- The Washington Times - Monday, June 11, 2001

Allen Iverson is said to be out of touch with mainstream America because of his cornrows and tattoos, which just goes to show you that it doesn't take much to be out of touch with mainstream America in the new millennium.

Dennis Rodman beat Iverson to the tattoos, and the long hairs of the '60s used their follicles to make what was thought to be a profound social statement at the time.

This is not to object to either the cornrows or the tattoos. This also is not to find fault with Madonna's highway cones or what sometimes passes as outerwear on the music-video channels.

To be honest, the ability to offend and shock mainstream America is not what it used to be. All Elvis had to do to raise America's eyebrows in the '50s was swivel his hips. It wasn't a great leap forward from Elvis in the '50s to David Bowie in the '70s and Boy George in the '80s.

Iverson's fashion sense is mundane compared to what is found on the catwalks in Milan, Paris and New York City. All too many of the stick figures appear to have just landed from Mars, and that's giving them and the designers the benefit of the doubt.

Iverson has embraced the hip-hop culture, which, really, is about as mainstream as it gets. It pretends to be against the system while celebrating the capitalistic tenets of it. No one would be sicker about the breakdown of the system than all the Benjamin-counting artists who depend on it to live in harmony with their BMWs.

This is the wink-wink aspect of the music tailored for the young and rebellious types. There is a shared pain between the artist and listener, even if parents treat it as a pain of a different sort, which is partly the point. Parents are not expected to like the joke, because it is on them, and even funnier, a few of them went through it themselves.

Back then, they made love, not war, and they either burned their draft cards or bras, and now, they scratch their heads at the number of out-of-wedlock births and single-parent families.

Iverson was raised by a single parent, and times were hard on the so-called "mean streets" of Hampton, Va. Or so the story goes.

Hampton never has been confused with Newark, and a fairer comparison, if one must be made, is Alexandria.

Iverson attended Bethel High School, a decent institution surrounded by decent neighborhoods. I happened to live in the Bethel school district in the early '80s, when Iverson would have been a young boy, and have made a number of pilgrimages there over the years.

The streets, "mean" though they may be, do not run red with blood. In fact, all too many tourists turn off Interstate 64 to stay in the hotels on Mercury Boulevard just down the road from Bethel, no doubt sprinting to the check-in counter because of the gunfire around them.

This is the better story, of course, because streets inevitably convey more color if they are "mean" instead of working class. Iverson does not discourage the notion that all the tidy brick ramblers along Todds Lane are under siege from the nearby sand and surf, and that is part of the badge of honor, the shtick.

The appeal is transitory, because one day, like it or not, Iverson will have the wisdom that goes with a middle-aged paunch, and like those before him, he will lament the changes being wrought by the young.

On another level, as a brash newcomer to the NBA, so full of himself, seemingly unconcerned with those who built the cash cow into what it is, Iverson incurred the condemnation of the league's elders. He will see things from that side soon enough, and he undoubtedly will have a few things to say if his likeness in temperament is in an opposing uniform.

Iverson is doing his part now, meeting his professional responsibilities, playing by the rules set by the coach and followed by his teammates. This is a sign of growth on his part, and a relief to the owner, previously stuck between his loyalties to the coach and star player.

The cornrows and tattoos don't have much to do with this evolution, or about who Iverson might be in 10-20 years, no more than Madonna's highway cones were a commentary on her foray into motherhood.

The young fight to be who they are until one day, inevitably, the next generation is there to take up the cause.

The fight involves baggy pants today. It might involve baggy pants worn on the head in 20 years.

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