"The Answer"
By: Stephen Murray


On June 7, 1975 in Hampton, Virginia, a star was born. Well, more like one of the most loved and hated athletes in the history of the National Basketball Association. According to, at the age of 15, Ethel Ann Iverson and Allen Broughton gave birth to Allen Ezail Iverson also known as “The Answer.” Given the circumstances of poverty and constant struggle that he was born into especially living in a single parent home, Iverson overcame these hardships and channeled his frustrations towards sports. With his natural athletic ability, Iverson excelled in both football and basketball. Football is said to be Iverson’s favorite sport, and one in which Iverson proved to be a legitimate leader at the position of quarterback, while basketball was something to do to stay out of trouble. At Bethel High School in Newport News, Virginia, Iverson was able to win Championships in both football and basketball, while also gaining recognition after being named Virginia High School Player of the Year in both sports. Although Iverson had some success as a youth and never looked for any trouble, trouble seemed to find him. One summer in Hampton, Virginia 8 to 10 of Iverson’s closest friends were killed. One of these friends killed was Iverson’s best friend and big brother figure, Tony Clark. Tony was a friend who always stood up for Iverson and kept him out of trouble (“Anglefire,” n.d., para 1). However, with the absence of Tony, Iverson ran into an altercation that changed his life in a dramatic way.

In 1993 at age 17, a racial bowling alley incident occurred in Newport News, Virginia, that drew Iverson a 15-year prison sentence, with 10 years suspended. During the incident, Iverson allegedly struck a woman in the head with a chair and was charged as an adult, with the felony charge of maiming by mob. After spending four months at a correctional facility in Newport News, Virginia, Iverson was granted clemency by Virginia Governor Douglas Wilder (“Wikipedia,” n.d., para 3). Post release Iverson received his high school diploma and though he had scholarships for both football and basketball, Iverson went to Georgetown University and played basketball. As Iverson puts it, “I got put in jail…and when the smoke cleared, no one was around but coach Thompson…”(ESPN, 2006). Within his two years at Georgetown University, Iverson and Coach John Thompson somewhat of a father figure to Iverson, managed to gain Iverson the Big East Rookie of the Year award, a two time Big East Defensive Player of the Year award, named the All Rookie Tournament 1st Team, a First Team All-American, while also becoming highest scoring average of any player in Georgetown history (“lycos,” n.d., para 2,3).

After two seasons at Georgetown University, Iverson was selected as the first overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft, to the Philadelphia 76ers. During his 11 year stay in Philadelphia, Iverson racked up the Rookie of the Year award, League MVP, Eleven straight All Star appearances, Two time All-Star MVP, Three time All NBA First Team, One trip to the NBA Finals, an Olympic Bronze medal, and a four time scoring title winner. Although he had much success in Philadelphia, in the 2006-07 season, inner turmoil between Iverson and the organization resulted in Iverson Being traded from the Philly to Denver, from Denver to Detroit, being released from Detroit and picked up by Memphis, from Memphis momentarily retiring, then back to Philly, to eventually having to play in a Turkish basketball league, all in the span of 3 to 4 seasons (“NBA”, 2011). This was a notably horrible end to an illustrious career, for arguably one of the top 10 best guards to ever play the game of basketball.

Cognitive/ Social- Cognitive Approach:

The Cognitive/ Social- Cognitive Approach to personality is one that views perception and cognition as the core of what it means to be a person (Friedman, 2009, pg 220). That meaning that, people’s behaviors are a result of external stimuli, and the way that we interpret what’s happening in our environment generally defines our behavior and personality. Since Allen Iverson constantly demands respect with his toughness and “do as I wish” bravado, the Cognitive/ Social-Cognitive approach can help explain the reasoning behind his displayed actions.

Psychologist Julian Rotter came up with the Locus of Control theory. This theory has two distinct parts, the internal Locus of control and the external locus of control. The external locus of control is the belief that things outside of the individual determine whether desired outcomes occur, while the internal locus of control is that an individual’s own actions lead to certain outcomes (Friedman, 2009, pg 241). Iverson’s explanation for going through many of the hardships he has encountered is because God wanted him to go through certain experiences. As he puts it, “man, I went through what I went through because God said go through it”. Another time in reference to his abilities he states “… I’m blessed with what God gave me, he gave me a talent man, when I came in this league the talent that he gave me, people wanted me to be 35 years old right then and their…they want me to be somebody I’m not …” (ESPN, 2006). He has also alluded to the environment or coaches making him into a better player or making him act out in certain ways. Because of comments such as these, Rotter’s would say that Iverson has an External Locus of Control.

