SNEAKERS & FASHION

Allen Iverson & the Birth of the Reebok Answer I

Learn how the boy called Bubba Chuck became a $60 million man at Reebok, blazing a trail with his own signature style of speed symbolized in the Reebok Answer I shoe.

This fall, an array of ballers become immortalized as brands through a testament to longevity.

In September, Jordan Brand turns 25. Around that time, LeBron James will launch his 20th signature with Nike and Steph Curry and his aptly named Curry Brand will bring out the 10th model in the shooter’s performance line.

Less talked about but equally important, Allen Iverson’s epic Answer franchise at Reebok will celebrate its quarter-century run in November.

Brought to the brand by super-agent David Falk in the spring of 1996, the Georgetown guard changed the trajectory of the company — and the culture of hoops — with his polarizing play and his red-hot Reebok Question.

The following fall, the brand had the tough task of topping an all-time debut by making Iverson the company’s franchise player and the face of its new DMX technology.

This week, the shoe that accomplished that order returns to retailers.

photo via Reebok

Worn by Iverson in his sophomore season with the Sixers, the Reebok Answer I introduced the brand’s moving air technology, dubbed “DMX.”

More importantly, it played an integral part in the brand’s marketing initiatives by making AI an icon in commercials with his own signature shoe, clothing collection, and personalized logo to match.

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The Big Bet

Heading into the 1996 NBA Draft, the Philadelphia 76ers had the tall order of choosing between UMass’s Marcus Camby and local high school superstar Kobe Bryant.

While Camby had the height and Bryant had been practicing with the team since he was in homeroom, Pat Croce’s club opted for an electric point guard instead and used their No. 1 pick on Allen Iverson.

Coming off back-to-back Big East Defensive Player of the Year Awards, the sophomore standout from Georgetown only stood at six feet and was the first point guard picked atop the draft since the 6’9″ Magic Johnson, 17 seasons prior.

Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Not only did Magic have an NCAA Championship and size to his name, but he was also without the scrutiny that followed the pint-size PG from Hampton, VA.

Infamously, Iverson was wrongfully sentenced to time in prison for his role in a bowling alley brawl. The high school standout who had Florida State seeking him to play quarterback and North Carolina calling him to run their hoop squad went from a flooded mailbox to the quiet corridors of a correctional facility.

After a story from Tom Brokaw brought national attention to his case, Iverson was let go, with his mother begging Coach John Thompson to give him a second chance.

Playing point for the Hoyas in the legendary kente-cloth uniforms, Iverson became a breakout star in an epic era for college hoops. Putting on shows across the Big East, inside staff at Reebok became infatuated with the explosive guard who was booming on big men and breaking ankles at ease.

After his sophomore season, Iverson declared for the draft and signed with David Falk for representation. Though the agent had placed Michael Jordan at the Swoosh some 12 years prior, he took Iverson to Reebok, despite Coach Thompson being on the Board of Directors at Nike.

“The deal was $60 million, for 10 years,” Falk told Nick DePaula in 2015. “It was the highest guarantee that anyone had ever gotten in shoes.”

Based on the bag, even Thompson told AI it was a ‘no-brainer,’ and the contract was set.

At the time of the deal, Reebok was miles behind Nike in regard to market share. In the footwear category alone, the Swoosh owned 43% of the space, with the Vector claiming only 16%. Because of this gap, Reebok ran a risk in betting big on Iverson.

Photo by Al Tielemans/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

Due to all the uncertainty, big box retailers were scared to show the same faith in Iverson when it came to buying his first shoe, the Question.

“Looking back at the Question, that shoe went from very minimal distribution to millions of people asking for it globally,” Reebok GM Todd Krinsky told Boardroom. “I remember when it first launched, I was on my way to a Philly Foot Locker – some of the Foot Locker team believed in it, some didn’t — and it sold out before we even got to the mall.”

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Over the course of his first season with the Sixers and Reebok, Iverson changed the game with his high and wide crossover, setting scoring records for his rookie run and ultimately having the best debut among a star-studded class that included Steve Nash, Ray Allen, Stephon Marbury, and the still blooming Bryant.

Retailers couldn’t believe the energy around Iverson and neither could the star himself.

“When he first saw Question and saw kids wearing it, that sort of shook him,” Krinsky said. “We even did a whole commercial around that moment. But he liked the Question design and having his own signature shoe that worked for him on-court.

“That energy and attitude catapulted us into Answer.”

Change of the Guard

As a rookie, Allen Iverson shook up the league by putting Michael Jordan in a blender, while amplifying his street style in both play and aesthetics.

“All along, Reebok told me they didn’t want to make me up,” Iverson told DePaula in 2015. “They didn’t want it to turn out to be something that I’m not. They wanted to let me be myself. They were just going to let me be, whatever that is.”

Due to the success of the Question, the team at Reebok started drafting a sequel based on the brand’s Hexalite cushioning and the shoe’s swooping design.

Sporting News via Getty Images

“We’d actually started working on a Question 2 during his rookie year,” Krinsky said. “We got the call from management that DMX would be the priority and that we needed Allen wearing it. We tested it, found it worked well for basketball, and made an audible in the middle of the season to focus on Answer.”

While working at an incredibly fast pace may have been a signature for Iverson on the court, it was a challenge for the team at Reebok.

