Few professional athletes in recent memory have had a more signature look than Allen Iverson’s headband, cornrows, and Reebok shoes.
In a time when the game’s best players, including Michael Jordan, wore Nike, Iverson walked his own path and helped turn Reebok into a shoe powerhouse. The inside story of how he did is fascinating, and it includes His Airness unintentionally helping.
Reebok wanted Allen Iverson to become its version of Michael Jordan
In the 1990s, everyone seemingly wanted to Be Like Mike and wear Jordan shoes. That actually worked to Reebok’s advantage.
When GQ profiled Iverson in 2007, former Reebok executive Henry “Que” Gaskins remembered preparing to negotiate a shoe deal with the then-top draft prospect. Gaskins explained that at the time, Reebok primarily appealed to white women, especially those who participated in aerobics.
Someone like Iverson, who rapped in his spare time and openly flashed tattoos, could — and would — change the demographics in a major way.
“We felt A.I. could help us. Kids were tired of being told, “Be like Mike.” They wanted somebody they could relate to, not worship. Allen Iverson was the most authentic athlete of his time. We designed a shoe for him, not even knowing if he was leaving school. It was the only shot we had of having the shoe ready at the start of the season.”Henry “Que” Gaskins
The rest is history. The Philadelphia 76ers selected Iverson first overall in the 1996 NBA Draft, and he signed a shoe deal with Reebok.
“That was always a dream of mine, having my own sneaker,” Iverson told GQ. “It didn’t matter what it looked like; that sneaker was going to look good to me. It was my first sneaker. It was perfect. It was mine.”
Iverson helped Reebook become a basketball shoe powerhouse
When Iverson debuted in the fall of 1996, the modern internet as we know it was in its infancy. There were no viral Twitter clips of him crossing over Jordan or torching a defense for 30 points.
It didn’t matter. Iverson won Rookie of the Year honors, and everyone knew his name as his highlights aired on SportsCenter each night. That included prospective shoe buyers, who jumped at the chance to wear the star guard’s signature sneaker.
When he spoke with GQ, Gaskins said the company went “from zero to over $200 million” in two years because of Iverson.
“During the first five years, there was not a person on the planet, maybe other than the president, who would not take my phone call,” Gaskins said. “Everyone just wanted to be around [Iverson].”
Reebok hasn’t had a superstar carry the company since Iverson retired
Although Iverson continues representing Reebok in 2021, he also hasn’t played an NBA game since February 2010. And, given that he entered the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016, one shouldn’t expect that to change anytime soon.
Boston Celtics guard Josh Richardson, Los Angeles Lakers big man Montrezl Harrell, and WNBA forward Tamera Young are Reebok’s current basketball faces. Reebok wisely brought back Iverson’s Answer 4 sneakers earlier this year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of when he famously crossed Los Angeles Lakers guard Tyronn Lue over in the 2001 NBA Finals.
Perhaps history is repeating itself. Plenty of people still buy Jordan sneakers because of the six-time NBA champion. What’s stopping basketball fans from doing the same with Iverson and Reebok? Outside of those who argue that $130 is too much for a pair of sneakers, of course.