Allen Iverson returned home Tuesday evening to the Bethel High School gym in Virginia that he used to light up with more kilowatts of electricity than the Hoover Dam.
When he left, that gym and that court had a new name — his name. The Allen Iverson Gymnasium, officially renamed by Hampton City Schools in honor of their most accomplished former player, who averaged 26.7 points per game in a 12-year NBA career despite being listed officially (and perhaps charitably) at 6-foot and 165 pounds.
Friends, family and local officials came out to join in the celebration, and the Man of the Hour said he felt great pride in getting such an honor in his hometown.
"It's about my family and my hometown, in that order," Iverson said. "Knowing these people love me and respect me and root and cheer and believe in me, that's everything.
"This place is who I am. It's what I represent."
Iverson made himself a worldwide celebrity with a lightning-fast style that made him a No. 1 draft pick, an NBA MVP and a Basketball Hall of Famer. Even in high school, his games occasionally had to be moved to larger arenas to accommodate the demand for tickets.
Bethel athletic director Lee Martin said the idea to honor Iverson arose earlier this year when he realized the basketball gym needed a new floor. Greg Hopson, one of the school's principals, was a student at Bethel when Iverson was playing football and basketball, and he suggested the new floor should bear Iverson's name. The school's naming committee unanimously approved. The decision was then made to take it a step further and name not only the floor, but the gym itself in his honor.
In a ribbon-cutting ceremony outside the gym, representatives of the city and the schools made repeated mention of financial help Iverson has given to the athletic programs at Bethel -- often referring to him by the adolescent nickname known around the Peninsula.
"He needs no introduction in this community because he is invested in this community," School Board Chair Ann Cherry said. "Thank you, Bubbachuck, for not forgetting where you came from."
Ralph Saunders, Bethel's executive principal, added: "His exceptional talent has taken him all over the world, but he always remembered his hometown and where it all began here at Bethel. He's been giving back quietly and without fanfare, and today we thank him for all he's done and all he continues to do."
Iverson did not graduate from Bethel, due to an arrest for his role in a brawl at a bowling alley that put the nation's most heavily recruited prep athlete in an intense and volatile spotlight. He was convicted of maiming by mob and sentenced to five years in prison, but Gov. L. Douglas Wilder granted him clemency after three months at City Farm, citing insufficient evidence to convict.
Iverson spent his senior year and took his diploma from Richard Milburn High School, which handled at-risk students. After leading the Bruins to state championships in football and basketball as a junior, he played neither sport as a senior.
But he looked very much at home Tuesday, taking his wife and four kids through the halls to show them his photos on the wall.
When called upon to say a few words before cutting the ribbon, Iverson tried to beg out -- so overcome with emotion that he had trouble getting his first words out.
"I am Virginia. I am Virginia," he said, wiping tears from his eyes. "It means so much to me that y'all have been here for me -- always on my team, always in the huddle with me, always in the foxhole. We are Virginia."
Addressing his family, he continued: "Thank you for understanding that I'm human and I make mistakes like anyone else. We are beautiful. We are the best. We are the toughest and the strongest and we believe in each other."
Spotting some children in the gathered crowd of about 250 onlookers — many wearing shirts and hats bearing the logo of his beloved Philadelphia 76ers — he urged them "to be better than me," and to respect the wisdom of their parents better than he did at their age.
Mayor Donnie Tuck praised Iverson: "He has done a lot of things quietly, but he has been making a statement for so many years: Nothing can stop you if you use your heart and your mind together and see what you can accomplish with sheer will and the talent given to you."
Standing in the hallway of his old school, with familiar faces coming up for hugs from all directions, Iverson pointed toward the door to the Allen Iverson Gymnasium and repeated that he didn't achieve anything by himself.
"That gym is named after me, but do you know how many people helped me?" Iverson said. "So many people. I couldn't have done anything without them."