Given his summer of basketball, some wondered whether Iverson would play football at Bethel last fall. He began preseason practice late and struggled in early games. But as the season progressed, Iverson became a dominant player at quarterback, defensive back and kick returner, and he led the Bruins to the state championship. He passed for 1,423 yards and 14 touchdowns. He ran for 781 yards and 15 touchdowns. He returned four punts, one kickoff and one interception for touchdowns.
Bethel needed to upset undefeated Hampton, then the state's top-ranked team, to make the playoffs. Against a defense that hadn't yielded a touchdown in four games, Iverson guided the Bruins to a 30-10 rout, Hampton's worst defeat since 1976.
In a 27-0 victory against E.C. Glass of Lynchburg in the state title game, Iverson passed for 201 yards, intercepted two passes and returned a punt 60 yards for a touchdown.
``He's the most exciting player I've ever seen in high school,'' said an assistant coach at a major college football program. ``Offense, defense, the kicking game, he's in a class of his own. He dominates the game.''
Three days and one basketball practice after the state title game, Iverson scored 37 points in Bethel's season-opening victory against Kecoughtan. Seven times this season he has scored 40 or more points, and entering Saturday's Peninsula District Tournament final against Hampton, he was averaging 31.6 points a game.
But basketball season also has tarnished Iverson's reputation. He has received several technical fouls for taunting opponents. He was suspended for a game, which Bethel lost, for missing a practice.
When Bethel and Hampton drew a capacity crowd to Hampton University's Holland Hall, Iverson brought the house down with a 25-point first half. But he was benched for much of the second half after a disagreement with Coach Bailey during a timeout.
Such antics prompt questions about his relationships with coaches and teammates, all of whom perform in his shadow.
``He's not a bad kid,'' Bailey said. ``He slept through practice and mouthed off. I corrected behavior. I want to see those kinds of things resolved now. Too much is at stake at the next level.''
``He brings out the best in everyone else,'' said Xavier Gunn, who played both sports with Iverson. ``That's what he expects from his teammates, and that's what we expect from him. I wouldn't call it demanding. That's just how it is.''
``He's cocky,'' Williams said. ``That's what makes him as good as he is.''
Iverson atones for his behavior with performance. The night after his benching against Hampton, he buried five consecutive 3-pointers and scored 40 points to rally Bethel from a 20-point deficit to an 86-74 victory against Menchville. After a listless 8-point performance against Lafayette during which he received a technical foul, Iverson scored 40 or more in three consecutive games.
``He's always on the edge, testing how far the coach will let him go, how far the officials will let him go, how far teachers will let him go,'' said Bailey, the public address announcer. ``But that's his fire. I'm not sure he always knows how that comes across to other people.''
``A lot of people don't know that once the game starts, everyone is coming at me,'' Iverson said. ``When someone makes a smart remark to me on the court and I say something, people always pick up on what I say. . . . I just play hard. I like to stay under control, have a good time and make sure my teammates are having a good time, too. I'm not a one-man show.''
But make no mistake: When Iverson takes the field, or the court, he is ``the show.''
He smiles and contorts his face on the basketball court, reacting to each play, each call of the officials. He handles the ball like a yo-yo, creates plays at full-speed and floats above the rim.
The crowds respond like converts at a revival. When Bethel and Hampton met for the district title Feb. 16, more than 8,000 people crammed into Hampton Coliseum, and although Iverson shot poorly, he stunned the crowd with two alley-oop dunks.
The second was particularly outrageous because Iverson didn't have a running start. He posted his defender along the baseline, spun toward the bucket and somehow rose above the rim for a basket that had fans on their feet and buzzing for minutes.
``It's his show, his game,'' Williams said. ``He's an entertainer.''
On the football field, as he dances from sideline to sideline, Iverson points at opposing defenders, as if to say, ``You can't touch me.'' He celebrates after scoring touchdowns.
Feb. 28, 1993: Iverson determined to shine, to overcome his past
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