Former Philadelphia 76ers star Allen Iverson’s journey from rags-to-riches-to-rags is told in “Not A Game,” by Kent Babb.
Allen Iverson was an All-Star from the wrong side of the tracks, the controversial Philadelphia 76ers point guard who may be most famous for his rant, “We’re talking about practice, man!” His amazing speed and talent brought him all the way to the top of the NBA game — but, as Kent Babb writes in this exclusive excerpt from his new book, “Not a Game,” when it all came crashing down, even “A.I.,” in the midst of a divorce from his wife, Tawanna, couldn’t keep up with the bills.
From Not A Game by Kent Babb. Copyright © 2015 by Kent Babb. Reprinted by permission of Atria Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
BY KENT BABB
He whispered into the telephone in 2011, not knowing Tawanna was listening from around the corner. Iverson was asking Samuel Dalembert, a friend and former Sixers teammate, for money. Just a little help to get him through a tough time, Iverson told his friend, until his next signing bonus.
Iverson had for years accumulated wealth that, as a boy in Hampton (Va.), he could only dream of. Gone were the days of wearing boots to cross the sewage-soaked floor and bumming rides from coaches to practices. Distant were the memories of a kid whose mother paid the light bill and bought her only son clothes because drug dealers occasionally slipped her money. During the 2008-09 season, the Denver Nuggets and Detroit Pistons paid him nearly $ 21 million, the highest single-season salary of Iverson’s career. But two years later, much of that — and most everything else in a vast, $ 155 million fortune in NBA salary alone — was mostly gone. Iverson’s financial empire was collapsing under a mountain of growing debt and a refusal to abandon a lifestyle that, whether he accepted it or not, he could no longer afford.
Iverson (l.) walks with his bride Tawanna Turner as they leave their wedding in Voorhees, N.J., early Saturday, Aug. 4, 2001. Eleven years and numerous financial difficulties later, they would divorce.
Iverson was hardly the first to fall victim to a financial epidemic that, in the past two decades, came to afflict many former sports stars. Growing up in poverty and rampant want, young athletes were suddenly among the megarich, with seemingly bottomless bank accounts. The NFL star Michael Vick, a fellow product of Virginia’s Tidewater region, was among many stars to file for bankruptcy. Others sold off championship rings and Heisman Trophies to make ends meet, because once the contracts were gone and the reality set in that these athletes possessed few real-world skills, there was nothing left but desperation. A combination of financially supporting family members and friends, a lack of knowledge about money management, and failed investments became a common and sad end to many of the athletes once among America’s richest. Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield, former world champion boxers who had experienced unfathomable paydays, squandered hundreds of millions in earnings. Vince Young, who led the University of Texas to a national championship and later signed a $ 26 million contract with the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, blew it all in five years because he had a $ 5,000-a-week addiction to, of all places, the Cheesecake Factory. Iverson’s weaknesses were chain restaurants and his “first-day friends,” the crew from Hampton who had always believed in him. Not that he minded the jewelry and expensive clothes, but those were as much a statement of his climb as they were regular, high-dollar indulgences. . . .
Iverson’s story is one that is not so rare among professional athletes, but it doesn’t make his journey any less sad to hear.
By 2011, NBA teams were no longer calling Iverson with contract offers, forcing him to wait for an annual $ 800,000 payment from Reebok, part of his lifetime contract with the shoe manufacturer. But not long after the payment hit each year, it was gone, in part because Tawanna needed to pay bills on their homes, including a $ 4.5 million gated estate in northwest Atlanta that Iverson had spared no expense in customizing. Among the features of the house were nearly ten thousand square feet, a sprawling bar and a gourmet kitchen, and rain gutters made from pure copper.
Now, with creditors calling, his wife threatening divorce, and Iverson’s representatives repeatedly striking out on a new NBA contract, the walls were closing in.
On April 14, 2011, Tawanna entered Regal Collection, a jewelry store in Atlanta’s upscale Buckhead district, and unveiled much of her jewelry collection. Four rings, including her diamond eternity band, hit the store’s showcase, along with an 8.47-carat diamond baguette, a 5.27-carat radiant-cut loose yellow diamond, and a diamond choker necklace that Iverson had given her as a gift. Seven sets of earrings and eight watches also were among the forty-two pieces, all of which Tawanna asked the store to sell on consignment.
Allen Iverson’s foreclosed home in Atlanta. Among the features of the house were nearly ten thousand square feet, a sprawling bar and rain gutters made from pure copper.
She left with a $ 40,000 deposit and the hope that thousands more would follow, depending on which items sold and when. She had already visited a pawnshop to unload more jewelry and several furs, trying to get a tourniquet on the way her husband’s extravagant spending was affecting her family. Already they faced significant debt and the monthly expenses her family had grown accustomed to. By then Tawanna had moved out of the family home in northwest Atlanta, taking the children with her. And it wasn’t as if her own tastes had suddenly grown conservative; she too had become addicted to spending and the highest-end luxuries, and she had leased a seven-bedroom, twelve-bathroom house in Suwanee, Georgia, complete with limestone columns, reclaimed barn wood floors, multiple verandas — and a monthly rent of $ 5,700.
