Several civil rights groups demanded that Iverson apologize—he did, in a halfhearted statement issued by the Sixers—and NBA commissioner David Stern, while acknowledging Iverson's freedom of speech, urged him to soften the album's lyrics. (Iverson initially agreed to make changes in the final cut, which is due out in February, but has since said he has changed his mind.) Although Iverson offers the public a stoic front when faced with criticism, these attacks stung. "I called him at the time, and he was in pieces," says Ann Iverson, Allen's mother. "He said, 'Have you heard what they're saying about me?' I said, 'You can't change what people think. Just focus on being a good father [Iverson has two children with his fianc�e, Tawanna Turner], a good leader and a good person.' "
"The league always has its eye on Allen, ready to yell or scream when he does something wrong," says Raptors forward Charles Oakley, one of many NBA players who have defended Iverson's artistic efforts. "They want this kid to be someone else. They let Jason Williams get away with murder because he's white, but when Allen does something, they want to cry about it and call him unruly. That ain't right." ( Williams was, in fact, suspended for the first five games of the season for violating the league's drug policy.)
Two hours before last Saturday night's win at Miami, Iverson—who will go on to score 24 points with seven rebounds and two assists—sits by his cubby in the visiting locker room, cornrows tight, tattoos adorning much of his body. The summer of 2000, months past, will probably never fade from his memory. Maybe, a decade from now and still a Sixer, Allen Iverson will consider it a pivotal time in his life. Maybe, a decade from now and with his seventh team, he will consider it the beginning of his downward spiral. It may be all right to think me-giant, you-midget, but no team can win a championship with a star who practices and plays that way. Iverson's record on embracing this concept is about, oh, four games long.
"I've learned some important s—-," he says. "You're always trying to learn, but sometimes it doesn't stick with you. Because of the s—-I went through, I'm a more mature person and a better basketball player."
What, he is asked, is the lesson of it all? Iverson, a nonstop talker once he finds a roll, takes a second to think. "Mistakes happen," says the 76ers co-captain, "but after a while you've gotta stop making 'em twice."