Allen Iverson’s 15-year prison sentence almost robbed us of “The Answer”

Before he was “The Answer,” he was almost a cautionary tale. Allen Iverson is known for his dazzling crossovers and freakish athleticism on the basketball court. His whole NBA Hall of Fame career would have never would have come to fruition without a fortuitous reversal of fate.

Iverson was a promising young basketball player from Bethel High School in Hampton, Virginia. Aside from this, he was also a prolific football player. He led both of his teams to state championships and was decorated by the Associated Press as the High School Player of the Year in both sports. He seemed to be destined for greatness, but one incident in 1993 almost derailed his dreams and changed his life forever.

On the night of February 14th, 1993, a brawl erupted at a bowling alley in Hampton. The incident seemed to be between two racial groups, one white, the other black. The dispute was over the fact that Iverson’s group of friends were supposedly too loud. The brawl, while typically not newsworthy, was one in which Iverson was allegedly involved and therefore drew much attention in the local news.

Iverson and three of his friends were arrested. These were the only arrests made after the incident, a fact which aroused controversy: the only arrests were of black men while none of the white combatants were arrested. It seemed as though the politics of the arrest were racially motivated. In a deeper twist of irony, Iverson was convicted of “maiming-by-mob,” a statute originally meant to discourage lynchings. This law meant that at the age of 17, Iverson could be tried as an adult.

Iverson was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He spent four months in a Newport Prison facility before Virginia Governor Douglas Wilder granted him clemency due to insufficient evidence of Iverson’s guilt.

Allen was able to reflect on his experience. “I had to use the whole jail situation as something positive,” Iverson said. “Going to jail, someone sees something weak in you, they’ll exploit it. I never showed any weakness. I just kept going strong until I came out.”

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During his prison stint, Iverson’s mother Ann had visited Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson and had asked him to meet Allen. Thompson obliged, and Iverson was offered a scholarship to play for the Georgetown Hoyas.

Iverson’s attitude served him moving forward. He went on to achieve a level of success that many athletes aspire to, and his efforts made him a basketball legend. His grit and determination through his experience cements his legend as one of the greatest men to ever play the game.