Allen Iverson's gentle tone of voice rarely changes. Even as he recounts the violence, poverty and drug abuse he has witnessed in his 17 years, the voice remains quiet, steady.
To an outsider, this calm is eerie. But the sad truth is, such blights are facts of life where Allen Iverson lives. You see enough, and you become numb.
What Iverson wants is our attention. He wants us to know he is not a lawless thug on the fast track to prison. He wants us to know he's determined to graduate from Bethel High School and take his wondrous basketball and football skills to college. And beyond.
Not that Iverson is an angelic recluse. His past is littered with academic neglect and confrontations with teachers and coaches. He is, in short, a street urchin with an attitude, even if he is a wispy 6-feet and 160 pounds.
Challenge Iverson, and you'll find out. He'll bump your chest and glare at you with wide brown eyes more intense than lasers. He means business. This is someone who, on the night he was charged with brawling at a bowling alley, with his normally stormy world turned downright chaotic, summoned the poise to score 42 show-stopping points in a basketball game.
What else to expect? Survival on the streets often hinges on having a poker player's composure and a steelworker's toughness.
``I call it living dangerously,'' Bethel basketball coach Mike Bailey said. ``I think he's destined for greatness because he loves a challenge. I just hope nothing tragic happens.''
``I do a lot of things teen-agers do,'' Iverson said. ``Sometimes I don't take on my responsibilities. . . . God gave me this talent, and I just want to use it. If I don't make it in life, my high school career was for nothing. I want to be the best. I want everybody to think that I am, to know that I am.''
The best. It is such an onerous tag, especially for a high school junior. But during the past nine months, Allen Iverson's talent and flair have captured the imagination of folks across the country.
He plays basketball at warp speed and above the rim, his pencil-thin legs launching him over helpless opponents. Parade Magazine today touts him as a first-team All-American, one of only two juniors named to the 10-member group.
With a football, Iverson moves like Michael Jackson on the dance floor, frustrating hordes of tacklers with his quickness, his mere presence enveloping the entire field. The Associated Press voted him Virginia's Group AAA Player of the Year.
When college recruiters in both sports see Iverson, they envision national championships.
``I was in Los Angeles, and they're talking about Allen Iverson,'' said Boo Williams, Iverson's summer league basketball coach. ``I was in Florida, and they're talking about Allen Iverson.''
They talk about him more in Hampton and Newport News. Walk the streets and ask the elderly and the young. They know.
``He's a legend,'' said Bob Bailey, the public address announcer at Bethel basketball games. ``I hang around the gyms and hear the kids talking about him. I think everybody who lives in Aberdeen and North Hampton who's 6 or 7 years old knows Bubbachuck.''
Bubbachuck. The nickname combines the names of two of Iverson's cousins. His grandfather gave it to him. At first Iverson disliked the tag, but he, and his community, have since embraced it.
When kids in Aberdeen gather to play sandlot football, they don't shout, ``I'm Art Monk,'' or, ``I'm Emmitt Smith,'' like most kids. Instead, they become ``Bubbachuck.''
But celebrities, be they children or adults, attract vicious scrutiny. Iverson is not immune.