Allen Iverson and Bruce Hornsby: 1993

You may have heard about "the bowling alley incident" for which Allen Iverson was locked up as a young man. (He was eventually pardoned by the governor of Virginia.) It's a long and sad story, and one that is told rather well in Larry Platt's Iverson biography Only the Strong Survive.

There is one little anecdote I especially like, which occured between the brawl at the bowling alley that got Iverson in trouble, and before the trial and his incarceration. It all started when Iverson's coach at Bethel High, Mike Bailey, got a call from local celebrity hoops fan Bruce Hornsby asking what he could do to help Iverson. A visit to the Hornsby house was arranged.

Iverson's eyes had to widen when they passed through the wrought-iron gates, complete with a security check, to enter the Hornsby compound. "This is like living in a castle," Iverson said.

For Iverson, the visit was a chance to see the life of somebody who had made it. Hornsby after all, had just won a Grammy and was well compensated for his musical talent. Seeing Hornsby, Bailey reasoned, could reignite in Allen his desire to overcome all the obstacles--both in his past and looming in his future--and achieve his dream. In addition, it was a chance to see how (though no one would ever call Bruce Hornsby a rapper) someone who had made it big had kept it real. After all, Hornsby still lived where he grew up and still hung out with many of the guys he'd gone to high school with.

For Hornsby, it was a chance to play one-on-one against the best basketball player he'd ever face, a certain future pro. He'd played high school ball, the only white on a team of blacks, and he stayed in shape by playing hoops on the road. As a piano player, however, Hornsby had to guard against any injury to his hands. So he'd come up with his "Piano Hands Rules." Each player would get one shot each time they got the ball, and any rebound would be an automatic change of possession.

At Hornsby's house, Iverson gawked at the Grammy and played "Chopsticks" on Hornsby's baby grand. Then they went to a local gym to play ball. Iverson would later joke about Hornsby's "funky" jump shot, with his elbow sticking out at an odd angle. Still, the shot went in. Just before they started playing, a nervous Bailey reminded Iverson: "Don't hurt his hands."

Iverson played tentatively as a result and didn't like the Piano Hands Rules. He's take one shot, and whether it was good or not, he had to automatically play defense. He couldn't get a rhythm going. Hornsby could, though--and he won. The two started a friendship that continues to this day. Hornsby not only kept in touch while Iverson was incarcerated, he was among many celebrities who surreptitiously helped foot the bill for private-school completion of Iverson's high school education when he got out.

When Bailey dropped off Iverson at home later that day, he leaned over to him. "Listen," he said melodramatically, "I'll never ever tell anybody this happened. Because the worst thing that can happen to an athlete is that people find out that somebody in a band beat you."

Later that night, Iverson approached the corner where Jamil Blackmon hung. "'Chuck, where you been?"

"I spent the day with Bruce Hornsby," he said matter-of-factly.

Blackmon scrunched up his face in puzzlement. "Bruce Hornsby and the muthafuckin' Range? That Bruce Hornsby?" he asked.


Blackmon, ever the mentor, inched closer. "Listen, nigga, that's cool and all, but don't go advertising in the 'hood that you been hanging with Bruce Hornsby and the muthafuckin' Range, okay?"