This is arguably the toughest debate one can have looking on from multiple angles. This debate has taken place in many barber shops, all over the country, leaving many “old heads” thinking us young guns don’t know our culture and where it was founded. Depending on the era, if you grew up in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s you may say Magic Ervin Johnson, Patrick Ewing, Julius Irving, or Michael Jordan had the biggest impact on Black Culture world wide.
Specifically, the D.C. Metropolitan area grew up idolizing Ewing from his Hoya Days. Taking it a step further, Earl the Pearl Monroe gave young brothers an example of making it from an HBCU – The Winston Salem State University – and wrecking havoc on the court. You could even throw in New York native Pee-wee Kirkland, who is so influential to our inner-city youth programs, going around speaking to all age groups about decision making. Kirkland, a Manhattan native, was a street ball legend who dropped buckets on numerous players from around the NBA and appeared in the legendary film “He Got Game.” Pee-wee chose to chase his street dreams, which was rumored to make him more money than the NBA could ever. Nevertheless, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, being motivated by Martin Luther King, created change by informing the youth in Harlem about their heritage and culture. Abdul-Jabbar, a social activist who creating a platform to inform others about the importance of social and racial injustices, impact can’t be understated.
The question still remains, who had the biggest impact, culturally, on the NBA?
Here are my 3:
Michael Jordan (The Goat):
From the shoes, appearing in legendary Gatorade commercials and starring in films, Jordan has completely revolutionized not just African American culture, but forever changed how kids and adults will purchase shoes for over 200 bucks. Not to mention the collabs with movie mogul Spike Lee – appearing in numerous commercials related to the urban culture.
Being the first with the hottest shoes, or even reselling those same shoes for quadruple the value which has become a trend is a reason why the brand has surpassed a billion dollars (3.6 billion) annually. Michael Jordan globalized not only his name and brand, but USA Basketball. His work ethnic and determination on not accepting failure. Not being satisfied with good, but exceeding those expectations with greatness. Wearing the Jordan shoe illustrated a real-life testimonial of being just like Mike, that still relates to this day.
Allen Iverson (The Answer)
Allen Iverson will forever be transcendent on and off the court with his willingness to be true to himself, and the respect he has from his contemporaries. Iverson didn’t care what the media had to say about, not only his appearance, but his personality. From the tattoos, arm sleeves, du-rags, gold chains and braids, to the 4x white tees, A.I. simply didn’t need your approval to validate what he did on the court. A.I. made Caucasian kids want cornrows. It truly spoke for itself. Iverson revamped the Reebok brand, which at the time, wasn’t in the same stratosphere as other marketable shoe companies. He was the reason the NBA changed its dress code policy – due to commissioner at the time, David Stern, reportedly thinking the NBA was becoming “too black” even though African Americans made up over 70 percent of its players. Players could only try to imitate AI’s swag, composure, and killer crossovers. That crossover could never be duplicated, ask M.J.
Iverson, who related with the street ball /“And-1” culture, gave a platform to exhibit their talent on a broader scale. Fans and the African American community could relate to Iverson due to his size and stature, being only 5’11”, but having the heart of a champion – always leaving it on the floor and not taking the game of basketball for granted. Culturally, being around the hip-hop scene in multiple commercials, specifically Jadakiss A5 & A6 Reebok campaign ad, Iverson is probably your favorite player’s player. His authenticity is unmatched.
Lebron James (King James)
What more can I say. Lebron has created scholarships for youth, which includes tuition, books, and boarding paid in full and developed schools (I Promise Institute) in his native town Akron, that include free lunch and snacks. A Minor partnership with the Boston Red Sox which is also rumored to develop more social awareness within the Boston area, including diversity initiatives. His 2010 Decision is considered by some to be the only blemish on his career, but in fact it was dedicated to the Boys and Girls Club, who he made the announcement in front of. James, on many occasions, has called for strict and harsher law enforcement policies towards police abusing their authority against people of color. He is not shy to condemn racism. What may separate King James from others is his willingness to want to create change, not settling for mediocrity and more importantly, not being afraid to be front and center on these oppression issues in the African American community.
What side of history are you on? Are you an advocate of Kareem’s initiatives involving the youth being more aware of systematic, racial injustices? How about the authenticity of Allen Iverson, always being true to himself regardless of efforts from David Stern who tried to change the true culture of our Afro-centricity? Lebron’s impact will be felt for generations. His staple on the society as an African American will never be under appreciated. I believe every person has impacted the culture in a unique way. From hip-hop and tattoos, to building schools for underprivileged youth, these role-models will forever impact the game of basketball, not just locally, but globally.