Shaq and Iverson, dominating the NBA in opposite ways with Reeboks on their feet
Shaquille O’Neal e Allen Iverson Are two opposite sides of the same coin. So equal, yet so different. The first a giant, one who never had a problem changing teams to pursue his personal and professional goals. The second a little guy, who made brazenness his best weapon, a perennial David against Goliath who left an indelible mark not only in the basketball world, but in the sports world. Two opposite but equally effective ways of interpreting basketball. Two stories that, as fate would have it, intersect at various points.
Growing up without a father, first and foremost. Being the faces of the NBA in the 1990s and 2000s, having challenged legends both on the court and in the world of sneakers, signing with Reebok In a league dominated by competitors. Conquering the League, one with posters and physical strength, the other with crossovers and imagination. Philosophies that were also reflected in the shoes they put on their feet and that accompanied them in their exploits on the parquet.
O’Neal’s Shaq Attaqs put him on the front pages, propelling him from first overall pick to the NBA’s best young talent of the 1990s. With them on his feet, Shaq was truly always in “Attaq-mode”, all the way to the Finals in his third year in the league. Instead, Iverson’s sneakers celebrated whimsy, first the Question and then the Answer, a legendary nickname. Wearing them, Iverson was featured in memorable moments: from the crossover over Michael Jordan to the “Step Over” over Tyronn Lue during the 2001 Finals.
A common childhood
It is March 6, 1972. Lucille is a young woman in Newark and she gives birth to a baby boy weighing about 8 pounds, 8 ounces. An almost normal size for a boy who will become a giant in his life. She initially raises him alone because Toney, his birth father, is in prison and will never have anything to do with the boy. Lucille’s companion, Phillip Arthur Harrison, an army sergeant, will later take over, giving Shaquille Rashaun, this is the name chosen for the child, a chance to explore the world. Due to military commitments, the family will live first in Germany and then in Texas, in San Antonio. Meanwhile, Shaquille, “Shaq,” takes his mother’s last name, of course. She who raised him despite adverse economic conditions.
Instead, on June 7, 1975, we are in Virginia, in Hampton. Ann Iverson is only 15 years old when she becomes pregnant by Allen Broughton, an admittedly unremarkable fellow who soon abandons her. Ann also raises her son alone in poverty, however, giving him his father’s name, Allen. In Hampton, Allen is nicknamed “Bubba Chuck,” a nickname he will leave behind when he becomes a man but will carry with him in his heart and on his feet. One of the shoe models Reebok that will be produced in his honor will be called just that, “Bubba Chuck.” You can take the boy out of the neighborhood, but not the neighborhood out of the boy.
I did it my way
Shaq grows, grows, and grows some more. Allen, on the other hand, doesn’t exactly have the physique to play basketball. At age 9, his mother gives him his first shoes: a key-moment, you might say. Actually Allen does not particularly like it and will continue to play American football, as a quarterback, until high school, when he begins to join basketball. The characters of the two boys are polar opposites, although the family histories are in many ways similar: Shaq is a chubby guy, joking around a lot; Iverson is a devil, getting into trouble and having that “me against the world” attitude typical of those who have always had to struggle more than others to carve a path for themselves. Both, however, have a knack for basketball, Shaq dominating in high school and enrolling at LSU, where with his marble physique he established himself as one of the best players in college basketball, so much so that he earned the first call to the NBA Draft from the Orlando Magic. At that time he was not only chosen by the Magic, but also by the Reebok, determined to bet on a rookie to be its symbol in a Jordan-centric NBA in every sense of the word. It will turn out to be a spot-on choice.
While Shaq is beginning to panic even among the bigs, Iverson, who is 3 years younger, still does not know what his fate will be. Talent is not in question, but those raised in backgrounds like his take little time to screw it up. All it takes is one wrong choice. And so on Valentine’s Day 1993, as Shaq narrowly beats the Knicks with a 21-point, 19-rebound double-double, Allen, who is a senior at Bethel High School, is arrested for a bowling alley brawl in which he hits a girl in the head with a chair. Never mind that two years later he will be acquitted for lack of evidence, four months in juvenile detention and then a year of high school in a school for “at-risk kids” doesn’t take that away from him. Fortunately for him, and even for us at the end of the day, Georgetown turns a blind eye to this giant blot. The boy’s talent is too great not to give him a chance.
One year in college, then the NBA as the first overall pick. And here history, cyclical, repeats itself. Accomplice the expiration of O’Neal’s contract, Reebok decides to replicate the winning strategy of a few years earlier, again focusing on a rookie, on the first overall call-up. With a $50 million contract, the brand picks Allen Iverson, who makes his NBA debut with Van Exel’s very own Reebok Blasts on his feet. A few months later he also receives his first signature shoes, the Reebok Question. Because if you ask a question, Iverson is definitely the answer, The Answer. It was with those shoes that, a few months after his own pro debut, a very young A.I. sent Michael Jordan to the bar in one of the most iconic crossovers in NBA history.
Allen arrives in a league dominated by African Americans who dress like ordinary white boys. It is not something he is willing to conform to. The street is something that stays with you; Allen has made it a mantra. He listens to hip-hop at a time in history when the association with basketball is not yet taken for granted. He dresses loose, wears durag, braids, is covered in tattoos, has earrings, necklaces. A bad boy, ready to revolutionize the world of NBA clothing.
“Just because you put a guy in a suit, that doesn’t make him a good guy.”, he will say in 2005 when David Stern institutes a dressing code specifically to prevent the “Iverson fad” from spreading in the NBA, making it a league of bad boys. It will be renamed the “A.I. Rule.”.
In the meantime, also aided by the extra 3 years of age, Shaq is several steps ahead. He has taken on the Orlando Magic, along with his sidekick Penny Hardaway. The Magic are a “new” team, born only in 1989, but with two like that only the sky may be the limit. Taking advantage of Michael Jordan’s absence due to second retirement, Orlando made it to the Finals in 1995, Shaq’s third year in the NBA. Facing them are the Houston Rockets, who, however, “spank” the youngsters, leaving them high and dry with a resounding 4-0 loss. Shaq however does not disfigure, far from it: in the finals he goes 4 times in double-doubles and also proves to be an excellent passer. 28.0 points, 12.5 rebounds and 6.2 assists on average are mind-boggling figures when you consider that he is only 23 years old at the time.
But Shaq is not just that. He is not just a giant who does everything on the court, so imposing that he can break a basket simply by hanging on the iron. Off the court he is a rapper, an actor, a dancer. In later years he will become a cop, a DJ. He is The Diesel, Superman, Shaq Fu, The Big Aristotle. He will break records and desire more and more. Not necessarily economically, but in terms of experiences, opportunities, new challenges. Until he leaves Orlando for a place that surely better suits him: Los Angeles.
Reebok wanted to step into the past and go back to those years, the years of Shaquille O’Neal and Allen Iverson, with the collection BB 4000 II. A collection streetwear which aims to pay homage to the golden years of basketball and the giants of the NBA.
The sneakers are inspired by the models worn by Shaq and A.I., repurposing the colors of their uniforms (the black and blue of the Orlando Magic and the red, blue and white of the Philadelphia 76ers).