There is a fascinating story buried in Iverson, a biographical documentary of the 76ers great. Director Zatella Beatty does her best to tease it out of her subject. But her greenness at the helm shows, as she relies heavily on a cloying score, obvious imagery, and a simplistic structure.
The film, which premiered at last year's Tribeca Film Festival, starts with Allen Iverson's hardscrabble youth in the projects of Newport News, Va., hitting on his controversial 1993 arrest after a bowling alley brawl (which leads to a cameo by current NBC10 reporter Monique Braxton) and his career in the NBA - all while roping in the tattoos, the cornrows, and the infamous "practice" presser.
Iverson largely tells his own story, which, almost by default, slants it heavily in his favor. He is clearly protective of his own story. The doc reportedly took seven years to make because the notoriously cagey A.I. refused to let his guard down.
So perhaps, rather than expecting a measured look at the star, we might do better to salute Beatty's work in getting Iverson to speak at all.
Take No Crossover, the excellent entry into ESPN's 30 for 30 doc series by the great Steve James. Iverson declined to be interviewed for the documentary, which focused on his 1993 arrest and conviction on three felony counts of "maiming by mob." Crossover is a more even-handed telling of the Iverson tale, but it lacks his own voice.
Then again, Iverson lacks voices, too. Tom Brokaw, Pat Croce, and Dwyane Wade appear, but figures that have loomed large in Iverson's celebrity, such as his mother, Ann, and his wife, Tawanna, have little presence.
In the latter half, Beatty focuses on Iverson's connection to hip-hop culture and his role in bringing it into the NBA.
Iverson insisted on representing a culture he loved and felt a part of while off the court. In return, he was called a "thug" by both black and white commentators, all strongly disapproving of what is now largely commonplace among athletes.
It's the most interesting point Beatty makes in Iverson: One of the greatest players of the game was essentially penalized because he was taking part in pop culture. What made fans love and relate to him also made him a target for the largely white ownership of basketball teams.
Iverson's problems later in life - issues of gambling and financial instability - are largely glossed over. But those problems aren't Iverson's real tragedy. It's the promise of a talent only partially fulfilled that ends the documentary on a sad note.
9 p.m. Saturday on Showtime.EndText