Hip-hop and basketball is a lifestyle that can’t exist mutually exclusively. Walk into any NBA locker room and you’ll hear an orchestrated variation of Rick Ross, Chief Keef, Drake and Jay-Z blaring before and after games. Fans of the game hear it on loudspeakers at NBA arenas too. Face it: hip-hop and basketball are married and have been for some time. So when Allen Iverson officially retired in October and had his jersey retirement ceremony over the weekend, it was kind of a big deal—particularly for hip-hop.
Allen Iverson’s number 3 jersey was retired in front of more than 20,000 fans at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Saturday. It was a tribute to a man that despite his own missteps, introduced basketball to the inner city and streetball. Iverson’s hard work and passion were traits that the city of Philadelphia embraced with open arms.
A trendsetter, in the 90s, he organically introduced a fearless style and way of playing basketball that many players in the NBA to this day still embrace. The hip-hop community also took notice because he played the game of basketball while impacting hip hop culture. “I think that Allen Iverson was one of the best players that there was particularly in my era,” said Philadelphia’s own Ms. Jade. “First of all he had the city on smash because he was this little guy that had so much heart. That stood out and I think from his heart that he was passionate about basketball.”
Ms. Jade released her album Girl Interrupted in 2002. The Timbaland-produced Ching Ching featuring Nelly Furtado was one of Ms. Jade’s top singles off her album.
An 11-time All-Star, Iverson finished his career averaging 26.7 points per game, the sixth-best career scoring mark in NBA league history. He left an undeniable imprint on homes across the world because his career was lived on his own terms. Ms. Jade liked the way Iverson carried her city on his back and how relatable he was. “You knew he was from the hip hop era,” she said. “It made you say ‘oh I can rock with him’ because he reminded you of your cousin or somebody like that.”
Although he was a basketball player, The Answer tried his hand at rapping himself. He caught some flack for it and famously responded to his critics by saying: “If I was trying to make everyone happy, I could only rap about cartoons and the Rugrats. My hip-hop fans wouldn’t accept that.”
One of Iverson’s most memorable seasons was when he was awarded the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award during the 2000-01 season. During that season, he led coach Larry Brown’s Sixer team to the NBA Finals. Neef Buck, one half of the Philadelphia group the Young Gunz was a huge Allen Iverson supporter because of Iverson’s reign in a league that was dominated by taller players. At 6 feet tall and 165 pounds, Iverson struck fear in his opponents with his aggressive style of play. “Small guys had to play with hella heart,” said Neef Buck.
Neef Buck and fellow Young Gunner Young Chris recently celebrated their ten year anniversary of their album Tough Luv last week. Being born and raised in the Nicetown section of North Philly, gave him a courtside view of Iverson’s games nightly on South Broad Street. “Playing point guard is the most important piece to the puzzle and the most important piece to the basketball court,” he said. “He brought so much excitement to our city. He brought that feeling back from when we had Charles Barkley and Dr. J in his prime. He brought a special thing to the city—he brought that light.”
Aside from playing well and setting trends, Iverson is credited for being an even better person. He knew how to party and hang out too. The TGI Friday’s on City Line Avenue in West Philly dubbed Club Friday’s was always hopping when AI came around. “He was more than a basketball player,” said Neef Buck.
“A lot of guys come to the city of Philly to play for the Sixers and you would never see them. Chuck would be out in the city at TGI Friday’s and Houlihans and would have drinks with us. He was like a part of the city. At times it felt like he was from here.”
Ms. Jade likes that Iverson gave her city some swag: “Even when you talk about Philly you always mention Allen Iverson,”she said. “People who haven’t even been to Philly know Philly because of Allen Iverson.
Allen Iverson officially announced his retirement from basketball on October 30, 2013. On Saturday March 1, 2014, his #3 jersey was lifted to the rafters at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia and will never be worn again.