- The film is an even-handed of those tense days long before Iverson was "The Answer"
- Iverson did not cooperate in the making of the film
- James concludes that Iverson was treated unfairly, that those who tried him wanted to do more than simply hold him accountable.
Filmmaker Steve James wastes no time getting to the heart of the matter.
Over the years, he begins in "No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson," I bragged that Allen Iverson grew up in my hometown.
The mere mention of Iverson's name, he says, often sparks a debate: At barely 6 feet tall, is Iverson, inch-for-inch, the most talented player ever, or is he uncoachable and as selfish a star as ever was?
Is he an icon who stayed true to himself, James asks, or a thug in basketball shorts?
As the Iverson legend took root and the young man filled local arenas and stadia, James narrates over old still photos and video footage, "No one could have believed that this celebrated, even beautiful athlete would soon racially divide the city more than anyone ever had, and that today, so many years later, he still haunts my hometown, still makes me wonder about how far we've come."
James returned to the Peninsula to explore Iverson's notorious 1993 trial and conviction, and its effects on his hometown, then and now.
James' film is a small gem, a remarkably even-handed retelling of those tense days long before Iverson was "The Answer" and the NBA's Most Valuable Player and scoring champion.
Of course, the film will be received differently in these parts than elsewhere, largely because many of us lived it the first time.
For the younger members of the audience, James' film will be something of a history and sociology lesson.
For the 35-and-older set, it's likely to be either a stark reminder of the vagaries of the justice system, or picking at the scab of an old wound.
As retired Hampton city police chief Pat Minetti says to James: "I don't know why you're doing this. I mean, where are we going with this?"
Where James is going is using one of the area's most divisive episodes in decades as a launching point for an exploration of race relations.
The film is done about as well as possible, given that Iverson himself and his inner circle declined to take part in the project, as did several other principal players.
None of the victims in the infamous bowling-alley brawl spoke to James, nor did many of Iverson's former Bethel High teammates.
But James makes excellent use of previous interviews and old footage. Plenty of others offer their thoughts and recollections.
Among the most notable are defense attorney Jimmy Ellenson, who was viewed as a cage-rattler by the establishment 17 years ago, but comes across in James' film as a voice of reason and perspective.
There are sweet segments of Iverson with the late Sue Lambiotte, who personally tutored him after his pardon, and of James interviewing his own mother, Imogene, who became the school nurse at previously all-black Pembroke High in the early days of integration.
James concludes that Iverson was treated unfairly, that those who tried him wanted to do more than simply hold him accountable. It's difficult to imagine, he says, a 17-year-old white athlete being similarly treated under the same circumstances.
Joyce Hobson, one of those who worked tirelessly on behalf of Iverson and his fellow defendants in 1993, says in one of the 80-minute film's closing segments:
"Allen Iverson's story is a sad story with an unwritten ending. He's got to decide his real legacy. He now has children, so he's got to really look at the man in the mirror and decide what he wants his children to see."
Dave Fairbank can be reached at 247-4637 or
by e-mail at email@example.com
Three sneak previews this weekend There will be three weekend showings of Hampton native Steve James' ESPN documentary — called "No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson — on the basketball star and former Bethel High product. The film will debut on ESPN on April 13, but you can watch it this weekend at the following times and locations: (James will participate in panel discussions at the first two screenings.) •6:30 p.m. today at the YWCA at 227 Orcutt Avenue, Newport News. •9:30 a.m. Saturday at the Main Street Library at 110 Main Street, Newport News). •7 p.m. Saturday at the Boo Williams Sportsplex on Armistead Point Parkway in Hampton.