When I was in high school, Allen Iverson was THE MAN. Most guys tried to be like him and all the guys wanted to be him. AI wasn’t the first to sport cornrows, but I dare to say he inspired the movement that led to just about every black kid in America to grow their hair and get it braided in patterns that should only be reserved for elementary-aged girls. It’s part of the reason that I have gone to great lengths to destroy all photos of myself from 2000-2004.
So it’s not really a stretch for me to say it hurt my soul to hear that The Answer is damn near broke. Several media outlets have reported that the government is garnishing the former MVP’s bank accounts to pay a six-figure debt owed to a jeweler. Including his last contract with Philadelphia, the former MVP made over $154 million during his 14 year NBA career. Now, just two years later, he can’t pay his own debts.
Some might see Iverson’s situation as just another case of an athlete squandering his money on cars, houses and women that he didn’t need. And to be fair, that is part of the story. But I believe Iverson’s story and what it symbolizes is much deeper than that. Iverson’s current financial problems are due more to his own generosity than selfishness.
Like many athletes and entertainers, Iverson was raised in a poverty-stricken area of Newport News, Virginia. Born to a 15 year-old single mother, from the moment he showed promise on the basketball court (and the football field), Bubba, as Iverson was known around the way, was everyone’s meal ticket. Not just for his mother and his sisters, but also the neighborhood guys who “took care of him.” From the day he was drafted no. 1 by the Sixers (the same draft that Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Ray Allen were available in) he was financially responsible for literally dozens of folks. Add to that the amount of money he donated to charitable causes and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that literally everywhere he turned, somebody was in his pockets.
Though the sheer amount of money Iverson made and lost may be tough to relate to, most African-Americans who have achieved some level of financial success can identify with Iverson. Those privileged, who like Iverson have come from poverty, know what it’s like to have so much when those who are close to you have so little. Any person who has a heart would at least feel conflicted emotions of guilt and self-preservation.
But you have to use your brain as well as your heart. You have to put yourself in a financially secure situation first. And when you do reach out to help someone, you’re doing both you and them a disservice if you simply provide handouts. If you don’t find that balance, you and your friends will both end up back in the same place.
It’s unfortunate that Iverson didn’t learn this lesson a long time ago. Hopefully his story will serve as a cautionary tale to those who feel they too must place the weight of the world on their shoulders.