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Allen Iverson says he took an ‘ass whooping’ so NBA players could express themselves today

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Iverson describes today’s NBA culture as being “bittersweet,” after what he had to go through to be himself.

Allen Iverson joined the Basketball Hall of Fame last week, and for him, that meant we celebrated who Iverson was off the court as much as who he was on it.

No one connected hip hop culture with basketball more than Iverson, and his “chains and cornrows” style was eventually targeted by David Stern in a league-wide dress code. But it was too late to reverse the affinity that had developed between the two cultures.

Iverson was asked about his trailblazing on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Wednesday, and showed what was almost resentment. It’s completely understandable. Russell Westbrook wears the most ridiculous outfits, and the NBA promotes it on every social media channel they have instead of instituting rules about it. As Colbert astutely notes, the biggest player in the NBA, LeBron James, is covered with tattoos and we don’t even notice it.

Here’s a transcript of Colbert’s question and Iverson’s answer.

Colbert: One of the things people, for whatever reason, criticized about you back in the day was that your style was different than any of the other styles, and I don’t just mean your game play — the fact that you had tattoos, the fact that you wore your hair in cornrows. Now, players can do anything they want, they can do any style they want, LeBron can be all tatted out and nobody says anything. Do you think they owe a little debt to you for being your own real self?

Iverson: That’s a bittersweet thing for me. I took an ass-whoopin’ for these guys today to be able to be themselves. I wasn’t afraid to be who I am, and I didn’t think anything was wrong with it. I dressed like the guys I grew up with, I looked like the guys who I grew up with. And my cornrows, it was just because I was tired of going from city to city having different barbers cut my hair, and they were messing my hair up, and I was saying, ‘If I get cornrows, I don’t have to have that problem.’ And the tattoos, I’ve always had a fetish for it, but obviously you see in Georgetown, I only had one, and once I came into some money, that’s when it got addictive and I was able to afford it, so that’s how I got more and more.

But you can’t judge a book by its cover. I think a lot of times, when people who get a chance to meet me and be around me, they understand that I’m not the person that the media make me out to be. A negative Allen Iverson story is the greatest Allen Iverson story, for some reason. They don’t talk about what I do for the AIDS awareness, what I do for the Boys and Girls club, what I do on Thanksgiving, giving out turkeys, and giving out gifts on Christmas, they don’t talk about that stuff.

Iverson also talks about wanting to be like Michael Jordan, and how he didn’t realize his legendary crossover on Jordan in his rookie year would become what it is today. It’s a really interesting interview from one of the most important NBA athletes in decades.