By Eric Dixon
March 5, 2020
Allen Iverson’s career personified perseverance, creativity and courage. He played all 722 games in a Sixers uniform as if it were his last. For that he is beloved and iconic in Philly. Another reason is that he just gets us. He understands the culture. He understands how emotional and heartfelt our commitment to our basketball community is and nothing showed that more than when he extended a groundbreaking invitation to one of the areas biggest high school stars, Diamond Johnson. She will be the first female player to be given such a platform in a national-level showcase when she suits up to take part in the 24K Showcase event on Wednesday, April 22. Through that she will be given an opportunity to earn a spot in the later game featuring talents from around the country to be held Friday, April 24th. The significance of it was not lost on Iverson or his camp.
It’s huge. But he didn’t do it to be “huge”. He did it because he felt it was right. He did it because he felt she deserved it. He did it to bring a smile to a young player who has worked her tail off to be one of the very best our city has ever seen and after seeing the egregious snub she received from another All Star panel.
Johnson, who scored 2741 points in HS and ranked as high as the number 6 prospect in her class (2020) by ESPN expected to be invited to participate in the girls high school McDonald’s All-American game. It didn’t happen. Now, it doesn’t matter. Especially after this past Monday afternoon when she received a Facetime call from one of her heroes, whose number she wears partly in homage to him, to personally invite her to play in his event. Against the boys. This is historic and courageous. But it also feels right and typical of Iverson and his team.
During his 14 year NBA playing career he routinely displayed the brazen, brave and rebellious part of his nature on and off the court. We can all remember him driving relentlessly into the paint amongst the trees and somehow, despite his relatively diminutive frame, he emerged successful. He would do what others couldn’t or wouldn’t.
Although the two had never met, there are connections between them that are appreciated. Johnson, who was born in Philadelphia, moved to Hampton, Virginia as a middle schooler and began her illustrious high school career at Phoebus High School where she established herself as a young phenom, averaging 33 ppg as a sophomore. She played for the legendary Boo Williams, the same program Iverson ran with. Perhaps that is where her affinity for number three took root.
Bobby Bates, Iverson’s business partner, ironically received the call about losing Kobe Bryant just as he was speaking with another partner about the details of possibly including Diamond in the game. The call changed his life. The emotion he felt at that moment led to changes in the format of the game and the event. What didn’t change was the desire to include Diamond.
There are many layers to how she was incorporated. She was intentionally named the 24th player to give her a chance to be celebrated separately from her male counterparts due to the significance of her being the first female invited to such a stage. Her inclusion honors Giana “Gigi” Bryant, a budding female hoop star whose life was cut short with her legendary father’s. None of this has been lost on Iverson, his team or Diamond and her coach.
As we peel back the layers of her inclusion we see a side of Iverson that is rarely discussed or even acknowledged. He is empathetic and authentic. He loves the communities he calls home and feels an obligation to manifest that love in ways that are part of his unique legacy. That legacy just got a little bigger and gained more substance. We know he is still a part of Philadelphia. We now know he still feels like we are a part of him. He still gets us.