Steve James's "The Trial of Allen Iverson," coming to ESPN | Bleader

Steve James's "The Trial of Allen Iverson," coming to ESPN



I always look forward to Bill Simmons's epic NBA columns (proof, if proof were needed, that if you're good enough you can do 5k words online), but nothing could have prepared me for this...

For ESPN's "30 For 30" documentary series that premieres this fall, one of the first films is called "The Trial of Allen Iverson" (directed by Steve James of "Hoop Dreams" fame). I have only seen a rough cut. It has a chance to become one of the most important sports documentaries ever.

Simmons comes on as a goof, but he has near-impeccable taste in long-form sports journalism, and obviously Steve James made the greatest sports film of all time and one of the greatest documentaries of all time and just one of the best things ever. Stevie and At the Death House Door are also excellent.

Plus Allen Iverson is just an incredible subject. I grew up in Virginia, and Iverson's 1993 conviction on felony "maiming by mob" charges following a bowling-alley brawl was big news even as far west as I lived, since the event was so racially charged. Good pieces about the incident are available from The Sporting News and SI; it's mostly forgotten now, but also forgotten is how it shaped early perceptions of Iverson.

As to his adult persona and style of play, obviously Free Darko can put it better than me. From an elegiac ("Where have all the truly odd people gone in sports? We squelched them out as much as the corporations did. For better or worse, now there's nowhere for any of us to hide") must-read post about Iverson, Skip Gates, and Steph Marbury:

The tragedy of Iverson is that, while he spent so much time doing what he thought steeled him best against adversaries, and gave him the greatest, can't-trust-no-one chance for survival, he's also funny, charismatic in the grand warm sense of yore, and known for taking his art seriously, and game as art.

Alternately (forgive me for quoting at length):

"And now, we come to what should be the topic of the hour, Allen Iverson. I find it fascinating that, ever since the 2001 Finals, even those who decry ballhogs and bemoan the death of the league have a soft spot for the guy. He's heart personified, guts on a stick, a performer whose sheer visceral and emotional impact on fans is like being hit by an unshorn tidal wave. He is, in short, a stone classic, a Hall of Famer, and one of the most important players in the game (even if you want to argue over whether he's one of the best). But he's been both ahead of his time and, in his uncompromising version of the Wade philosophy, a prototype that could not move forward without reforms. It's a given by now: AI can't play any other way. Even with Melo, when he racked up assists and worked well with another scorer, he set the tone and rhythm of every possession, and forced all around him to pick on his idiosyncratic sense of timing, space, and cues.

"We can argue over whether or not the 2000-01 Sixers were effectively built around him, since no one else on there even needs to touch the ball. I'd say, though, that in retrospect, Iverson isn't the man who wrecked the guard position, but a phenomenal talent who can't help himself—actually, can't help but transcend the very notion of roles and responsibilities. As irresponsible as it sounds, Iverson only works when you give him the ball and let him improvise. Let what come may. Not because he's a ball-hog, but because the game only comes to him on those terms."

In short, it's one of America's greatest filmmakers on one of America's greatest, and most interesting, athletes. I really can't wait.