Because of his legendary NBA career, Allen Iverson’s rise to fame often overshadows the notorious events of his youth. Born in Hampton, Virginia, the athlete grew up in a rough neighborhood, a fact he never hid throughout his NBA career.
Those tough streets, however, almost cost Iverson a chance to become the phenom we know today. Fortunately, this didn’t stop him from pursuing his dreams and eventually carving out a Hall of Fame career. Years later, he even got to return home for a special reunion.
Allen Iverson’s high-school basketball career
Iverson earned his stripes at Bethel High, a large and predominantly black high school. According to The Undefeated, Bethel is known for having an occasionally successful sports program bolstered by Iverson during the early part of the ’90s.
Not content on dominating the competition on the basketball court, Iverson was also a highly-coveted football prospect for many colleges. In the end, he would stick with his No. 1 dream: basketball.
In his junior year at Bethel, Iverson began to impress college scouts with his skills as a point guard. He was the leader of a 1992 AAU championship team and began to make the circuits of other youth leagues — all while maintaining his high-school football gig.
Rapper Pusha T also went to Bethel during this time. He described the atmosphere of Iverson’s games to The Undefeated: “His high school games felt like college! Even at that age and during those times, he was somebody,” Pusha T said. “He was a hero to all of us. I don’t really remember him being a peer. He changed [the game]. And he was from us!”
Iverson’s bowling alley incident
In a story heavily covered by NPR, Iverson and his friends were hanging out at the bowling alley in Hampton, being rowdy teenage boys. An altercation broke out between Iverson and his black friends and a group of white teenagers.
Iverson’s group claimed that racially -charged language was thrown their way, while the other group insisted that Iverson and his friends were just being rowdy. The result of this altercation became a big news story. After all, it involved a rising athlete and racial tension.
Many assumed Iverson and his friends would get off the hook. Instead, he and some of his friends were sentenced to five years in prison, essentially ending Iverson’s athletic dreams.
Many believed the charges were racially motivated. None of the white teens were charged in the incident despite some evidence that they were not entirely innocent. Whatever the case, Iverson was headed for prison. Had the conviction not been overturned a year later, things may have been different.
Fortunately, he was able to finish his high-school education elsewhere, get in the good graces of Georgetown University, and eventually experience his Hall of Fame basketball career.
Second chances for Iverson
Although Iverson never graduated from Bethel High School, he remains a legendary figure there to this day. Many maintain that Iverson was the victim of circumstance and he should not be punished for the injustice of the legal system.
Whatever the case, he has not forgotten his roots, and Bethel’s gym now bears his likeness. Iverson tearfully thanked a crowd of fans and friends as he helped unveil the arena. He let them know he had not forgotten where he came from.
“I’m Virginia,” Iverson told the crowd, according to The Undefeated. “… I’ve loved y’all for all these years for supporting me throughout the ups and downs in my life. We us. We Virginia. We beautiful. We the best. And we the toughest, strongest and we believe in each other. I just love y’all.”
Iverson’s career was a roller-coaster affair from the get-go, but he never forgot who he was. By getting his name on that gym in his hometown, he was able to get a ceremony stolen from him when he was sentenced to prison before his senior year.