'Poor Sports': Flying the Unfriendly Skies
By SportsHollywood and "two nationally published fellow passengers who wish to remain anonymous."
The following eyewitness accounts were reported to SportsHollywood by various sources who were first-class passengers on National Airlines flight 49, Monday, August 21, 2000, departing Las Vegas at 12:45 AM and arriving in Los Angeles at 1:55 AM--or so they thought.|
LOS ANGELES - Athletes are not usually civil rights activists. They collect their money, steer clear of controversy, and then retire to a quiet life of gracious living--occasionally trying sports commentating or hand-shaking at casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.
So you rarely hear athletes comment on the incendiary issues of the day... unless you flew on one particular late-night plane ride in the first class compartment of a 757. For one such lucky group of passengers can now say they talked civil rights with Allen Iverson.
Allen Iverson, a civil rights activist? You bet. He has the background of a great unifier. Why, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Iverson have much in common:
King won the Nobel Peace Prize and was named Time Magazine's Man of the Year.
Iverson almost won the 1999-2000 Scoring Title and was named Schick Rookie of the Year.
King was jailed battling for civil rights with non-violent protests.
Iverson was jailed for throwing a chair at a woman in a bowling alley race riot.
King led the Montgomery bus boycott for equal rights.
Iverson missed a team bus in Miami because he overslept after a night of partying on South Beach.
With all of these eerie similarities between the lives of the two men, it only makes sense that Iverson has become a battler for civil rights, as the following story shows:
NATIONAL AIRLINES FLIGHT #49
This late-night flight starts in Philadelphia and heads to Las Vegas. After a short wait it cruises on to Los Angeles between 12:45 and 1:55 AM. The Vegas-to-Los Angeles leg is only supposed to last an hour and ten minutes. But on August 20th and 21st, the flight would drag on longer than a First Union Center halftime show. Why, you ask?
The ooooooonly way to fly!!!
They call him "The Answer."
He is the high-flying shooting guard of the Philadelphia 76ers. But outside of the basketball court Allen Iverson might be the last guy you want to fly with, according to fellow airline passengers.
Then again, few people know that Iverson is a crusader for equality among the races, like King and Jesse Jackson. While those brave men fought (and still fight) politicians and police for affirmative action, welfare and equal rights in the poor communities of our land, Allen (from a poor background himself) has chosen a different battleground: Battling the in-flight food service crews of commercial airliners! If Iverson can't ensure equal opportunity on a national level, he can at least ensure it in the first six rows of the first class section of National Airlines!
Readers, please fasten your seatbelts. This ride gets a little bumpy.
IVERSON GOES HOLLYWOOD
"National Airlines is designed to enhance your travel experience from the moment you book your flight to the moment you return home. Our programs and services have been thoughtfully developed with the highest standards of comfort and convenience in mind."|
-- from the travel brochure for National Airlines. ("Everything's better up here.")
Iverson and his freedom riders reportedly boarded the plane in Las Vegas after midnight, filled with the anger of a people in chains to an overbearing oppressor.
Iverson and friends in Sports Illustrated.
Allen wasn't wearing the ostentatious clothes of a spoiled multimillionaire, but instead eyewitnesses say he was clothed in the humble fashions of a man of the street: an oversized T-shirt, baggy pants riding low on his hips, braided hair, and, of course, his tattoos: 1. "Only the Strong Survive." 2. "Hold My Own." 3. "The Answer & A Bulldog" (his nickname and the Georgetown mascot). 4. Cru Thik (the name of his record company). 5. Dynasty Raider (the name he and his childhood friends gave their gang). 6. A Soldier's Head ("Because throughout my life, I feel it has been a battle, and I have survived many obstacles like a real soldier," he told Star Magazine). 7. The grim reaper with a basketball ("because that is how his opponents see me on the basketball court").
So the "Dynasty Raiders"--including Allen "Grim Reaper" Iverson and several "soldiers"--boarded the 757 and entered the luxurious first class section like they were marching from Selma to Birmingham.
FIRST CLASS SEAT, NO-CLASS PASSENGER
Taking his seat in first class, Iverson was supposedly upset that the airline had not seated his companions next to him and instead had given his friends seats in the rear of the first class section. "Just like the back of the bus," he reportedly called out, equating riding at the back of the first class section (using tickets he bought them) with the plight of Presidential Medal of Freedom winner Rosa Parks.
If that wasn't bad enough, the flight attendant refused to serve an alcoholic beverage before take-off ("Damn, Why you do me like that?" he protested). Eyewitnesses say that Iverson then attempted to use his cell phone. This is an illegal activity on commercial flights, because it can interrupt transmissions between the plane and airport... but it is an important tool for a civil rights leader. Iverson began dialing--perhaps calling his attorney to initiate a "back of the luxury section" lawsuit--when the stewardess approached and asked him to turn off the phone.
Like all the great civil rights activists of our time, the authorities were trying to silence him! He would not stand for this! Instead, eyewitnesses say that Iverson and a fellow "Dynasty Raider" continued to try to make calls throughout the flight, with great trouble. As they couldn't get the phone to work, the attendants finally left them alone.
THE CHEESE INCIDENT
"Nationalís in-flight dining service is reminiscent of the days when air travel was a luxury and dining was an experience. Youíll enjoy a selection of hot, gourmet-style meals in both first class and the main cabin on long-haul flights. On every flight, youíll have your choice of name brand foods and beverages including a superior wine selection hand-picked by the Master Sommelier at the Rio All Suite Casino Resort! Bon Appetit!"|
-- from the travel brochure for National Airlines. ("Everything's better up here.")