One of Jean Piaget’s most used mechanisms is Categorization. Categorization is defined as information being filtered into a small number of identifiable and familiar objects and entities (Friedman, 2009, pg 226). Categorization affects Iverson’s personality because he has to constantly defend himself from the things that the media and others say about him. Whether it is because of his tattooed skin, styled cornrows, or baggy clothing appearance, people have categorized Allen Iverson as a gangbanger or a thug. Although Iverson has a criminal background, he feels as though he is stereotyped and people have prejudices against him, simply because he dresses or wears his hair in a certain way. In one of his most recent criminal suites, Iverson is said to have argued with his wife, throw her outside naked in the rain, and then break into her cousin’s house with a gun searching for her (ESPN, 2006). Allen Iverson’s response to this domestic violence dispute was that “…dog, I got in an argument with my wife, I’ve been with my wife since I was you know what it is if you’re in a relationship with somebody, we argued…I don’t want nobody to see my wife naked period, so what make you think imma send her out the house for everybody to see my wife naked.” I regards to the prejudices against him he has said, “…they want me to be somebody I’m not….I just want to be me, man…a human, somebody that bleed, somebody that cry, somebody that makes mistakes…I’m not perfect, I’m not even 50% perfect, I’ll admit I’ve made mistakes along the way….” He then went on to say “I see little white dudes with cornrows, I see police officers with cornrows that used to be the look for the suspect, doctors, lawyers, anybody with cornrows…I made it alright to wear cornrows, yeah you right my son got cornrows, is he a thug? He don’t know nothing about thuggin’” (ESPN, 2006). With the feeling of always having to defend himself, while people are holding prejudices and stereotypes against him, Iverson displays a defensive persona that comes off to many as cocky, selfish, tough and arrogant. Though he may come off this way, Iverson just wants to be treated like a normal human being and not be constantly criticized just because he is a public figure.

Within the cognitive approach, rejection sensitivity seems like an appropriate concept to describe Iverson’s personality. Rejection Sensitivity is defined as the extent to which an individual is overly sensitive to cues that he or she is being rejected by another (Friedman, 2009, pg 232). Looking at the media, when they ask him questions and or write stories about him, Iverson saw it as them saying he wasn’t one of the best players or wasn’t doing what he was supposed to do. Since they say he carries a lot of “baggage” with him especially over the whole “starting position” situation, Iverson feels as though people think that he doesn’t want to come off the bench because of an ego, when all he really wants is the next guy to beat him out of the starting position. As he puts it “in my experience with the game of basketball, no one was giving a position in training camp, he had to earn it” (NBA TV, 2009). Along with the media, spectators tended to give Iverson a hard time also, with the signs they made and chants he received while shooting free throws. With these feelings of rejection from those away from “home,” when someone at “home,” or on the team for that matter, like a coach would reprimand him, it made him feel like it was everyone against Allen Iverson. In Iverson’s relationships with his coaches, especially Larry Brown, Iverson tended to think that his coaches are picking on him when they critiqued something he was doing wrong. Although as he says, I’m just “one of his soldiers,” he also says coaches like Larry Brown say “I don’t know how to play basketball the right way” (ESPN, 2006). Stephen A. Smith, a sports analyst for ESPN, describe Iverson and Coach Browns relationship by saying “Sometimes it seems as though you (Iverson) felt victimized by him, in the process of him trying to teach you…he always said that he looked at himself as a father figure to you and not just a coach” (ESPN, 2006). When the two sides said things about him Iverson tended to look at the criticism as a way of them shunning him. Instead of looking at the media/ spectators and the coaches as two different entities, he tended to carry over his feelings of rejection into both relationships.

Trait/ Skill Approach:

The Trait/ Skills approaches can mesh together in a way that it makes them perfect for describing someone’s personality. The Trait approach is one that uses a limited set of adjectives or adjective dimensions to describe and scale individuals (Friedman, 2009, pg 257). While the skills approach shows how people differ markedly in ability and character (Friedman, 2009, pg 288). As stated earlier, when thinking about Allen Iverson, words that come to mind are cocky, selfish, tough, and arrogant as well as determined, resilient, strong and independent. These few adjectives represent Iverson in a way that makes this approach necessary in describing his personality.

