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You've got 12 minutes, from now until he's dressed and gone, to understand the kid America sees as the jeans-saggin', 'do-raggin', gun-totin', dope-smokin' hoodlum who's going to ruin the post-Michael era, one cornrow at a time.
First, look at him. Just for a second, before he goes all gangsta and stare and attitude. Remember Allen Iverson like this: butt-naked, skinny, 160 pounds tops, including tattoos and scars and hurt. Just a 22-year-old with a boy's chest and a Cub Scout's legs and so much on his mind. If you've just flown in from Borneo and never seen the most dazzling, maddening, unguardable, confused young player in the NBA, you might figure Iverson for one of the towel boys. Look at him as he goes back to his locker after a postgame shower, sidestepping the frontcourt monsters with their Michelangelo bodies and their knuckles scraping the ceiling as they put on their size-XXXL undershirts. Stand Iverson next to Derrick Coleman, the Philadelphia 76ers' 6'10", 260-pound forward, and you get an idea of how the Beaver felt when he saw Wally get out of the bathtub.
But look even closer. Iverson's body was made to play point guard in the NBA. His arms must be seven feet long. When former Sixers guard World B. Free saw Iverson naked the first time, he said, "Yo, Al, they gave you somebody else's body!" Those arms let him flip spin shots over oafish centers with either hand. Look at his size-11 feet, which give him that detonation off the dribble. The kid has no real jumper yet, so everybody in the building knows he's driving, and yet they get low, they get ready, and then, like that, they get served.
Iverson is the quickest player the league has ever seen, quicker than Tiny Archibald, quicker than Calvin Murphy, quicker even than Rickey Green, who had quickness and not much else. What Michael Jordan did to the notion of space, Iverson does to speed. He dropped 31 on the Lakers' Nick Van Exel in a Sixers win in Los Angeles on Jan. 4, and X is still not sure Iverson wasn't just a rumor.
There's so much Iverson still needs to learn, but for pure, raw rush nobody this side of Jordan is more fun to watch. Jordan's teammate Ron Harper once said that Iverson is so quick, "I have to rub my eyes." Sixers assistant Mo Cheeks, the human blur who helped lead Philly to the 1983 NBA title, says, "In my prime, I think I'd have to give Allen a half step. Maybe a step." And Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson has said, "I'd pay to watch Allen play."
Iverson is not a bodybuilder. He is not big on crunches. He is just an athlete. You can tell it from the hands, soft enough to draw fine sketches but big enough to palm a ball, the key to the signature crossover dribble that has left even Jordan looking like a Times Square tourist who just lost at three-card monte. Those hands can throw a spiral 70 yards in the air, which Iverson did while taping a TV feature with the Philadelphia Eagles last year. He also made a one-handed catch of a 50-yard pass, ran perfect routes and had Eagles assistant coach Gerald Carr asking, "When's his contract up?"
The first thing Iverson puts on after his shower is his 'do rag, because his braids are not exactly as he likes them, and Iverson usually refuses to be seen or to be interviewed on camera if his corn-rows are not exactly as he likes them. It's understood among the Philadelphia media. "Rows in yet?" a cameraman will ask, waiting for the locker room door to open after practice.
"Nah," somebody will say forlornly.