Iverson says he's proud to represent all flawed Americans

Updated: August 10, 2003, 8:46 PM ET

NEW YORK -- Allen Iverson plopped himself down, covered his cornrows with a red, white and blue doo rag and pronounced himself proud to be representing all Americans -- especially the troubled ones with whom he has something in common.

"In a lot of people's eyes, I'm not supposed to be here. Talent-wise, people look at it as though I'm supposed to be here, but personality-wise and who I am, people don't think so," Iverson said.

"I have flaws -- just like people in any country. There's a lot of people in all different countries that have flaws and have made mistakes, and I just want to represent that."

Sunday was a special day for Iverson, the culmination of years of waiting and hoping that someday he'd be deemed worthy enough to represent his homeland.

Iverson was out there with the rest of the U.S. men's basketball team as they held their first practice in preparation for an Olympic qualifying tournament later this month in Puerto Rico, and it was somewhat of a strange sight to see the 6-foot Iverson bouncing his skinny, tattooed body around while wearing the letters "USA" on his jersey.

The U.S. basketball federation passed over Iverson for inclusion on last summer's World Championship team, but he was added to the Olympic roster thanks in part to some lobbying from his former coach, Larry Brown.

To Iverson, one of the most fulfilling aspects was making the team without having to remake himself.

"That means everything to me. I don't want to change who I am, because I'm satisfied with the person my mom raised, and I'm satisfied with being the husband and the father that I am. I still make mistakes, I've got rough edges, I'm human just like everybody else."

Iverson has been picked on for his habitual lateness, his domestic abuse arrest, his rap sheet from his days as an incarcerated teenager, his affinity for firearms, his diet, his choice of clothes and the caliber of the people he hangs around with.

But six years after entering the NBA, he remains as proud of his past and devoted to his roots as he was the day he came into the league as the No. 1 overall pick of the 1996 draft.

"I'm happy I was able to make this team without having to cut my hair off and laser my tattoos off, and wear a suit and all that, and stop hanging with the people who love me," Iverson said. "I'm just happy that I was accepted and picked to be on this team because it shows how far I've been in my career."

Iverson had only 10 teammates on the floor with him as 40-year-old Karl Malone missed practice while traveling cross-country from his new home in Los Angeles.

Malone is expected at practice Monday when Brown should pick up the pace following a Sunday practice that was run at half-speed.

Reporters were allowed to watch the final 30 minutes of practice and got a chance to see Iverson come up with a steal in a scrimmage, drive the middle while splitting three defenders and dish a soft pass to Jermaine O'Neal that bounced off his fingertips for a turnover.

The American team figures to improve over the next 10 days while practicing in New York before the trip to Puerto Rico. They open the qualifying tournament Aug. 20 against Brazil.

For O'Neal and Elton Brand, it will be a chance for personal redemption after they were a part of the U.S. team that finished a disappointing sixth last summer at the World Championships.

"Argentina and Yugoslavia had a lot of talent, but they didn't show us anything different that we hadn't seen. They showed more willingness and determination to win and prove a point," O'Neal said. "We've got to win back our respect -- not only from the rest of the world, but from the United States. We lost some respect from fans here."

The U.S. selection committee made an effort to bring in more pure scorers -- hence the choices of Iverson, Tracy McGrady and -- before he underwent knee and shoulder surgeries that forced him to withdraw -- Kobe Bryant.

Like Iverson, McGrady is making his first appearance on a U.S. senior men's team. But unlike Iverson, McGrady was not mobbed by the media following his first practice wearing the red, white and blue.

"Personally, I thought (Iverson) should have been on (the U.S. team) a while back," McGrady said. "There was as lot of talk that he doesn't have the image to represent our country, but that's (unfair). He's a great guy regardless of all the tattoos and things."

Iverson was the only U.S. player bold enough to say he wants to represent a different side of society, a portion of the population made up of people who have made mistakes and overcome them. There has never been a Team USA member saying those types of things on his first day of practice, but that's fitting.

The Americans have never had a player quite like Iverson.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index