Iverson, who grew up with little in Virginia, had no idea had to handle his wealth when he was a superstar, and felt the repercussions once his playing days were over.
This had become their new normal, the modesty of coastal Virginia now buried under years of riches and revised expectations. Material items such as cars and jewelry had become the couple’s obsession. Paying for it, at least when Iverson was doing the shopping, was another story. Iverson, who early in his NBA career defaulted on payments for the Mercedes-Benz he dreamed of shortly after the draft, often did not remember to pay for things, used to accepting valuable gifts or others taking care of his bills. He later faced a judgment for $ 895,000 in jewelry that he just didn’t pay for, and a court opted to garnish his wages. He moved money around, giving the impression that his accounts were empty and there was no money to seize. . . .
Once Tawanna’s payments for two of the kids’ private school tuition had cleared, along with the family’s $ 15,178 mortgage payment, Iverson’s shopping spree through Buckhead left too little in the account to pay the remaining bills. Tawanna’s rent check bounced, and so did her payment to Georgia Power, which as a result decreed that it would no longer accept Tawanna’s personal checks. To pay the family’s monthly electric bill, she would now have to send a money order or cashier’s check.
Clever accounting had by then become common for Tawanna, whom, despite no schooling in finance or money management, Iverson had put in charge of the family’s expenses nearly a decade earlier. She handled all of Iverson’s finances, including after they had separated, and paid insurance on fourteen cars — five of which belonged to Iverson, two to herself, and the rest to various friends and family members whom Iverson supported. In all, upward of $ 12,000 per month in car insurance was billed to Tawanna’s AmEx. She covered a $ 25,000 gambling debt Iverson never got around to paying to Caesars Palace, $ 50,000 to reimburse the family’s personal assistant for various expenses, and tens of thousands each month to pay Iverson’s security detail and the family’s household staff, some of whom were full-time employees. Tawanna often maintained a defensive posture in case of surprises: $ 300,000 in attorney fees from a 2002 incident in which Iverson chased Tawanna around Philadelphia with a pistol in his waistband; $ 260,000 more to settle a judgment after one of Iverson’s security guards in 2005 battered a man at a nightclub in Washington, D.C., leaving him with a concussion, a perforated eardrum, and a damaged right eye; more attorney fees when Iverson was named in lawsuits while he played for the Detroit Pistons and then for a team in Turkey. Iverson’s fortune had, since he entered the NBA in 1996, suffered a million cuts of varying depth, just like these — a blend of financial assistance for friends and family, investments that never got off the ground, and just plain irresponsibility — and now his accounts were hemorrhaging. No one had bothered to teach Iverson how to manage money, and he simply never considered his fortune would run out. But even part of his nest egg, the game-used memorabilia he had wisely hoarded, had gone to waste: Many of the treasures had been sold at auction after Iverson forgot to pay the storage bill. . . .
Iverson’s then-wife Tawanna was forced to sell her jewelry collection in an attempt to pay couple’s bills.
They inched toward financial windfalls deep into the future: Iverson’s NBA pension, which wouldn’t kick in until he turned forty-five, and a decade later, the remainder of a trust fund Reebok had earmarked in a final draft of Iverson’s lifetime contract: $ 32 million that, for better or worse, would not become available until his fifty-fifth birthday. . . .
Like so many bankrupt athletes before and after him, Iverson had appearances to keep up, because the only thing worse than being broke was everyone knowing you’re broke. So he kept partying, kept traveling, kept picking up the dinner or bar tab when a group went out, even as the anxiety intensified. Had executives just forgotten that he was an icon, only a decade or so after he led the Sixers to the NBA Finals? Now the same refusal to accept perceived realities that had pushed an undersized guard from Hampton to the NBA mountaintop was also draining his finances. . . .
Iverson waited and waited, his spending almost becoming the last thing to go in his NBA career, even as his dream home in suburban Atlanta sat on the real estate market for months. Its slashed sticker prices and opulent details attracted no buyer. It had been refinanced and now carried two mortgages, the second issued from the builder after no bank would lend Iverson money. In February 2013, with Iverson no longer able to cover the monthly payments, the property was foreclosed and he moved into a hotel in Charlotte, North Carolina, spending months there because he had no place else to go.
Iverson exploded onto the scene in the NBA after playing at Georgetown, but by 2012, he said at a divorce hearing that he didn’t “even have money for a cheeseburger.”
His bravado was gone, turned into full-on panic, and with the divorce wheels turning, he emptied the remaining $ 12,000 from a Wells Fargo account, along with the balance of another account he and Tawanna had access to. When she asked for money to pay bills, Iverson told his estranged wife that he had none. During a divorce hearing in 2012, Iverson estimated that his monthly expenses were nearly $ 360,000 and his monthly income was about a fifth of that. At one point he stood, turning toward Tawanna, and pulled out his pants pockets. “I don’t even have money for a cheeseburger!” he shouted in her direction, at which point she opened her wallet, removed the cash, and handed him $ 61.
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