Inking of An Icon: How Reebok Signed Allen Iverson
Would you want to be one of many, or the man? This is the question that led to the Reebok Question, one of the most iconic basketball sneakers of all time. Yes, that word “iconic” gets thrown around a lot in the sneaker world, but the Question is one of the few shoes out there that is actually bigger than the overused adjective. It’s truly a landmark model, especially in the history of the brand that made it happen—the brand that was willing to take the risk on a controversial 6 foot tall athletic prodigy from the projects of Virginia.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last twenty years, you know we’re talking about Allen Iverson, the man who within those same two decades has undoubtedly made the largest impact on basketball—both culturally and the way the game is played. But before AI took the NBA by storm during his rookie season in his now-famous Questions, Reebok had to make it all happen, from the shoe’s beloved design to even securing Iverson in the first place. And that’s the story we’re here to tell today. The inking of an icon: Allen Iverson.
Iverson went to Bethel High School in Hampton, Virginia, where he excelled at football and basketball, remarkably leading the school to a state championship in both sports his junior year. Bethel didn’t have a connection to Reebok. Focusing on basketball in college, Iverson joined the squad at Georgetown led by legendary coach John Thompson, who brought Iverson on board despite controversy after a wrongful four-month stint in prison for his involvement in a bowling alley brawl. Georgetown wasn’t a Reebok-sponsored school, either, and Thompson was even on the board of directors at one of the brand’s biggest rivals. Opting to leave college early after his sophomore year, Iverson declared for the NBA draft and hired agent David Falk, representative of many of that same rival brand’s top basketball stars—including the biggest of them all, Michael Jordan. See where we’re going with all this? Despite all of these strong affiliations with Reebok’s competitor, they were somehow able to sign the most sought-after rookie of 1996.
How did Reebok do it? By aggressively pursuing the man they were sure would propel the brand to new heights. It was two young Reebok employees, Todd Krinsky (now Vice President of the brand) and Que Gaskins, that convinced the higher-ups that they absolutely needed Iverson—doing so even before AI left Georgetown. After the executives raised the question, “Won’t there be another Iverson in the next few years?” Krinsky and Gaskins answered with a resounding “No!”. And as we now know, they were 100% correct.
Reebok began design on a signature shoe for Iverson while he was still in college, and the foresight by the brand paid off. Having a shoe ready for Iverson turned out to be a major factor in his choice to go with Reebok. The brand showed they were all in with Iverson, and ready to make him their #1 basketball star, unlike other brands who would have positioned him as one of many. Reebok inked Iverson for $50 million over 10 years—the largest sneaker deal ever at the time. But it wasn’t all about the money for Iverson, who credited his decision to sign with Reebok for the loyalty and respect they showed him. The deal was done, Reebok had their man, the Question was on AI’s feet for one of the greatest rookie campaigns ever, and the rest is history. No wait, forget that. The history of Allen Iverson and Reebok was just beginning to be made.