Iverson usually has an aversion to crackers of a certain type. But if you're talking about a cracker covered in cheese, he is a fan like no other.
While cheese and crackers were being served, Iverson reportedly insisted that the attendant, Bill, deliver a plate of cheese to his "crew," who were riding in misery at the rear of the first class section. Iverson insisted that he view the plate before delivery, between cell phone attempts.
After the third plate of dairy product delicacies finally met with Iverson's approval, he sent it to one of his crew and reportedly exploded with laughter: "He wants a cheese burger, hold the burger and the bun!" he exclaimed several times. The "Dynasty Raiders" all roared with laughter, rolling around in their seats and waking the other passengers. When the flight attendants finally asked Iverson and company to quiet down in respect to fellow passengers, Iverson reportedly shot back: "It's a racist thing ... I don't look like I'm supposed to be in first class. You think I'm a bum. Why don't you talk to them other people?" (Everyone else was trying to sleep).
"I talk what I talk," eyewitnesses heard him continue. "I don't talk like a white man, so I'm supposed to be quiet." The verbal onslaught reportedly then turned into a Popeye-like tirade: "I am what I am, not what you think, you racist!" Like fellow civil rights protester Jesse Jackson, eyewitnesses say Iverson used a clever spiritual-like repetition in the speech to enforce his point. "You've been hanging me 400 years, and you're still hanging me! You've been hating me 400 years and you're still hating me!" Finally, he reportedly added: "Damn! I'm a professional athlete! I've got a million dollars, I don't look like I got a million dollars, so you're racist! I'm gonna sue you and this g*dd*mn airline." (Jesse Jackson has never used that approach.)
What else could Allen believe when he was offered no pre-flight drinks, no cell phone use, not enough brands of cheese, and with his crew sitting in the back of the first class cabin? This was Airline Apartheid! This would not stand! This plea for equality by Iverson reportedly continued, unending, louder and louder, as the 47-minute flight neared its termination.
CRASHING IN LOS ANGELES
Iverson reportedly asked for another drink as the plane neared Los Angeles. He was told drinks were no longer being served, as the plane were preparing to land. Eyewitnesses say Allen angrily responded, "Why, you racist? Is it a racist thing? I don't know, the white man over there got a drink! Racist!" Once again, eyewitnesses say he repeated, "400 hundred years! 400 hundred years! I've been hanging, still hanging, man!" To send the message home, he reportedly added, "Damn, that's f***ed up!"
Previously no one had been aware that Iverson's ancestors had been refused drinks in the first class section of an airplane. This was an issue that Martin Luther King, Jr. had apparently overlooked.
As the jet was visibly nearing LAX, the pilot announced the final descent and turned on the seat belt sign. This was, of course, the cue for Iverson to break the bonds of oppression: to leave his seat and stand up for his rights ... and head towards the lavatory.
Once again, the cruel stewardess implored him to take his seat and reshackle himself to his first class reclining seat. Iverson reportedly cried out, "Damn! I'm gonna p*ss over myself! I'm gonna sue this g*dd*mn airline! 400 hundred years! Still hanging man, 400 hundred years!"
Meanwhile, eyewitnesses say the flight crew (including the pilot) quietly discussed weather or not to have the police meet the plane at the gate and remove him. They concluded that they didn't want to stick around and waste their energy doing the paper work.
At 2:30 the passengers were finally allowed to disembark. Iverson exited from his plush first class seat and trudged out of the 757 like a prisoner who had been in bondage for 400 years.
As Iverson left, one of the passengers remarked, "It used to mean something to be in first class. Now it's a Greyhound bus ride."
EPILOGUE: WE DIDN'T LAND AT THE LOS ANGELES INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT--THE LOS ANGELES INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT LANDED ON US!!!
"They never wanted me to be my age. Right now, I'm 24. People say I should dress and act like someone who's 34 and live like someone who's 34. And I feel like that's unfair for people to try to take years away from my life."|
--Iverson in an interview with STAR Magazine
Whether it's Nelson Mandela sitting in jail for years or Allen Iverson sitting in a reclining first class seat while eating cheese, all civil rights activists struggle for the same thing: That first breath of freedom! It finally came at 3:00 AM, on the sidewalk outside of LAX.
Iverson took a deep breath of the crisp morning air by his limo and stepped back inside to claim his luggage at the baggage check. He frowned defiantly at the men greeting him and proclaimed this flight as the worst of his life.
In another part of the airport, a tired stewardess told another passenger almost exactly the same thing: It was the worst flight of her life, too.
But soon both she and Allen would be off on new adventures--he might be off to battle racist limo drivers who wouldn't stock the mini-bar correctly; she would pace the galleys of a new ship, on a calmer, less angry flight.
The "Dynasty Raiders" would be gone and she could relax. And, after all, "everything's better up here," right?
National Airlines would not comment on the events of that flight--but they wouldn't deny it, either, citing a strict rule of confidentiality. Media Relations spokesman Dick Shimizu did, however, correct one fact in this story. The flight traveling from Philadelphia to Los Angeles is flight #49, with a stop-over in Las Vegas, and then the Vegas-to-Los Angeles leg becomes flight #19. Ticket information that SportsHollywood possesses from passengers on the flight still uses #49, but we forward this info to anybody who needs a flight out of Philadelphia.|
The Philadelphia 76ers referred us to the lawyer of Allen Iverson, who did not return phone calls.
Iverson was reportedly in Los Angeles to accept the special "Athlete" award at The Source Hip-Hop Music Awards 2000 show in Pasadena. The event was shut down by police after three songs, when a bottle-throwing brawl occurred in the audience.
There was no mention of cheese.