Iconic Sports Cover Remembered

By Jason Gonzalez

 Renowned photographer Clay Patrick McBride has shot some of the biggest names in the world of sports and entertainment. However, McBride will always be linked to one specific shoot that took place twenty years ago. 

“I’ve shot people like LeBron James, Kanye West and Jay-Z for publications ranging from Rolling Stone to Sports Illustrated,” McBride said. “But that [Allen] Iverson cover, my first cover for Slam, was the jump-off to my career.” 

To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the iconic cover shot, the Morrison Hotel Gallery in SOHO hosted an event in which McBride discussed its significance, while sharing his thoughts as to why the image of the hall-of-fame guard still resonates with the people two decades later. 

The cover of the 32nd issue of the magazine featured an image of the Philadelphia 76ers star wearing a Mitchell & Ness throwback [Philadelphia] jersey alongside the caption that read “Allen Iverson is Soul on Ice”. At the time Slam was bimonthly publication that was launched in 1994.  

The then 23-year-old native of Hampton, Virginia, known as “The Answer” in basketball circles, was once noted for his signature corn-row braids. However, this time around, Iverson was sporting an afro that was reminiscent of Julius Erving, when he played for the New York Nets in the ABA [American Basketball Association]. Iverson wore his custom iced-out bling, while holding a red, white, and blue basketball in his hand 

Eventually McBride would shoot Iverson a lot more for the magazine throughout the course of his illustrious career. And while McBride recalls Iverson as being a man of few words, as well as being 13 hours late for the shoot, there is one comment from arguably the best little man to play the game that vividly stands out for McBride 

“He said [Iverson], ‘That’s the best picture ever taken of me.’” 

Initially McBride admitted that he knew little about Iverson. However, through research McBride learned of his arrest in high school, his standout collegiate career at Georgetown University, as well as his reputation of being a tough guy in the league.  

When McBride first saw Iverson in person, he thought to himself, “How can someone so small in physical stature be such a beast on the basketball court playing against giants?” 

McBride still dwells upon the time when Iverson finally showed up for the shoot at midnight, pulling up in a stretch Hummer with his entourage that included family members and Que Gaskins, the former senior director of marketing at Reebok. The non-contrite Iverson who had never been photographed with an afro, was also concerned about looking foolish or being clowned by those on the set. In retrospect, Iverson didn’t understand what McBride’s vision was, nor did he understand the purpose of it. 

The editor-in-chief of Slam, Russ Bengtson was also in attendance to share his thoughts of the cover shoot. 

“Whenever I bring up that I work for Slam, that’s the first issue I get asked about,” said Bengtson, whose profile of Iverson in that issue was his first cover story for the publication. “Even if I hadn’t written that story, that’s one of my favorite covers of all time. I’m honored to be connected to such a great image.”  

As for McBride, he views himself as being the melt between the two worlds of music [entertainment], and photography. People often go through life without ever discovering their purpose. McBride has been fortunate enough to find it while collecting a nice check to boot. McBride cites Metallica as being his biggest influence in life. 

“They [Metallica] were the carpet underneath my life,” he said. “But seeing the [photo] prints develop in the dark room changed my life for the better. In a lot of ways athletes are a lot like super heroes and it’s my job to showcase their super powers through the lens of a camera.”  

Limited-edition prints of the cover image, autographed by both Iverson and McBride, are available for purchase. McBride owns all of the rights to the “A.I.” Boxset.  

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