And of course there were the tattoos and the cornrows. If his chances for Springfield, Mass., were limited, he had even less of a shot becoming any sort of mainstream advertising presence 20 years ago.
But Iverson remained himself, even through clashes with coaches, and became one of the all-time greats.
Most of the rest of the world realized there was nothing sinister about his appearance and today wouldn't be a talking point. Aside from size, he wouldn't stand out on any NBA roster today.
In the post-Jordan Bulls era, the league needed stars, and Iverson certainly was that. He was not only talented, but a personality both on and off the court.
The line he blurred between point and shooting guard has never cleared.
Scoring point guards are the norm. So are players (and increasingly gals, such as Ohio State’s Kelsey Mitchell) whose No. 1 skill is the ability to get to the basket. Everything is done off the bounce now, which isn't necessarily an improvement as far as aesthetics, but does bring an added element of excitement.
The electricity Iverson brought to college basketball -- two years at Georgetown -- and then to the NBA has probably never been higher than it is now.
Highlight-reel plays happen every night, and you're nothing in the NBA if you don't have someone who can do amazing things with the ball.
Ball-dominance has its downsides, though, as fans of the Oklahoma City Thunder would likely confirm. When players like Iverson -- or Russell Westbrook, the next evolution of The Answer in many ways -- have it rolling, they are amazing to watch.
Isolation ball tends to breakdown over time, though, and the results can be ugly, stagnant basketball.
Watching nothing but drive-and-kick, drive-and-kick basketball can get old, too, at least for me, so I have enjoyed seeing the Spurs and then the Warriors bring ball movement back to NBA offenses.
The game is more enjoyable to watch, more vibrant and free flowing, with more passing and cutting – but there is something about seeing a guy get his ankles broken now and then, and when it came to that, Iverson made Kathy Bates in "Misery" look like "Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman."
These newfangled ball-movement heavy offenses still rely heavily on players being able to put the ball on the floor, so Iverson's game outlasted himself, and the continuing evolution of the point guard.
That makes his game worth celebrating this weekend.