Just over a decade ago, another generation of kids were mugging each other over sneakers. It was the height of the Air Jordan craze, the height of insanity and, too often, the height of tragedy.
It had been awhile since we read about such idolatry, thank God. But then, on June 30, 2003, three years ago, a group of young thugs approached 18-year-old Kevin Johnson, an ardent Answer fan, and demanded the AI jersey he was wearing. When Johnson wouldn’t part with it, they shot him.
Johnson died yesterday when, after three years as a quadriplegic, his family deactivated his respirator. Johnson had suffered brain damage recently when the ventilator failed. His mother, Janice Jackson-Burke, told the Philadelphia Daily News: “It was time for Kevin to go home.”
The news today is that Iverson is paying for the young man’s funeral. It’s a small thing but also a big one for a player who’s grown from being the game’s pariah to one of its leaders. He’s an OG to the NBA’s New Generation, an elder even. His move is the right one, and it was handled with maturity. Iverson had been in tough with the family and made the decision not only to honor the young fan but to make a critical statement. “I don’t think one guy can do what needs to be done,” he said, speaking of the violence that still ravages our neighborhoods. “I think it’s going to take a collective effort and there’s a lot of good people trying to help the situation in Philadelphia.
“It was tough,” he added, “just to see somebody die for something senseless like that..”
It was senseless a decade ago and remains so.
Kevin Johnson will be buried next Wednesday in a No. 3 Sixers jersey.