This particular new experience is an interview on a coast-to-coast conference call. The NBA stages an interview of a dominant, newsmaking player every Wednesday during the season. Iverson is this week's dominant, newsmaking personality. He is leading Philadelphia in scoring, assists and steals (his numbers, at week's end, would be 21.8, 6.4 and 2.67, respectively). He is doing all the things the No. 1 overall draft choice is supposed to do, even though he should be just now starting his junior season at Georgetown University. He has thrown two spectacular performances at the New York Knicks, scoring 35 and 26 points and fouling out everyone who tried to guard him. He is lighting many of the proper lights. One month into his career.
"How's this work?" he asks.
"The reporters will introduce themselves," Sixers director of public relations Jodi Silverman says. "Then they ask their questions. Then you answer."
He answers predictable questions. Doesn't he shoot a lot? He says he likes to score and maybe is forcing the action a little bit, but that was what he did in his first year of college. He will settle down as he learns the game, learns to let the game come to him. Is he having trouble with the referees, who, following a memo issued by the league office, have started to call his normal crossover dribble a travel? He says he has modified the dribble. He doesn't dribble as high anymore. He also dribbles more from the side now rather than bringing his hand over the top of the ball. The traveling calls seem to have stopped. What does he think about his future? He says, "No one has more confidence in me than I have in myself." Just like that.
His confidence is the bass line behind any music he makes. He can have a tough shooting night against the Lakers and say "I lost that game for my team" and come back shooting some more. He can be yanked from the lineup on Friday, benched after five third-quarter turnovers in a 100-91 win over the Orlando Magic, and return on Saturday, for 23 points, nine assists and 10 more turnovers in a 96-90 win over the-Vancouver Grizzlies. (He will shrug off the benching: "It was the coach's decision, so I respect that. Plus, we won the game, so it was a good decision.") He is young. Expect mistakes.
"Come back and see me at the end of next month, or maybe the month after that," he says. "Then you'll be able to tell how well I can play basketball or not."
One question comes over the telephone that he doesn't want to answer. It is another basic question, but.... "Do I have to answer everyone who asks a question?" Iverson asks Silverman, putting his hand over the phone.
"What do you mean?"
"There's a reporter out there I don't like. From Virginia. Do I have to answer him?"
"Say, 'Next question.' "