A few minutes after 6:30 Friday evening, a polished black Bentley Azure slowed to a stop outside ESPN Zone in the District. Out stepped Allen Iverson, clad in his normal get-up of baggy shorts, a do-rag, a sideways baseball cap, dark shades and plenty of bling. Flanked by his notorious entourage, the Denver Nuggets star sashayed past reporters and fans gathered outside the restaurant and made his way inside to kick off his annual Celebrity Softball Summer Classic weekend.
He was more than an hour late.
Iverson offered no explanation or apology for his tardiness, nor did he want to discuss the decision by a federal jury that called for him to pay $260,000 to a Maryland man his security detail assaulted at the D.C. nightspot Eyebar in 2005.
"We are going to deal with this [ruling]," said Iverson's attorney, Alan Milstein, doing his best to diffuse the situation before his client took the podium. "The judge certainly dismissed any claim that Allen hit anyone. We are hopeful that this thing will be reversed and that justice will be served."
Milstein then asked for questions, and only after a period of awkward silence did Iverson lend his voice.
"Well, this is obviously a good day — even the media want to be positive," said Iverson, sitting with his four children. "I am here to talk about something positive. You want to get something negative out of this situation, the exit is right over there. Positive news sells, too, you know."
Iverson's charity softball event — which took place Saturday at Prince George's Stadium in Bowie and benefited the Allen Iverson Student Athlete Scholarship Fund and the Crossover Foundation — was a sunny spot of good press for a man mired between last week's verdict and another pending suit for a similar late-night fracas at Zanzibar on the Waterfront, also in the District, in 2005.
"We send out press releases and press releases, and you probably never get to hear all of the good things that Allen does," said Gary Moore, president and CEO of Crossover Promotions Inc. and Iverson's longtime mentor. "Allen has always strived to encourage young people to live right and do the right thing."
Iverson has endowed three scholarships and has been working with inner-city youth for a decade in the District, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Denver and his hometown of Hampton, Va.
"I want to give back to these kids," Iverson said. "That's the most important thing to me. As long as the kids get something out of it, I am happy. I want them to learn from me. The mistakes that I've had, the success that I've had, maybe a lot of these kids that look at my life and look at my career won't do some of the things that I did growing up."
Age has worn on the 32-year-old former first pick overall, both on the court and off it. In December, Iverson elected to share the ball with Carmelo Anthony in Denver rather than close out his career as the Philadelphia 76ers' main attraction. The throng of autograph seekers outside ESPN Zone on Friday was considerably smaller than it would have been six years ago, when Iverson led the Sixers to the 2001 NBA Finals as league MVP.
"He's probably my third favorite player behind Carmelo Anthony and Yao Ming," said Ray Herring, a Wizards fan from Haymarket, Va., who added that he wouldn't trade Gilbert Arenas for Iverson. "He's kind of getting up there."
Iverson, who averaged 24.8 points in his diminished role for the Nuggets last season, shared the spotlight even at his own event, with Anthony serving as the marquee name at Saturday's slow-pitch game.
Iverson has been one of sports' most controversial figures since his high school days in Hampton, and the eighttime All-Star's words reflected an aging athlete with many regrets, yet a man comfortable enough in his own skin to continue living life in the same edgy manner as is his custom.
"People know that I make mistakes with my life. I'm not doing the same things I did when I was just coming into the league — I was rich after being poor my whole life, and I made some mistakes," Iverson said. "I got my own four kids. They watch my every move. My 9-year-old, my 12-year-old, they can read the paper. They know what's going on when my face flashes across the TV. So I think about them with the decisions I make."
It seems Iverson is more comfortable playing the cautionary tale than the role model. Even though the melee at Eyebar came during the weekend of his softball tournament two summers ago, there was plenty of clubbing left on this weekend's itinerary. Following Friday's media dinner, Iverson's entourage headed off to a party at Love nightclub in Northeast. Saturday evening featured an official postgame party at Broadwater Mansion in Upper Marlboro, and the festivities wound down yesterday with a finale at K Street Lounge.
"Nothing happened at Eyebar, so we have no concern that anything is going to happen at any of these events," Milstein said when asked whether the group had considered scaling back on the weekend's nightlife aspect after Monday's ruling. "We are certain that everybody will be acting responsibly."
The roster for Saturday's game was littered with celebrities noted more for their controversial behavior than their charitable efforts. Along with Anthony — who was suspended 15 games last season for punching New York Knicks guard Mardy Collins — the lineup included Nuggets teammate DerMarr Johnson, recently charged with resisting arrest after he was tasered by police outside a Denver nightclub last month, and rapper Method Man, who was charged with marijuana possession after a May 17 traffic stop in New York.
Golden State Warriors forward Stephen Jackson — suspended this week by NBA commissioner David Stern after he pleaded guilty to criminal recklessness — was scheduled to play but canceled.
After Iverson, who turned pro following his sophomore season at Georgetown, spent the good part of 15 minutes talking about the importance of education, a reporter asked whether the former Hoyas star planned on returning to get his degree upon retirement.
While Moore first said Iverson was "absolutely going to finish his education at Georgetown," Iverson himself didn't seem so sure.
"I want to fish," said Iverson, drawing laughs from the members of the media. "No, honestly, I want to be a professional fisherman. That's all I want to concentrate on after it's all over."
The inconsistencies are fitting for a man who has spent his career being a contradiction. While he plays every game of the grueling NBA season as if it were Game 7 of the finals, he also is notorious for his lackluster effort in practice. He is the team-first point guard who has won four NBA scoring championships. He has the wispy goatee and the ghoulish tattoos of a hardened, aging man but the skinny legs of a second grader and the biceps of a boy scout.
"I want these kids' lives to be more successful than mine," Iverson said before being whisked away for a private interview. "I've always said I don't want nobody to be the next Allen Iverson. I want them to be the next them. I want them to be better than Allen Iverson."