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Iverson

April 24, 2016

Iverson (2014)
Director: Zatella Beatty

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Synopsis: The life of ace pro-basketball player, Allen Iverson.

Review: Years ago when I was studying as an undergraduate in Miami, I recall one of my housemates waxing lyrical about the talents of one of the basketball players representing his hometown team, the Philadelphia 76ers: Allen Iverson. Over the course of the year, as I began to follow the NBA a lot more, I became more interested in Iverson: he seemed relatively small – even for a Point Guard (6′ 0″); he pioneered the iconic headband and tattoo look before it became the norm; and just generally was a bit of a controversial, ‘badass’ character.

This documentary, if nothing else, provides more background detail on the genesis of Iverson – but aside from the interesting opening to the film that plays on Iverson’s challenging upbringing and seminal ‘brush’ with the law, it is almost completely unilluminating from a sports perspective, telling me nothing new about Iverson the player – other than the fact that he was grossly misrepresented when he mocked the notion of “practise” at a press conference (he was critiquing the journalist’s need to even discuss such a rudimentary facet of the sportsman’s daily life, not the importance of practise itself.)

The early narration of Iverson’s upbringing in a desperately poor and impoverished area of Virginia is compelling, although there’s a tension between the raw materials of that story and the filmmaker’s need to wrap it up in a more hackneyed ‘American Dream’ trajectory. There are some really interesting social politics in there: the absence of the father figure in many African-American communities; the sense that sport is often the only way out of the ghetto; and the implications of the huge miscarriage of justice regarding Iverson’s brief teenage incarceration that exposed a brutal prejudice on the side of some of Virginia’s white community. That this is all jettisoned for a more conventional sporting ‘rise and fall’ story is a shame – if unsurprising – although there’s perhaps enough in the Iverson story for a more exacting documentarian or screenwriter to flesh out next time. (April 2016)

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