Every second of Allen Iverson’s 31-minute Hall of Fame speech was must-see TV, but one of the most compelling moments came toward the beginning when the Philadelphia 76ers standout addressed his former Georgetown coach, John Thompson.
“I want to thank Coach Thompson,” Iverson said while fighting back tears. His voice trembled and he stuttered, but continued: “For saving my life. For giving me the opportunity. I was recruited by every school in the country for football and basketball. And an incident happened in high school and all that was taken away. No other teams, no other schools were recruiting me anymore. My mom went to Georgetown and begged him to give me a chance. And he did.”
The “incident” Iverson referred to was a fight that broke out in a bowling alley in Hampton, Va., in 1993 when, he said at the time, someone called him the n-word. Iverson was accused of hurting three people with a chair in the brawl, which resulted in convictions on three felony counts of “maiming by mob.” Two years later, while Iverson was already playing for Thompson at Georgetown, an appeals court overturned the convictions.
Iverson ended up playing two impressive seasons at Georgetown, averaging 23 points per game. In 1996, he was named an all-American before he declared for the NBA draft. The Sixers drafted him first overall that year and he lived up to the hype.
Iverson, though successful on the court, built up a reputation off the court that was less than stellar. He had another run-in with the law in 1997, and later gained a reputation for a fast-paced lifestyle filled with clubbing and gambling. His life after he retired in 2010 also hasn’t been the best amid rumors that he mismanaged his funds and was broke.
But the 41-year-old seems to be increasingly accepting of both his accomplishments and faults.
“I just want to thank God for loving me and blessing me,” Iverson said Friday. “I thank Him for blessing me to be the man that I am and have no regrets on being the guy that I am and the person that my family loves, my friends love, my teammates love and my fans love.”
The audience responded with loud cheers and applause.
Iverson was one of 10 inductees into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame on Friday. He was joined by Shaquille O’Neal, Yao Ming, Sheryl Swoopes, Tom Izzo, Jerry Reinsdorf, Darell Garretson, Cumberland Posey, Zelmo Beaty and John McLendon, inducted as a coach 37 years after he was inducted as a “contributor.”
In contrast to the emotional speech delivered by Iverson, O’Neal’s speech was the most comical of the night.
Although punctuated by serious moments, O’Neal’s speech was doused with punchlines. He joked about everything from his appetite to his endorsements to the soap opera “General Hospital.”
“Luke and Laura forever,” he said, referring to two of the main characters he used to watch while he made his siblings do his chores. Meanwhile, he said, he sat “in deep thought eating bologna sandwiches and Frosted Flakes.”
Yes, the audience laughed.