“It was a major shift in the creation and design process,” Krinsky said. “We took cues from the Question like the fast upper and integrated them with Answer, while making the technology as light as possible.”

Reebok was rushed, but the brand still beat the buzzer.

“There was a lot of hurried development that went on to get the shoe right.”

Amid his Rookie of the Year run, Krinsky and his team tracked down Iverson in the City of Brotherly Love to tease a sample of the upcoming Answer model and get his feedback on both the design and new tech.

“We made the audible to push DMX and came back to Philly to show him Answer I,” Krinsky said. “He had a ‘whoa’ reaction, just because it was so different. He really liked the functionality of DMX, the feel of it, and how it looked on the shoe.”

Around that time, Iverson wasn’t the only one making changes in Philly.

Despite donning home, away, and throwback uniforms during the NBA at 50 campaign, Iverson’s appeal was not that of a classic, nor was that the calling card for Pat Croce. Famously, the trainer-turned-team exec was planning a revamp of the Sixers image, taking the team from Americana to Harley Davidson-inspired black and gold uniforms.

Because of this, Krinsky and his team had to change the tones on the upcoming Reebok Answer I, too.

“When we learned they were changing their colors we had just enough time to make updates on the shoe, and Allen was really superstitious and strict about matching, so it was especially important.”

After months of madness, the first Answer sneaker was finally ready for its big moment.

Season on the Brink

On Halloween Night 1997, kids in Philly were walking the streets, collecting candy with no reason to stay at home and watch the Sixers.

Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images

That’s because Iverson, the reigning Rookie of the Year, was suspended for the season opener and thus not dressed to trick off on defenders or treat fans to his first game in the team’s new uniforms.

While fans couldn’t wait to see AI lead their city and squad after a record-setting rookie season, Reebok couldn’t wait to see him take the court in his newest shoe: the Answer I. Less a sequel to 1996’s blockbuster Question and more the start of a 14-part franchise, the original Answer debuted DMX on the hardwood.

Said to feel like ‘walking on air,’ the new tech and bold branding play led by Iverson’s iconic I3 logo saw ‘bok going all in on their $60M bet.

“We were making a bunch of other changes to his product and brand,” Krinsky said. “We were developing a longer-term ‘I3’ logo that would help make him synonymous with speed and flash. We also had this idea of making the shoe look unique from the top-down. We were dealing with a lot — switching to a new technology, a new logo, new overall branding, and a last-minute color change.”

After a one-game wait, Iverson debuted the black Reebok Answer I with the matching black jersey on the road in Chicago.

Mirroring Mike for the second time since the infamous crossover, AI was now a focal point of Phil Jackson’s scouting report, with the eventual champs beating Philly by 20.

The next night, Iverson bounced back by dropping a double-double on the Hawks at home in the Answer’s White/Red rendition.

photo via Reebok

All the while, Reebok ran Iverson’s new commercial campaign on TVs across the country.

“We wanted to create a story that connected the DMX moving air technology and how Allen moves,” Krinsky said. “So, we brought in a real scientist to talk to AI about his movement and how the air helps him play.”

Quickly, both the clip and the kicks became the thing of legend as Iverson debuted an unorthodox spin move in which he weaved the ball around his back in mid-rotation. For years, kids on playgrounds across the world mimicked the move they could barely make out in an era without YouTube freeze frames.

“I was a young dude just being creative and I just came up with it,” Iverson told me in 2016. “I didn’t know what I was doing, man!”

So, did he ever do it in a game?

“Never,” he laughed. “Only in the garage where I made it.”

The commercial branded the Answer as a namesake superstar with a line of his own.

“The first year was so much about the shoe,” Krinsky said with respect to the Question transitioning into the Answer. “This ended up being one of the first times we were able to bring out his personality. The apparel stood out in those campaigns with its bold black/gold and ‘I3’ logo. It was on trend with the baggy basketball style of the time and sold well.”

Returning to retailers on July 29, 2022, the recently acquired Reebok looks to leverage Iverson’s enduring appeal on this summer’s anniversary retro release.

A New Era for the Answer I

Photo via Reebok

In March 2022, Authentic Brand Groups finalized their acquisition of Reebok from Adidas.

For the announcement, the new ownership led imagery with Iverson, who still serves as the face of their Classics category alongside endorser/entrepreneur Shaquille O’Neal. This July launch will be the first return of the Reebok Answer I since the deal was finalized.

In 1997, when the Answer I debuted, Iverson was the reigning Rookie of the Year and an international icon on the rise. 25 years later, AI’s cultural cache is still strong, with fans around the world relating to his undersized stature and humongous heart.

These attributes connected Iverson to a base bigger than just Philly, extending to the Far East.

Photo via Reebok

“There was so much demand for [Answer I] because, by this time in his second year, Allen was internationally renowned, especially in Asia,” Krinsky said. ” It’s unique and has that bold, bulky, in-your-face ‘90s aesthetic, that’s so relevant in fashion today while remaining a standout in AI’s legacy.”

In many ways, the Reebok Answer I represents the risk and reward associated with Iverson even more than the Question.

 “Answer I was the first time we had ample opportunity to develop products, connect apparel, and build a story around it all,” Krinsky said. “Compared to the Question, the Answer I is a bold, riskier shoe to wear. It feels rebellious like Iverson. We made a big shift from year one to year two.”

“With Answer I, Allen Iverson really entered the shoe game and we hit our stride.”

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