This guy had the 100,000-watt smile of a lotto winner. He had the joy of the game in his blood, and he knew how to spread it. He would hug his coach only slightly less than he hugged his mom, which was constantly. He had the courage to dive into the crowd at least once a game, and the sense of humor to hug the fan who caught him. He had the game to win the shiniest awards, yet the humility to share credit with everybody else in the room.
You're thinking Magic Johnson, right?
Now open your eyes and look at him.
He's Allen Iverson.
That changes everything, doesn't it? Now you see the cornrows and the tattoos and the pierce-holes dripping gold, and they bug you, right? You think thug and rapper and criminal. SI put the NBA's soon-to-be MVP on the cover of its April 23 issue, posed as himself, nearly naked, hip-hop to his heart, and suddenly you're mad. West and Jordan and Stockton and Magic, they're welcome on your coffee table, but not this guy. We're up to our clavicles in hate mail (a sampling of which appears on page 14).
"Christ!" wrote a subscriber in Tucson. "Don't you have enough tattooed, body-pierced, earring- [and] necklace-wearing, corn-rowed freaks on the inside [of the magazine] that you have to put them on the cover?"
"The cover with Allen Iverson made me sick to my stomach," read one e-mail. "I feel the magazine has sent a poor message to young readers."
From Richardson, Texas: "Those preening idiots barely belong to the human race."
Montgomery, Ala.: "Iverson is just another reason why our country is in such bad shape."