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Being Ann Iverson: ‘I knew Allen Iverson was going to the NBA when I was carrying him’

The Hall of Famer’s mother shares emotional moments about her son

Ann Iverson sat in a hotel room on a cool September night in the heart of Newport News, Virginia — the city where she raised her son, NBA Hall of Famer Allen Iverson, and his two sisters, Brandy and Iiesha. She recounted with laughter so many proud moments of raising Allen and being an NBA mom.

Iverson recalled vivid details of her son’s induction into the 2016 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. When it was announced months before that Allen Iverson would be one of 10 members to be inducted, she was ecstatic.

It was Sept. 9, 2016, a day she will never forget.

Inductee Allen Iverson speaks during the 2016 Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony on Sept. 9, 2016, at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

When his name was called, Allen Iverson, who had already shed a few tears during his introduction, rose from his seat and approached the podium, where he was welcomed by two of his former coaches, Larry Brown and John Thompson Jr., and Philadelphia 76ers legend Julius Erving.

Tears welled in Iverson’s eyes before he could speak his first word. This was one moment where Ann Iverson, known for her brazen outspokenness and effervescent character, was left speechless.

“I never looked at [the Hall of Fame speech] when it came on television,” she said. “Being there and sitting in that seat was enough. They had the cameras on me, and I was bawling. I still don’t know how to do a cute cry, you know. I did the ugly cry face and messed it all up. … To have your child speak of you in such a manner. To say what I told him I wanted him to do, as far as basketball. He said it. And he did it.”

Dressed in all black from head to toe, as was the rest of his family, Allen Iverson began what would be a heartfelt 30-minute speech. Cameras frequently panned to his former wife, Tawanna, his five children and Ann Iverson, who beamed lovingly at the baby boy she’d birthed and raised to be the man she witnessed standing before her. Throughout the duration of his speech, viewers caught a glimpse of Iverson’s smiles and intense focus on her son’s words — her laughter and her tears.

“I thought that he’d forgotten everything that I’ve told him throughout the years, but when he gave the Hall of Fame speech, I was like, ‘Aw, look at my son. He didn’t forget. He didn’t forget,’ ” Iverson said. “I got all emotional. It was touching, and it meant a lot to me as a mom for [my] child to say something about [me] that impacted his heart and he never forgot about it.”

Iverson thought back to the 42 years she’d spent with her son and the 17 seasons she’d been his biggest supporter during his time in the NBA. His career, Iverson said, is something that was spoken into existence long before her son was selected by the Philadelphia 76ers as the first overall pick in the 1996 NBA draft.

All-Star Game MVP Allen Iverson of the Philadelphia 76ers hugs his mother, Ann, after receiving the award at the end of the 50th NBA All-Star Game at the MCI Center on Feb. 11, 2001, in Washington, D.C.

AP Photo/Pablo Matinez Monsivais

“I knew he was going to be a basketball player and go to the NBA when I was carrying him,” Iverson said. “All you got to do is talk to some of the people that knew me before I had Allen. I said, ‘He’s gonna go to the same high school [Bethel High School] I went to and played ball for and everything.’ ”

Iverson was only 15 years old when she gave birth to Allen Ezail Iverson on June 7, 1975. An avid basketball fan herself, she played on her school’s basketball team but was kicked off once the coach found out she was five months pregnant.

“My girls told on me,” Iverson said. “They told, and [my coach] told me I couldn’t play and it really hurt me. I just chilled out.”

Months later, Iverson’s firstborn arrived, healthy and happy. The first thing Iverson noticed about her baby boy was the length of his arms, which confirmed what she’d known all along: Her son would be an incredibly talented athlete.

“I had this beautiful, long baby,” Iverson said. “When I say long, what I’m talking about is all arms, ’cause his arms went past his kneecaps. I thought something was wrong with my baby. When the doctor came, he said, ‘No, he just has long arms,’ I was satisfied. I was like, ‘Well, that’s good for him to play ball with.’ It did come in handy.”

Iverson always knew basketball would suit her son well, but as he developed his own love for sports, a gravitation toward football developed. He was a natural-born talent who would excel on the field, but the grit and tough tackles he endured while playing football didn’t sit well with the concerned mother.

“[Allen] would say, ‘You the only mom that comes down there when I get tackled,’ ” Iverson said. “I was like, ‘If you don’t want to get tackled, you need to stick and move. You need to move it so that I don’t have to come down there.’ We made a little pact. He would put up one finger in the air, and if you look through his history of him playing football, he’ll get up after they tackled him. He’ll put up one finger and he would run around. That meant, ‘Mama, sit down.’ I sat right there. I’d start clapping.”

Iverson took note of her son’s skills, but he would need something to keep himself occupied as football season ended.

Iverson’s solution? Basketball.

It was a story Allen Iverson also shared with the audience the night of his Hall of Fame induction. One day after school, Iverson informed her son that he’d be going to basketball practice. She told him to go upstairs, change his clothes and get ready. He stood his ground.

