Saying Goodbye to A.I. and Remembering the Garden in 1996
- Updated: August 22, 2013
It was March of 1996, and I was 19 years-old. To be honest, I can’t remember why we had tickets for the Big East Championship game at Madison Square Garden or what I was even doing home (Spring break?). I do know Mom and I were not too far from the floor, and I could barely contain myself. Georgetown and UCONN were about to tip-off for the Big East conference tourney title, and my eyes were glued to one diminutive Hoyas point guard. This lanky kid with hips on a swivel whose cycle was permanently set to “shake.” Just watch, mom. I know you’ve heard of him but have you ever seen Allen Iverson play??!!”
The reason for my enthusiasm was more than just A.I., although he would become the immediate focus once the symphonic sound of squeaking sneakers commenced its opening concerto. Georgetown was also “my team,” for reasons still not entirely clear (having grown up north of NYC with no obvious or meaningful connections to D.C. and the Hoyas).
As early as I can remember, I recall watching and rooting for Mourning, Ewing, Wingate, Jackson, Reggie Williams…and seeing big John Thompson patrolling the sidelines. My first and only basketball camp summer was spent at Georgetown at age 11. I watched as Coach Thompson used a new and not-so-fluent English speaking center to help him demonstrate themes on discipline. Little did I know that decades later I’d be watching that same man swat cereal boxes, punctuating the action with his now iconic finger-wag…in commercials for an insurance company best knows for its talking gecko. But I digress…
Suffice to say, I had heard quite a bit about Allen Iverson long before March of 1996. And I’d watched with excitement as he wowed fans across the country during his freshman campaign under Thompson. However, seeing him in person was another story entirely. It’s hard to describe. There are a few times in a sports fan’s life where he watches someone or something live that forever stays with them. A transcendent moment. Watching Allen Iverson as a freshman for Georgetown on the Garden floor was one of those occurrences. It just looked and felt different than anything you’d seen.
My relentless chattering (looking back, it’s probably would be better categorized as badgering) to my mother was simply a signal of my relative awe. She is a huge sports fan in her own right, but she hadn’t watched or followed Iverson beyond knowing about his criminal tribulations and the fact that he was heading to Georgetown to play ball. The story was so big that even those outside of the sports were mostly aware. This wasn’t about this about the past though. It was about the present and a clearly blinding future, and I wanted to make sure my “sports mom” knew just what she was watching. I wanted her to appreciate it.
So, I must’ve repeated the same three or four things over and over…
“Do you see how quick he is? Can you tell that first step? Watch him against these guys? He’s playing at a different speed. You can tell that, right?”
“See??!! Watch his handle. Did you see the crossover? Can you tell how fast he accelerates from a standstill?’
“Are you seeing how he drives the lane? Did you watch him get up on that? He’s fearless!”
“Do you realize this guy is probably 160 pounds soaking wet!! Look at him!! How is he even in control at that speed??!!”
In retrospect, I can’t believe she tolerated it. Her inner voice must’ve been shouting OK, I GET IT before the first TV timeout. Iverson would only put up 13 points that night as part of what was at the time a historic 79-point total for the tournament. Oh, and Georgetown lost on a late off-balance jumper by a Huskies guard by the name of Ray Allen in one of the all-time classics of this event.
C’mon, Junkyard Dog! How do you not finish that?
The Hoyas fell that night, and A.I. did not particularly shine (nor did Allen who had gone on an 0-13 stretch before nailing that off-balance go-ahead bucket), but I’ll never forget it. Because watching that kid play was like nothing I’d ever seen. That will always be the A.I. we remember. He has truly something like a phenomenon. Here’s wishing him well in “official” retirement.