Although there were many names of note inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday, no one’s speech was quite as gracious, real and moving as that of Allen Iverson, who admittedly has been through many ups and downs in his life and career.
Iverson, who remained choked up through his entire speech, began by thanking God, with a little catch in his throat.
“First I just want to thank God for loving me and blessing me. I thank him for blessing me for being the man that I am and the guy that I am … the person my family loves, my friends love, my teammates love and my fans love.”
“The Answer” then went on to thank each of the men who were onstage with him: John Thompson, Larry Brown and Julius Erving.
“I want to thank Coach Thompson for saving my life,” said a visibly emotional Iverson. Iverson went on to reference the fact that in high school he was “recruited by every school in the country for football and basketball,” but after a fight in a bowling alley, he was charged, ironically, with an anti-lynching law and given five years (Gov. Doug Wilder pardoned him in 1993). Suddenly, all of those offers went away. “My mom went to Georgetown and had to beg [Thompson] to give me a chance,” says Iverson. “And he did.”
He then thanked Philadelphia 76ers coach Larry Brown.
“I was an all right basketball player; I had talent,” he said. “But once I started to listen to Larry Brown and take constructive criticism, I learned how much of a great, great, great coach that he is. Once I started to listen to him and was coached by him, that’s when I became an MVP, I became an All-Star … and I followed his lead all the way.”
And then he talked about Erving.
“Dr. J. Big shoes. Literally. But I got to Philadelphia, and man, those were some big shoes to fill with a size 10 foot. And he was always supportive of me … always gave me words of wisdom; just a great man. Handsome old school dude, too,” he quipped.
Iverson then thanked each member of his family—his mom, dad, uncles, aunts and each of his five children.
“My babies. I thank y’all for being my crutch. The media treating me like they did throughout my career. I always came home and forgot about that once I saw y’all. Thanks for being my crutch. I love y’all so much.”
There were many moments of comic relief during the address, including when Iverson recounted the first time he played his idol and hero Michael Jordan. Iverson likened it to the Chappelle’s Show episode where there was an aura around Rick James. Iverson said he couldn’t stop staring at the basketball icon on the court that day, “right down to his Jordans.”
Of course the league’s first “hip-hop” player had to give it up for the rappers he loved. “Mase, Cam’ron, Jim Jones, Fab,” he began. “I want to thank Biggie Smalls, Redman, Jadakiss, Tupac and Michael Jackson for being my theme music throughout my career.”
He also had some words for “the media”—“the love-hate relationship that made me stronger.”
Finally, Iverson ended by thanking his wife, saying it was going to be “kinda difficult.” For Tawanna Iverson, he had these words: “My No. 1 person in the world, hands down. Tawanna Iverson. Twenty-four years. Ups, downs, but real love. I can’t thank you enough for all you’ve done for me. Not just my career … but for loving me the way you do and caring about what kind of person I am and what type of person I need to be to set an example for our babies. Just the best of me; I love you so much. Looking forward to spending two more decades with you. And I want you to be proud of yourself, and I want you to walk around and understand you are a Hall of Famer.”
Watch the entire speech below: