No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson Doc of the Week

No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson

This is the story of NBA Hall of Famer Allen Iverson and how his career was almost derailed before it had even begun. Following an incident outside a bowling alley in Hampton, West Virginia on St Valentine’s Day 1993, Iverson, then a 17-year-old high school basketball star, was controversially jailed for 15 years following a highly-publicised trial which divided the city along racial lines. BT Sport 1, Tues, Feb 20th 22.30

He was a rising star on the high school basketball scene. Life was good for Allen Iverson. - he was coveted by colleges up and down the country and appeared to have the world at his feet. His future was all mapped out with only good things ahead, but that was before his trip to a Hampton bowling alley on St Valentine’s Day 1993.

It was supposed to be a normal evening out for a group of teenage friends. They were a high-spirited but, by all accounts, harmless bunch. Like most teenagers, they could be given to over-exuberance at times. That appeared to be the case on this particular night and they were asked to quieten down several times for fear of disturbing the other patrons. However, things soon escalated and Iverson’s group of black teenagers became involved in an altercation with another group, all of whom were white. It quickly became a brawl, the police were called and Iverson was one of three people, all black, who were arrested.

It was alleged that he had hit a woman in the head with a chair in the heat of the fracas and was charged with ‘maiming by mob’, a rarely-used old Virginia law originally brought in to combat lynch mobs in the aftermath of the Civil War. The case played out like a before-the-fact OJ Simpson trial as the city became divided along racial lines.


Iverson maintained his innocence from the outset, claiming that he had left the alley as soon as the trouble began. "For me to be in a bowling alley where everybody in the whole place know who I am and be crackin' people upside the head with chairs and think nothin' gonna happen? That's crazy,” he said at the trial. “And what kind of a man would I be to hit a girl in the head with a damn chair? I rather have 'em say I hit a man with a chair, not no damn woman."

Despite his protestations, Iverson was handed down a 15-year prison sentence, with 10 years suspended. However, he was granted clemency by Virginia Governor Douglas Wilder after spending just four months behind bars. In 1995 the Virginia Court of Appeals overturned the conviction completely on grounds of insufficient evidence and Iverson was able to resume his basketball career.


Part of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, No Crossover is directed by Hampton native Steve James, who was nominated for an Oscar for his work on landmark basketball documentary film Hoop Dreams. James was obviously familiar with the trial and the impact it had on his local community and felt that it was a story worth revisiting. He was delighted when ESPN agreed to get involved.

“As a native of Hampton who grew up and played high school basketball there, this story resonates for me in very personal ways,” he explained. “My late father was a star athlete and inductee into the Hampton Sports Hall of Fame. My mother, who still lives in the house I grew up in, became the school nurse the first year the city integrated its all-black high school. I wanted to revisit what happened so I can learn what the lasting legacy is for the city's black and white communities, and for Allen Iverson himself. I hope this film can have something to say, not just about race and sports, but race and American society at this particularly crucial moment in our country's history.”


It would have been enough to derail the ambitions of most people, but not Iversen who went on to enjoy a glorious career at the highest level of the game he loved. He enjoyed two highly successful years at Georgetown University before being drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers as first overall pick in 1996. He was named Rookie of the Year the following season.

Despite his relatively small stature for a basketball player at six feet exactly, he was a prolific scorer and claimed the NBA scoring title for the 1998–99, 2000–01, 2001–02 and 2004–05 campaigns, finishing his career with scoring average of 26.7 points per game which put him sixth in the all-time rankings. He played 14 seasons in the NBA and was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016.

Speaking of his time in prison and how it affected him, he later said: "I had to use the whole jail situation as something positive. Going to jail, if someone sees something weak in you, they'll exploit it. I never showed any weakness. I just kept going strong until I came out.”

It was this attitude that sustained him during his remarkable career in basketball as well.

Images: Getty

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