Wednesday, April 20, 2005

WHAT I WOULDN'T GIVE FOR ONLY ONE NIGHT: Sixer fans and Allen Iverson devotees already know the outlines of the story of how soulful pianist Bruce Hornsby was a crucial part of A.I.'s path to glory. In today's DN, Phil Jasner adds a surprising detail:
The Grammy-winning musician won't say he was the first, but he was among the first to catch a glimpse. And he saw it, not only as a spectator on the courts and fields of Bethel High, but - amazingly enough - firsthand.

Picture this: Hornsby, at 38, and Iverson, a high school senior just off the prison farm, going one-on-one.

"I had seen him in his state championship seasons," Hornsby says, taking a break from preparations for a recording session. "I had made a video with Spike Lee, and when Allen was arrested, I called Spike and asked him to send Allen some things to lift his spirits. Spike did that.

"I liked Allen, and I lobbied the governor [Douglas Wilder] and his chief of staff to pardon him. When that happened, Mike Bailey, Allen's basketball coach at Bethel, called and said Allen wanted to thank me. I said, "Let's play some ball." . . .

After that, it was Hornsby vs. Iverson, one-on-one. This time, it was halfcourt, the rules allowing for a maximum of three dribbles.

"I beat him three in a row, in front of witnesses," Hornsby says, this time laughing heartily. "I said 'Thanks for taking it easy on an old man.' But I didn't tell too many people about those games, because it truly wasn't believable."

Hornsby tells the story not to gloat, but to show a measure of pride in having known Iverson before he became the icon known as "A.I."

"I love the fact that I knew him then, when his nickname was 'Bubba Chuck,' " Hornsby says. "I can remember being in Hampton when he was in prison and seeing the grafitti that said 'Free Chuck.' "

Reminded last week of the one-on-one experience with Hornsby, Iverson broke out into what has become his signature smile.

"I let him have that one," he says, laughing.

Read that again: "taking a break from preparations for a recording session". Yes, gang, Bruce Hornsby is finding work. Wow.

(But, for real, read the story. I know that many non-Philadelphians unfortunately see him as a thug and a malcontent, but, truly, no one plays the game with more heart, or ability given the size. Also, if you read the whole thing, there's a Michael Cage sighting.)

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