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Mama's Boys
Gary Smith
April 23, 2001
Two fiercely competitive small men in a big man's game, two sons of hardworking single moms—Allen Iverson and Larry Brown are so much alike that only their mothers could tell them apart...and bring them together.
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April 23, 2001

Mama's Boys

Two fiercely competitive small men in a big man's game, two sons of hardworking single moms—Allen Iverson and Larry Brown are so much alike that only their mothers could tell them apart...and bring them together.

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I cried in bed 'most every night after she died. I remember one night she came to me in a dream and told me to stop cryin', that things would get better. I felt good, seein' her...but there were still roaches runnin' cross the floor when I woke up.

My grandmother decided us four kids needed to stay with her instead of my father. Ethel Mitchell was the sweetest human being. Her husband said he was done raisin' kids, so she gave up her house and her marriage for us, two months after Mama died, and raised us up. Family stayin' together, that's what that woman was all about.

Five months pregnant with Allen Iverson, and I'm still playin' basketball. I'd go into a game and try to take it right then and there, run ahead of all my teammates. "Slow down! Pass the ball!" Coach Evans used to holler at me. Coach would paddle me when I needed it, but she never disciplined me in the street, never in front of people. Never disrespected me. She kept it in the family.

Then I got in a fight with a girl who wanted Allen Broughton. Still pregnant. My 38th fight and I'd lost only once—to twin boys. But that was it for my grandma. She packed that house up in one week and moved us to Hampton, Virginia, where she came from.

That's where Allen was born. When the nurse brought him to me, I looked at his little body and saw those long arms and said, Lord, he's gonna be a basketball player! His uncles, Bubba and Chuck, wanted me to nickname him after them, so I nicknamed him after both. All his family and friends call him Bubba Chuck.

My cousins moved in with us, six of 'em and their mom. That made 13 of us in a two-bedroom house—six teenagers, the rest under 10. Bubba Chuck was more like a little brother to me than a son. Here I was a 15-year-old worryin' each mornin' about a baby and gettin' my sister and two brothers off to school. I'd wake up at night and feel Allen's chest, make sure his heart was beatin', and think, dag, this is my baby. He's relyin' on me. If I don't do right, he won't do right.

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He had a picture in his mind. In its foreground sat Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, appearing year after year at all those playoff press conferences against a backdrop bearing the NBA logo, wearing $2,000 suits with pressed shirts and silk ties. Pure class, thought Larry, who himself has been known to order 10 suits, 15 ties and 20 shirts on a stroll through a custom clothing store.

He knew one picture like that could begin to relax all the white people made tense by Allen's tattoos and cornrows and 'do rag. That's what Larry wanted to do for Allen when the Sixers finally made the playoffs. So in April 1999, Larry required coats and ties for the first-round trip to Orlando. Allen removed his untied boots, his floor-sweeping jeans, his untucked T-shirt and double-sized leather jacket. He wore a grey pin-striped Versace suit into the locker room. "See how good you look?" said Larry. Allen took the suit off and left it in a ball on the locker room floor.

My father was the baker for the czar of Russia. My mother's family was in the junk business. I was one of eight. We came to Brooklyn from Minsk in 1910, but I can't tell you anything about it. I was three when we left Russia and I don't remember it, and my parents never talked about it—they were too busy in the bakery. Everyone was too busy. I grew up on my own. I started at about 12, washing dishes, then working the counter. My father kept selling bakeries and buying new ones. He made money that way, I guess. We moved like gypsies.

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