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How Allen Iverson changed NBA culture


He probably isn’t the greatest to ever do it, but one thing is for sure – Allen Iverson is an NBA icon.

Think about the most influential NBA players ever. Every list is more or less the same; you got Dr. JMagicBirdMJShaqLeBronSteph. Well, you better put AI’s name on it. He was the one who changed NBA culture forever.

Forget the fact he was a scoring machine at barely 6 feet. Forget about how he revolutionized the crossover. Forget about everything he was able to do on NBA hardwoods. It’s not about that. His influence goes way past that, and it’s what gives him iconic status.

Braids, tattoos, baggy clothes, jewelry – that’s Iverson’s legacy. He represented nothing less than a style revolution. Iverson was a catalyst for the implementation of Hip-Hop culture in the NBA. He was the first who stepped away from a standardized way of expressing yourself through fashion as an NBA player.

My thing was I dressed like guys from my neighborhood. I wouldn't wear a suit to a basketball game. I wear sweatpants or jeans, sneakers and let's hoop. It was like we never seen nobody come to an NBA game dressed like this. Everybody got on a suit, everybody's dressed up like they going to Sunday school, and I just wore what I usually wear.

Allen Iverson, The Players' Tribune

What made Iverson so special was his authenticity. Kids looked up to him. He had a Steph Curry effect to him – being a normal-sized basketball player kids could relate to with ease. Everybody wanted to be like AI because it felt feasible. So what did everybody do? They started being like AI. They started dribbling like him, shooting like him, and, most importantly, dressing like him.

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The new fashion culture in the NBA was developing. What was an anomaly soon enough became a norm. Iverson unwillingly set a standard. Why do I say unwillingly? Because it wasn’t in Iverson’s interest for everybody to dress like him. He wanted everyone to express themselves the way they see fit. AI just happened to be a trendsetter.

NBA players were emulating a style prevalent outside the NBA, and the league didn’t like it. So much that in ’05, David Stern imposed on the players a dress code based on a casual business style. It was a decision that had seen many pushbacks from the players who shared their frustrations publicly. However, they gradually began to accept the change. What started as an imposition grew into a competition. Players began showing more and more interest in what they wore, and fashion became an integral part of the NBA world.

Today, the NBA doesn’t have a formal dress code players have to obey. In fact, their fashion game has gone so far that players entering the building have turned to catwalks and a full-on display of designer pieces of clothing and footwear. They all have the liberty to express themselves through fashion, and it’s all AI has ever stood for.

Think about it; all he ever wanted was the ability to be authentic and true to himself. It’s also something he wanted for the entire league. If it meant having a full arm of tattoos, wearing a full set of accessories on the basketball court, or entering the arena wearing a blue furry jacket, AI wanted it as a possibility for players. He sought expressive freedom for all, and he eventually got it, setting a platform for everyone who came after him.

So you want to market the guy, but not who he is. You don't want him to look like what he look like; you want him to look like somebody else. What's wrong with LeBron James? He grew up off Allen Iverson. Tattoos everywhere, got his headband on, his sleeve, and was dressing like whatever he wanted to dress like. He's the most popular basketball player in the whole world, and he's no threat to nobody. But look at the way he look. I took the ass whooping for guys to be who they really are.

Allen Iverson, The Players' Tribune

Iverson’s influence goes way beyond tattoos, jewelry, baggy clothes, and braids. It’s him pushing new generations searching for their expressive freedom, enabling everyone to be completely authentic. Something he’d always thrived on being, and something possible for every NBA player today, by the power of The Answer.

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