingent upon his completion of high school and his legal release, which was granted 48 hours before his Kenner debut.
By his debut in a Georgetown uniform in November 1994, Iverson had been the subject of intense national media attention. In the Hoyas' annual exhibition with Fort Hood, Iverson scored 36 points, five assists, and three steals in 23 minutes. Local columnists were in awe.
"Hang his number up in the rafters," wrote Tom Knott of the Washington Times. "He's better than most of the point guards in the NBA right now."
"I saw Lew Alcindor, Austin Carr, Moses Malone, Alonzo Mourning, Albert King, Ralph Sampson and Patrick Ewing play in high school," said the Post's Thomas Boswell. "Now, I have two memories on my first impression top shelf. The man who became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Allen Iverson."
Iverson opened the 1994-95 season in Memphis, TN in a 97-79 loss to defending NCAA champion Arkansas, scoring 19 points. Six days later, he scored 31 in a nationally televised game with DePaul, followed by 30 four days later against Providence, leading the team in scoring 22 times that season. His only game under double figures for the season (and his career) was a game where he played only ten minutes in a loss at Villanova, a game Georgetown coach John Thompson threatened to forfeit when a group of Villanova students paraded through the Spectrum in black and white-striped prison garb, with a sign comparing Iverson to O.J. Simpson.
"You accept certain ribbing, but there is a line," Thompson said after the game. "I can condone any Christian university sitting and watching that happen.If that happens [again], I going to walk. It that simple." Such fan behavior was not seen thereafter.
Later in the season, with President Bill Clinton in attendance, Iverson scored 26 as the Hoyas routed Villanova, 77-52. He followed it up with 21 to beat Syracuse, 28 versus St. John's, 31 in a Big East tournament opener with Miami (a game that saw Iverson outscore the entire Hurricane team at the end of the first half), and 27 versus Connecticut in the semis. In the NCAA regional, he scored 24 in the loss, but held Jeff McInnis to 1 for 8 shooting. By season's end, Allen Iverson had been named Big East Player of the Week nine times, Rookie of the Year, a second team all-conference selection, and honorable mention All-America recipient. Having led the Hoyas in points and steals en route to the school's first NCAA regional appearance since 1989, Iverson was already a star. By 1996, he would become nothing less than a sensation.
The leaser of a talented team that featured four future NBA stars, Allen Iverson dominated the 1995-96 season as no Hoya has done before or since. Adept at the crossover dribble that became his NBA trademark, lightning quick to the basket, and able to score on opponents at will, Iverson was largely unstoppable. Even more impressive was an effort to improve his shooting touch, for despite averaging 20.4 points as a freshman in 1994-95 (2nd all time for a Georgetown rookie), Iverson only shot 39 percent from the field, 23 percent from three, and 19 percent from three in Big East play. For his sophomore season, his field shooting increased to 48 percent, his three point mark to 36 percent. The results were striking.
In the pre-season NIT versus Temple, Iverson shot 50 percent for 24 points and a career high 10 rebounds. After a 23 point effort against Georgia Tech, he scored a career high 40 against Arizona, one of two 40+ point games that season. In Big East play, Iverson could ring up points with ease, such as the game where he scored 21 points in only 20 minutes against Rutgers.
In the final three months of the season, Iverson led the team in 21 of the team's 25 games: 40 against Seton Hall, 39 against St. John's, 34 against Providence. He scored 30 in a wild win over Memphis, and followed it up two nights later with 26 in an upset of #3 Connecticut. For the game, Iverson totalled 26 points, 8 steals, and 6 assists, including a soaring dunk past Ray Allen and the Huskies. It was the highest ranked team any Georgetown team had defeated since 1988. His best performance of the season might have been a 37 point, 8 rebound, and three steal effort against #6 ranked Villanova, playing only 27 minutes. The 106-68 win represents the sixth largest margin of victory and the largest margin ever by a Georgetown team against a top 10 opponent.
Iverson was capable of an off game; unfortunately, two came at particularly inopportune times for the Hoyas' hopes for a national title. Entering the 1996 Big East Final with a #1 seed on the line, Iverson shot 4 for 15 and the Hoyas lost by one, 76-75. As a result of the loss, Georgetown was seeded #2 behind top ranked UMass, and in the regional final between the two teams Iverson struggled with a 6 for 21 effort in the loss. For the season, though, his statistics were astonishing: his 926 points broke the then-record by 124 points. He set new single season marks in field goals, field goal attempts, three pointers, three point attempts, steals, minutes, and scoring average (25.0), the latter of which ranked 7th in the nation that season. The Big East's defensive player of the year, he was named a consensus All-American amidst numerous other awards.
If he could somehow have stayed four years, Iverson undoubtedly would have shredded the Georgetown record books. But whatever hopes existed for Iverson to resist the lure of the NBA were short lived, particularly with the news that one of his sisters had fallen ill. Seeing the opportunity to take care of his family's medical needs, Iverson announced for the NBA draft soon after the end of his sophomore season, becoming the first Georgetown player in the Thompson era to do so. The compact that had bound so many great Hoya players to a four year commitment--from Ewing to Williams, Mourning to Mutombo--had now been broken.
The first pick in the 1996 NBA draft, Iverson signed a $3.9 million contract with the Philadelphia 76ers and a ten year, $50 million deal with Reebok. His effort on the court is well known and respected, but for all the media portrayals of Iverson as the anti-hero, an icon of a "Hip Hop Nation" that ran counter to the NBA's carefully constructed marketing image, or as a symbol of all that is allegedly wrong in professional basketball, he remains remarkably well-grounded.
Married for six years and the father of two, Iverson is fiercely loyal to his teammates and to his childhood friends. He considered it an honor to play for the U.S. Olympic team in 2004 when other NBA stars passed on the offer, and maintains a number of charity events to benefit his local community. In comparison to his NBA career, his years at Georgetown were largely free of the intense media and personal scrutiny, providing at least two years where he could grow as a person as well as a basketball player.
His arrival and exit at Georgetown is still a source of debate in some circles, but his performance on the court is not. Allen Iverson found a home, even briefly, at the Hilltop, and remains one of its brightest stars. "In my heart, I know I'm a basketball player," Iverson said following his 2006 NBA trade, "being that I know I can play with the best of them."
From that first Kenner League game on 1994, no one has doubted it since.