The rumors, according to those close to Iverson, are the product of jealousy, fear and racism. Iverson himself acknowledges them. They say he's a drug addict and dealer. They say he's too old to compete in high school sports. They say he rarely attends school. They say he has no chance of meeting the academic standards of major college sports programs.
Iverson refutes the rumors, as do those close to him.
``He doesn't have a drug or alcohol problem,'' said Teko Winder, a star athlete at Bethel during the early 1970s. ``He has a living problem. He needs to know how to live.''
``You've got a kid who's 17 years old who doesn't make a penny for doing what he enjoys, and everybody wants to scrutinize and evaluate his life already,'' Bethel football coach Dennis Kozlowski said. ``People should let him be, let him grow.
``If he's able to go to college, get a degree and maybe go on to the next level athletically, God bless him. Then we can put him under the microscope. The publicity and notoriety at this level are what's damaging the kid because his perceptions become distorted.''
Iverson appears unaffected. ``They go in one ear and out the other,'' he said of the rumors.
But Gary Moore, who coached Iverson's youth football team and remains close to the family, said Iverson ``cried all night'' after a recent USA Today story that reported Iverson has never met his natural father and has a 1.8 grade-point average.
In fact, although Iverson lives with his mother, Ann, he has frequent contact with his father, Michael Freeman. Iverson's grades, according to law, are private, but his coaches and friends agree that the National Collegiate Athletic Association's 2.0 minimum grade-point average in core courses such as English and math is well within his reach.
``I guess it comes from me being from the streets,'' Iverson said. ``People figure I must be some kind of bad guy. . . . I'm just like every other teen-age kid. I go to parties, hang out and try to stay out of trouble. I watch whatever I do. But it's kind of tough. You don't know what people want to be with you because they like you as a person or because of what you are sports-wise.''
Said Williams: ``There's a misconception that he's a bad kid. He's just a very, very tough, competitive kid. He ain't no saint. He's not sitting next to the pope. But if you're in a war, you want him in your foxhole.''
Allen Iverson has seen most everything. He was raised in the projects of Newport News' East End, where danger is tangible, drugs are plentiful and life can be fleeting.
``I learned a lot by staying down there, about people and about life,'' Iverson said. ``At parties I've seen a lot of fights, a lot of shooting.''
On Feb. 14, Iverson was at Circle Lanes in Hampton during a chair-throwing brawl that sent three people to the emergency room. Iverson's presence immediately became common knowledge, the talk of eateries and classrooms.
Last Tuesday he was arrested and charged with three counts of maiming by mob and one count of assault by mob. Three others face the same charges for their part in the incident.
Before his arrest, Iverson said he was struck by a chair and did not retaliate.
Less than a month earlier, on Jan. 17, Iverson attended a party at the Hampton Coliseum Sheraton, where a former Hampton University student was shot to death.
``It was scary,'' Iverson said. ``I heard the gunshots. I got all my friends and went back upstairs because this was going on downstairs. I got my friends and made sure we didn't split up. Things like that can happen anywhere.''
Four years ago, it happened to Iverson's best friend. Tony Clark was 20, a former athlete and a high school dropout. He used to take Iverson to the basketball courts and watch him play. On weekends, Iverson often stayed at Clark's house.
When Iverson began neglecting his schoolwork, Clark sent him home. Two weeks later, Clark was dead, stabbed in the heart during an argument.
``I loved him like a brother,'' Iverson said.
Feb. 28, 1993: Iverson determined to shine, to overcome his past
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