You know those kids who make their own sound effects when they play hoops?
A "woosh" when they cross it over, and an "errrrrr" when they stop on a dime. That was my buddy, Tim, while we were growing up in the suburbs some 20 miles southwest of the Wells Fargo Center (back then it was the First Union Center, which Philadelphia fans proudly referred to as the "FU Center"). The effects were the only way we could feel like Allen Iverson.
The guy who entered the league in 1996 with a signature sneaker (the Reebok Question), a signature move (the crossover) and a memorable moniker ("The Answer") that funneled absurd amounts of attention to him at a time when Michael Jordan was still in his prime. The guy who had the ability to cover 94 feet in a flash, as if he had the powers of Raiden from "Mortal Kombat."
The guy who kept it so 100 that he surpassed Mr. 100 himself, Wilt Chamberlain, during his rookie season by having five-straight 40-point games, besting Chamberlain's previous record for a rook.
Tim would also mimic Iverson's first commercial for the Questions -- featuring authentic Philadelphians put on camera to query Philly's bright, young star.
"Yo, Allen, what's up with the shoes, man?" Tim would say, just like the people in the ad, as he shifted from pretending he was A.I. to pretending he was the people watching him pretend to be A.I.
The spot was a modern take on Mars Blackmon's "Is it the shoes?" pestering of Air Jordan. Only instead of Spike Lee in character, you had real people and an off-the-cuff Iverson laughing, smiling, dribbling and dripping swag in a backward hat. It was Iverson's first national ad for Reebok, and it set the agenda for what he would be about.
You could see early on that Iverson was destined for superstardom. Even before the tattoos and the cornrows and the chains and the do-rags made him a cultural icon, there was something special about this little guard's handles and heart.
"Allen always tells this story," said Tzvi Twersky, a fellow Philly native who came up working for Slam Magazine and is one of Iverson's closest confidants.
"His coming-of-age moment, outside of getting drafted, he always talks about driving down City Line [Avenue] in the backseat of a limo, and he saw some kid rocking the Questions on the street, and he said he rolled down the window, and that's when he knew he had made it. That was the biggest moment of his life. ... Outside of his career and his family, it's his third greatest accomplishment. A Hall of Famer, a father and the Question."
Complex's Russ Bengston -- another Slam alumnus and considered by many as the godfather of sneakerheads in the media -- brought up the moment when the Question became an unquestioned piece of basketball history.
"The signature moment for that shoe was obviously him crossing up Jordan," Bengston said. "At that point, it's like, who is the new kid that a lot of the young kids are checking for crossing up the super-established, everyone-knows-is-the-best-player-in-the-league guy, and crossing him over not once, but twice.
"It was just like, 'Holy s---.' We've never seen anything like this before."
As much as we were rubbernecking to see the barely 6-foot, 175-pound warrior battling "amongst the trees" -- as Sixers' play-by-play man Marc Zumoff would describe it -- we also had to see what were on his feet. If Nike's familiar Air Max technology was NASA, looking at Reebok's honeycomb heel (dubbed Hexalite technology) and "pearlized" red toe on the Questions was like floating through the Mir space station.
And the shoe continues its orbit two decades later.
Other stars from Iverson's draft class have passed him in sheer achievement (Kobe Bryant), overachiever status (Steve Nash) and craft perfection (Ray Allen), but none have a totem like the Questions that captured the excitement of the whirlwind of their arrival.