“Basketball? I ain’t going to basketball practice,” he said. “Basketball is soft. I’m a football player.”

Iverson laughed while recalling that very moment. “It ain’t that soft,” she said. “All the bones he broke, it should tell you something about basketball. … Basketball just was my love, and I’m just really glad he chose it. I couldn’t stand going to the football games and them tackling my baby.”

Allen went on to be one of the best football and basketball players, setting records and shattering his own at Bethel High School in Hampton, Virginia. At Bethel, Iverson said, the man who was the assistant coach when she was on the team ended up being his coach.

Iverson relied heavily on her faith while raising her son and his siblings.

“I believe that if you claim it, and you believe it, and you want something, all you have to do is pray for it and you’ll get it,” Iverson said. “I believe in prayer, and I believe the power of prayer will override anything.”

Times weren’t always easy, and there were sacrifices she made to ensure her children were always cared for. One time, her son recalled during a television segment, Iverson had to choose between buying a new pair of sneakers for him or paying the light bill.

“When I was young, we were going to a national tournament, 13-and-under AAU,” Allen Iverson said in the clip. “My mom got me the Nike [Air Revolution]. … I definitely remember vividly because our lights got turned off for her getting them for me, so shoutout to Mama.”

A few years later, Allen and Iverson would again have to learn to face adversity head-on when a 17-year-old Allen was arrested for involvement in a bowling alley brawl, which was allegedly started when racial epithets were hurled at Allen and his friends by a white man. The man said he was provoked by the group, who escalated the altercation. Allen was later sentenced to 15 years in prison for his involvement, while none of the white men was charged. The case gained national attention because of who Allen was: a star athlete being heavily recruited by top colleges. The incident also caused an even larger racial divide in Hampton.

Iverson worked feverishly to get her son back home. After four months in prison, Allen was granted clemency. And although the conviction was overturned, his reputation had been tarnished.

“I was recruited by every school in the country for football and basketball,” an emotional Allen Iverson said during his Hall of Fame speech. “And an incident happened in high school, and all that was taken away. No other teams, no other schools were recruiting me anymore.”

But Iverson wasn’t going to let her son go down without a fight. They were Iversons — tough beings who, even if knocked down, would get right back up, heads held high, and keep pushing. Even through negativity, Iverson offered advice to keep her son in a positive state of mind.

“I’ve always told him, all you got to do is look in the mirror and be satisfied with the person that you look at,” Iverson said. “Every night before you go to sleep, as long as you know you are putting forth your best, that’s all that matter. People are gonna judge you anyway regardless of what you do or don’t do. My thing is, put forth your best foot. Do the best you can and the outcome will be great.”

In her last effort to get someone, anyone, to take a chance on her son, Iverson turned to then-Georgetown University basketball coach Thompson and asked for his help.

At Georgetown, Allen continued his path to greatness with Iverson by his side. And when both of their dreams of Allen becoming an NBA player came to fruition, Iverson took on the roles as Allen’s unofficial publicist, manager, agent and bodyguard — following her son to nearly all 914 games of his professional career, even while pregnant. In 2003, Iverson gave birth to twin boys, but only one survived. She named him Mister Allen Iverson — his middle name paying homage to his famous older brother.

Even with a newborn, Iverson continued to support her eldest son throughout his NBA career. And after Allen Iverson’s retirement and last season’s post-retirement return to the court with the BIG3 league, a 3-on-3 professional basketball league founded by rapper and entrepreneur Ice Cube, Iverson was still right there.

“I’ve always told Allen that even though your fans are your fans, I’m your mom, but really I’m a fan of yours too,” Iverson said. “You just gotta know it. I’m just the No. 1 fan. [When he’s playing], you can guarantee when [he] gets out on the court, out of all of them five players, he’s gonna be one of the five players that help the other four make that team as a whole. When he is, as he says, in the trenches with his ballplayers. I believe that. He’s just awesome. When I sat in my seat that I sat in for all them years, I was just amazed that he came out of me. He’s a part of my DNA. He’s awesome. I like saying that.”

From AAU right to the Hall of Fame, Iverson believes the path her son took to accomplish what he did was already written from the very beginning. Reflecting back on the legacy and impact that Allen Iverson left in the world of basketball, Iverson couldn’t be prouder.

“I think Allen gave his heart to basketball,” Iverson said. “He gave every little piece of meat that’s on that little body to his fans, and to basketball. I think that what he has accomplished in basketball is a beautiful thing because of the simple fact that it gives other children opportunity to see that a small man could be a big man. I call him Big Man. I don’t call Allen, Allen. I call him Big Man.

“[All of this] makes me feel proud being his mom because of the simple fact that I brought him into this world. By me bringing him into this world, and him accomplishing getting into the Hall of Fame, it makes me feel like I did something right. Which I did. I’ll be following Allen until the end of his days. Or at least the end of mine.”

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.