With the belief that personality could be captured in five dimensions, the Big Five model came into existence. These five dimensions of personality are Extroversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Neuroticism, and Openness (Friedman, 2009, pg 267). In relations to Allen Iverson, Extroversion, which is the tendency for a person to be energetic, enthusiastic, dominant, sociable, and talkative, becomes evident in the fact that Iverson never shy’s away from telling people exactly how he feels. In one of his most popular interviews about practice, Iverson explicitly tells the media that practice is less important than the actual game itself. He then goes on to say, “How the hell am I supposed to make my teammates better by practicing…they supposed to be used to playing with me anyway, those my teammates…So my game is going to deteriorate if I don’t practice with those guys?” (ESPN, 2006). This excerpt indicates that Iverson is high on the extroverted dimension. Another dimension Iverson would be high on is Neuroticism. Neuroticism, which is the tendency for someone to be worrisome, tense, and moody, plays a large part in Iverson’s personality (Friedman, 2009, pg 267). Iverson has tended to let things outside of his control dictate his behavior on and off the basketball court. An example of this is when Iverson announced his short lived retirement. As he put it “I was just frustrated at the whole process, frustrated at not knowing,” what or even if a team would invest in him to play for their team (NBA TV, 2009, Part 2). Openness, which is the tendency to be imaginative, original, and artistic, seems to highly reflect Iverson’s personality (Friedman, 2009, pg 267). By looking at Iverson’s day to day appearance, words like artistic and original seem to jump out at you, primarily because of his hairstyles. Throughout his career, Iverson has braided his hair in many different styles which have inspired fans and other players to do the same. The next two dimensions aren’t as easy to describe when it comes to Iverson, for the fact that he falls sort of in the middle for each. When rating Conscientiousness, which is the tendency for a person to be dependable, cautious, and responsible, Iverson would be high on dependability and responsibility but low on his cautiousness (Friedman, 2009, pg 267). We can see this high correlation by looking at Iverson’s playing style of being an on court warrior and never getting up on a play. Coaches and fans alike all know that he always goes out and gives 110 percent every time that he plays or as he puts it, “I play every game as if it’s my last”. His low correlation comes into play by judging his actions of never holding his tongue which risks him being fined by the NBA. Agreeableness is defined as the tendency for a person to be friendly, cooperative, and warm (Friedman, 2009, pg 267). By just simply looking at Iverson in most interviews and photos, he seems to come off as a “cool” and friendly person. However, cooperative and warm seem not to be his strongest attributes. I say this because analyst like Charles Barkley, feel as though Iverson just wants to dominate the ball and play outside of the system. Other analyst like Reggie Miller have said that towards the end of Iverson’s career he seemed like he was holding the team hostage because he could not except the role of coming off the bench (NBA TV, 2009).

Henry Murray’s concept of needs and its four sub-concepts, also have a strong relevance to Iverson’s personality. Needs are defined as a person’s readiness to respond in a certain way under given conditions (Friedman, 2009, pg 281).Murray’s first sub-concept is the Need for Achievement: n Ach. The Need for Achievement is seen as the need to succeed on tasks set out by society (Friedman, 2009, pg 281). In the NBA, one of the highest achievements a player can accomplish is winning the NBA Championship. Although Iverson has never actually won a championship, in 2001 he led his team to the NBA finals against the Lakers, were they lost the series 4-1 (“NBA,” 2011). However, he has won many other awards prestigious awards and has a strong chance of making it to the NBA Hall of Fame. The next sub-concept is the Need for Affiliation: n Aff. The Need for Affiliation is defined as the need to draw near to and win the affection of others (Friedman, 2009, pg 282). It is not hard to tell that Iverson is high on this sub-concept simply by looking at his time as a Philadelphia 76er. The reason he loved to be in Philadelphia is because of the amount of love they showed him. Although he acknowledges the fact that there are a lot of mean spirited people in Philadelphia, he does feel as though as long as he can have an affect o the lives of some, he is accomplishing something on this earth (ESPN, 2006). The Need for Power: n Power, is a tricky concept. This sub-concept is defined as the need to seek out positions and offices in which one can exert control over others (Friedman, 2009, pg 282). Even though Iverson was a captain on his teams, he didn’t do it for power, he simply was captain because he strived to always be the best player on his team, and on the court in general. The position does give you power over teammates and the ability to affect your coaches decision making, but it doesn’t seem like he sought out the position primarily for those reasons. The last sub-concept is the Need for Exhibition: n Exh. This is sub-concept is defined as the need to show one’s self before others and to entertain, amuse, shock, and excite others (Friedman, 2009, pg 282). Iverson seems to be high on this sub-concept in that he loves to entertain and excite the crowd every game he plays. By playing every game as if it were his last, he shows the crowd his passion of the game, which keeps them on the edge of their seats.


By using the Cognitive/ Social- Cognitive and the Trait/ Skill approach, it is not hard to gage what kind of person Allen Iverson is. Since the media tends to portray individuals in a way they find suitable, many may find Iverson to be a defiant individual who doesn’t want to play by the rules. However, by using these perspectives, we can get a clearer understanding of who Allen Iverson truly is.

The Cognitive/ Social- Cognitive Approach was a beneficial approach in judging how Allen Iverson viewed, interpreted, and reacted to things that were external to him. In my research I found that Iverson is one that bases a lot of his actions off of what is happening around him, although he tends to want to do things in his own way; make statements.

The Trait/ Skill approach was appropriate to use because it allowed me to use different personality concepts to describe the kind of person Iverson is, in relation to those concepts. What I found was that Iverson is high on three out of the five Big Five personality dimensions. Henry Murray’s concept of needs proved to be relevant and provided insight on which needs had the most affect on Iverson’s personality.

Even with his ups and downs, Iverson managed to have an illustrious decade and a half in the NBA, full of accolades including awards and All-Star appearances. Although his NBA career ended under a series of unfortunate events, when one assesses Allen Iverson's career based off of his on-court performances, it is hard not to regard him as one of the top ten NBA guards of all time. In the beginning of Iverson's NBA career he said, "I don't want to be Michael Jordan, I don't want to be Magic, I don't want to be Bird, or Isaiah, I don't want to be any of those guys, you know, when my career is over I'm gonna look in the mirror and say I did it my way," and that he did (New Move Productions,2006).


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