Jerseys. We’re talking about jerseys.
Actually, Allen Iverson starts talking about jerseys before we can even ask a single question, appropriate enough for the opening of the Mitchell & Ness section of the NBA Store on 5th Avenue in NYC. He may be a Hall of Famer now, but he still travels with a rather large group of friends, some of whom found themselves trying to remember their childhood days in Virginia.
“I never had no jersey when we was little!”
“You had a Mike one.”
“I ain’t never had no Mike joint, I couldn’t afford one.”
“Jalen Rose jersey.”
“I ain’t never had no Jalen joint.”
Iverson’s had plenty of jerseys by now, of course, and over the past 20 years he created some iconic ones himself. Several—including the iconic PHILA throwback he wore on a 1999 SLAM cover—are downstairs, where a huge crowd is waiting to greet him. Iverson never played in New York, but he gained the respect of New York fans by simply doing what he did: playing every game like it was his his last.
His playing career actually isn’t quite over yet, as Iverson will suit up for Ice Cube’s all-new Big 3 3-on-3 league this summer while also serving as his team’s coach. (Someone go revive Larry Brown.) For now though, the legend is down to talk about legends, and why wearing an opposing team’s jersey never meant he didn’t love his own.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
I was actually gonna ask you that about what was the first jersey you had.
Yeah, I don’t remember having no jersey back then.
Was the first NBA one you had your own?
I’m tryin’ to think. I didn’t [have one when I was a kid], man. That’s crazy. I’m sitting here trying to think of it myself—honestly. And I would assume back then I would have wanted Mike, but I know we couldn’t afford that.
How did things start out for you with Mitchell & Ness? They were in Philly, you were in Philly.
Obviously it was the product. And then maybe more special and different when the people that worked there rocked with you, and our relationship was so good. I guess that’s how it developed, first and foremost I was a fan of the things they were doing. Then the relationship became what it is now.
Because I remember you having the Abdul-Jabbar Bucks jersey on the bench when you were with the Sixers.
And a lot of people in Philly were getting upset that I was wearing certain jerseys. But I was paying homage to the guys that wore the jersey. I’m a Sixer until I die, I’m gonna always be a Sixer. But Philadelphia fans are so passionate about their teams, they feel like if you’re a Sixer then you only can be a Sixer, and you can only support a Sixer. If you’re an Eagle, you only can support the Eagles, you can’t support another team. But I have friends, man. I got guys on different teams that I love and I support. And I wasn’t born in Philadelphia, so I never knew nothin’ about Philadelphia until I became—Philadelphia, you know what I mean? That’s my second home, I love everything about Philadelphia. It’s just like being a Cowboy['s fan], I was a Cowboy 5 years old, my mom made me a Cowboy. It was no disrespect to Philadelphia, because they love me and I love them back. It is what it is. I was just born a Cowboy.
I would assume back then I would have wanted Mike, but I know we couldn’t afford that.
In the early 2000s a lot of people were buying jerseys for the way they looked instead of who it was, like that West All-Star Jerry West…
Or like a Denver Nuggets Alex English joint, you could match so many different shoes up with it or whatever. It’s just style, man. Even when I wear a certain baseball hat, people be like ‘that’s your team.’ I’m like ‘nah, I just like the color.’ I don’t even have a baseball team besides the Phillies, that’s the only team that I really care about, but I wear different caps. I wear Yankees all the time, but I’m a Philadelphia Phillies fan because I want the Phillie fans to be happy about their team.
Were you getting jerseys back then mostly for who wore it?
Nah, I would wear a jersey if it was dope. I had plenty of times, my homeboys be like “man, he was sorry!” “OK, well, I just like the jersey man, I ain’t got nothin’ to do with that.” But a lot of ‘em, that’s real special when you look up to somebody that you can put their jersey on—I’ve had those jerseys. Now I’m a guy, I wear a Shaq jersey, I wear a Kobe jersey now.
Does it feel different, seeing people wearing your jersey now, than it did seeing people wear it in the arena?
I love it just because—when you look at people that gave so much to a sport, they don’t never forget about you. It’s always the thought of "this guy gave me this feeling at this particular time in my life." That’s the part that I love about it the most. When people say “thanks for the memories” it means so much to me because if I could talk to Michael Jackson right now, that’s what I would say to him. Thanks for the memories, thanks for everything that you did for me, mentally. Thanks for how happy you made me by just listening to a song, seeing a video, those things. And I know that’s everlasting, because his music gonna live forever. But a basketball player, after a while it comes to an end. All you got is highlights. I sit around—and Mike [Jordan]’s done—I go to Youtube, “Michael Jordan,” and I just watch Michael Jordan highlights, and I still get those goosebumps, I get those chills going through my body like “damn!” Like this is the guy I really wanted to be like. I tried my hardest to emulate him six feet—well, six inches shorter. I tried to emulate him. That’s the guy I really wanted to be like. I still got those moments when I’m drinkin’ my Dom Perignon and be in my sentimental moment, and I go to Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan, that’s what I do.
You have gotten Jordan jerseys by now, right?
Yeah. Hell yeah. I can afford it now! I actually got the game-worn one. That’s just the luxury of me accomplishing what I accomplished—"here you go, buddy."