Drafting ‘the Answer’ and Dropping ‘the Question'
June 27th, 1996. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
It was a day after the 1996 Draft, which would later be referred to as one of, if not the greatest draft class in league history. That single class of incoming rookies would go on to host 3 Most Valuable Players. But out of all 58 players selected on that night, there was one player who would not only go on to lead his team in points, assists, steals, and minutes played, but would also go down in basketball history as one of the most fearless scorers and polarizing figures to ever grace the league. He was a six-foot tall point guard.
His name: Allen Iverson.
The Set Up
At the time, Philly was abuzz with rumors on who its beloved team would select with the first pick. Popular opinions around town swore that the team would draft another guard from a local university, the hometown guy. But Iverson was selected first overall, and the city had to quickly acclimate itself with the new face of the franchise. This was before the days of social media and the Internet, but at first sight, it was known that the team had picked up a unique player in Iverson, one who had the skills and talents to elevate the team. But what the "City of Brotherly Love" would later soon realize is that this player also had the spirit and courage to capture the heart of not just the city of Philadelphia, but the game of basketball as a whole.
At the same time, Reebok was in a state of rebranding in the basketball space. The days of The Pump and the Kamikaze were waning, and a new sneaker franchise was needed. It was some of the younger guys—the up-and-comers of the brand—who first noticed Iverson during his sophomore year of college, recognizing potential in the flashy guard from Hampton, Virginia. They saw the grit in Iverson, often being the smallest player on the court yet making the biggest plays. They also saw his marketability, that special, once-in-a-lifetime gift of being able to not just change a game or a sport, but popular culture as a whole. And with Iverson primed to lead his new franchise back into the spotlight, the brand saw an opportunity to craft a shoe to perfectly align with the league's next shining star.
After signing the new No.1 pick, the Reebok team got to work on the design of the shoe that would later be referred to as one of the most iconic basketball sneakers in brand history. But Iverson was an enigma all of his own that the brand had to figure out. "At that time, he was an anomaly. There were a lot of questions on his unique, 'streetball' influenced playing style, his size translating to the league, and his demeanor on and off the court," says Brian Lee, current Global Director of Reebok Basketball. "His attitude flat-out intimidated people. But the bright minds of Reebok at the time saw a player that could literally change the game, and thus, they embraced Iverson as one of their own. He was a once-in-a lifetime player."
So the Reebok Design Team was given an important task: to create a shoe that encompassed not just who A.I. was as a player—that killer crossover, that dynamic court-vision, that tenacious scoring ability—but also represented who he was as a man—a product of a single parent home from a small town by the Chesapeake Bay, who fought through many trials and tribulations to even be granted a chance to succeed. After a few models, the prototype was created and presented to Iverson on his second visit with the brand. The name and logo for the shoe, dubbed The Question, came as a spin-off of one of Allen's nicknames on the court, "The Answer." "It has to be said, it was a big leap for Allen to put his faith in Reebok at that time," says Lee. "Coming off of what many consider the best college draft in league history, everyone wanted to follow the same path as the guys who came before them. But Allen was the type to always walk to the beat of his own drum, and he put the same faith in us that we put in him. From that point on, it was history."
It was a perfect storm brewing, a sensational rookie who landed in the city with the same blue collar mentality, matched with a footwear brand ready to make a statement in the basketball landscape. And the culmination of that storm came in the form of a sneaker that performed well on the court, while simultaneously making a huge impact in street fashion. Simply put, the shoe looked good. From the now famous contrasting toe-cap, to the icy Hexalite outsole, consumers from the streets to the suburbs all wanted to wear the sneakers with the "3" on the back in the neighborhood as well as the basketball gym. And the shoe became an integral part of one of the most dynamic rookie campaigns in league history.
And while Iverson racked up his numerical statistics, his rookie season was also defined by the moments that came along the way. He averaged 23.5 points per game including an eight game stretch where he averaged 33.9 points a game, and became the second youngest player in league history to score 50 points in a single game. The young point guard dazzled the league with his play, including a series of crossovers during a regular season contest on a certain forward playing in Chicago that would be remembered in the scriptures of basketball folklore. It was only a sign of things to come, as Iverson would go on to win a league Most Valuable Player award, four leading scorer titles, be selected as one of the best players in the league 11 times. And it all started in 1996, with a scrappy guard with something to prove, and a sneaker brand with a vision of change.
And why not? The Question always needs The Answer.