Statistically and anecdotally, there are dozens of better players in NBA history than Allen Iverson. Iverson was famous for low percentage shots, inefficient passing and turnovers. His usage rate was outrageously high for someone whose effectiveness was questionable. When his hellbent driving skills worked, his layups and dunks looked like masterpieces. But his game was always more appreciated from an aesthetic perspective.
So no, Allen Iverson was not the best player to play basketball. Not by a long shot.
But in terms of cultural influence and impact on the game, he is second only to Michael Jordan.
Kent Babb does a good enough job unpacking Iverson’s complicated legacy. He alternates chapters between stories of Iverson’s life and career mixed with the divorce proceedings between Iverson and his wife Tawanna. It framed the story in a way that did not let you forget what a complicated person Iverson is.
Here, Babb lays it all bare and makes no excuses or apologies for the man. He allows Iverson to be from an impoverished background, the victim of brutal systemic racism, a person who against all odds pushed himself to greatness, who was capable of extraordinary acts of kindness and selflessness, almost to a fault. And Iverson is also the entitled athlete who was protected in the judiciary system, an alcoholic wife beater and negligent father who put his family through hell, a teammate who was often more about himself.
By not passing judgment on Iverson, we are allowed to view him in full complexity. It’s the only way to do it. Iverson symbolizes so much about professional sports in America for better and for worse.
This is actually the rare biography that I wish had more detail. Babb sort of skimps over certain points. He’s more interested in covering the family aspect of Iverson, which is fine. But I would have liked to learn more about what his teammates (save Aaron McKie) thought of him, what his rivals thought of him. The format, while helping the complexity of the story, doesn’t always work, sometimes detracting from the momentum of storytelling Iverson’s life.
I would love something more comprehensive on Iverson but this is all we get and for now, it will do.