“Is he an icon who stayed true to himself or a thug in basketball shorts?”
In No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson, Steve James spends roughly 90 minutes analyzing this question through past footage and interviews of the Hampton, Virginia trial following a bowling alley brawl.
James’ film serves as a conjectural shovel in which he used to dig deep into the story about that brawl, turning just another intriguing story about one of the most transcendent athletes of my time into a microcosm of the man’s illustrious career. What most of us knew about Iverson was his never-back-down mentality. We knew he was a warrior who would die for his teammates and worked his ass off every single minute his Reeboks graced the hardwood, but what we didn’t know was the series of events that made him that way.
Iverson is from Virginia, the first place in the United States of America where slaves were brought and sold. This is a state where racism is still alive and confederate flags still fly. This was the case in the 60s, it’s the case now, and it was the case when Iverson was 17 years old in a courtroom being charged with “maiming by mob,” along with three other young men.
The original verdict ruled that Iverson would spend 15 years behind bars, but as we know, he didn’t spend anywhere near a year in prison, and ended up going to Georgetown for a couple of years, before being drafted first in the NBA Draft in 1996. Iverson’s stamp is still all over an NBA that is now one with hip-hop culture. He hasn’t just changed the way basketball is played, but how it’s watched – and this is due to the events that took place during and after that trial in 1993.
James shows the men and women who were there supporting Iverson and the three other young men as they faced jail time. The documentary shows a series of conspiracy theories about why Iverson was even brought to trial. It also shows that Iverson was dating the judge’s granddaughter at the time of the trial. The whole thing was riddled with race implications that hardened Iverson.
Not only do we learn about what Iverson went through in court, but we get to see rare high school football and basketball highlights and how responsible he was off of the court, staying home from school to take care of his baby sister when his mother wasn’t around. What I took most from the film is that Iverson is generally a good man who has been judged based upon stereotyping. At one point, during an interview with Stephen A. Smith, Iverson says, “I went through what I went through because God told me to go through it.”
Iverson is one of the most self-aware athletes we’ve ever seen. He knows what he’s done wrong and doesn’t need to be praised when he does good. He’s gotten the raw end of the deal his whole life, even when it’s been doing the thing he loves most – playing basketball. No Crossover shines a new light on the life of Allen Iverson. The film is the backbone of the documentary, but that’s not story James is telling. If you take anything from No Crossover, make sure that you understand that Allen Iverson is far from a thug in basketball shorts; he’s a kid from Newport News who has been through hell and back to become one of the most loved athletes of the 21st Century.