William Harrison “Bill” Withers Jr. was born on July 4th, 1938 in Slab Fork, West Virginia. Son of a maid and a minor, Withers had a stutter at birth and struggled to fit in as a child. After his parents divorced when he was three, Withers was raised by his mother’s family. His father died when he was 13. At the age of 17, Withers enlisted in the Navy and served for nine years, during which he became interested in singing and songwriting. He enhanced his musicianship, as well, learning guitar along the way.
In 1970, Clarence Avant, the owner of Sussex Records, signed Withers to a record deal after hearing his demo tape. Avant assigned former Stax Records legend Booker T. Jones to produce Withers’ debut album: Just As I Am. The album became an immediate success and featured Withers on the cover standing in front of his job at Weber Aircraft in California holding his lunchbox.
The lead single, “Ain’t No Sunshine”, won Withers the Grammy Award for Best R&B Song in 1972—after already selling over one million copies in its first year.
During a break from touring, Withers recorded his second album, Still Bill, featuring the mega-hit “Lean On Me”, which skyrocketed to number one. After his third album, ’Justments, was released in 1974, Withers was unable to record for a while due to legal disputes with Sussex. The record company folded in 1975 and Withers signed with Columbia Records. He released the album, Making Music, that same year and released three albums every subsequent year after that with, Naked & Warm (1976), Menagerie (1977), and ‘Bout Love (1978).
Withers then battled issues with Columbia on getting his songs approved for future albums, as the record executives strengthened their hold on his creative freedom, and instead focused on joint projects from 1977 to 1985. The most recognizable collaboration was with jazz saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. on “Just the Two of Us.” The song won the Grammy for Best R&B Song, earning Withers his second win in the category.
His discontent with Columbia’s A&R executives, whom he called “blaxperts,” and their attempts to control and direct his musical expression led him to not record or re-sign with any label after 1985, effectively ending his performance career. In 1988, Withers won his third and final Grammy as a songwriter for the re-recording of “Lean On Me” by Club Nouveau.
In 2005, Withers was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2006, Sony gave back his unreleased tapes and the following year “Lean On Me” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 2015, Withers was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by Stevie Wonder and described the honor as “an award of attrition” and added
What few songs I wrote during my brief career, there ain’t a genre that somebody didn’t record them in. I’m not a virtuoso, but I was able to write songs that people could identify with. I don’t think I’ve done bad for a guy from Slab Fork, West Virginia.
Though Bill Withers largely retired from music in 1985, his impact, songwriting, and voice will live on for generations. After retiring, he said he did not miss performing or recording and did not regret leaving the music industry, noting he had a life before music and was content returning to it as he was always just a “regular guy.” Withers died from heart complications on March 30, 2020, in Los Angeles at the age of 81.
Allen Ezail Iverson was born June 7, 1975, in Hampton, Virginia to Ann Iverson, a 15-year-old single mother. He was given his mother’s maiden name after his father Allen Broughton left the family. Iverson was described as a kid who looked out for the younger children and someone that “could teach anybody.” He attended Bethel High School where he played football and basketball. In his junior year, he started at quarterback and point guard and led both teams to state championships. He was named the AP High School Player of the Year in both sports that season.
On Valentine’s Day in 1993, Iverson and some friends were involved in an altercation with another group of youth at a bowling alley in Hampton. After shouting and arguing, a fight broke out, essentially pitting white students against Black students. In the skirmish, Iverson was accused of hitting a woman in the head with a chair. While many were involved, only four people were arrested—Iverson and three of his friends, all of which were Black.
Iverson, who was 17 at the time, was tried as an adult and slammed with a felony charge of maiming by mob—a rarely used statute in Virginia that was designed to combat lynching. Many in the area believed the situation was a product of racial prejudice and later a video surfaced of the incident that showed Iverson leaving shortly after the fight began. Iverson said of the accusations
For me to be in a bowling alley where everybody in the whole place knows who I am and be crackin’ people upside the head with chairs and think nothin’ gonna happen? That’s crazy! And what kind of a man would I be to hit a girl in the head with a damn chair? I rather have ’em say I hit a man with a chair, not no damn woman.
Iverson spent four months in a correctional facility facing a 15-year prison sentence before Virginia Governor Douglas Wilder granted clemency and the Virginia Court of Appeals overturned the conviction citing “insufficient evidence.” Pressure from journalist Tom Brokaw and the general public played a huge part in the ultimate release of Iverson. Speaking about his time in jail, Iverson said “I had to use the whole jail situation as something positive. Going to jail, someone sees something weak in you, they’ll exploit it. I never showed any weakness. I just kept going strong until I came out.”
The prison sentence left him unable to return to Bethel and sports in his senior year, as he was instead forced to finish high school at Richard Milburn High School, a campus for at-risk students. Even so, Georgetown University head basketball coach John Thompson had seen enough from Iverson to offer him a full scholarship to play basketball for the Hoyas. Iverson spent two seasons with the team and won Big East Defensive Player of the Year both seasons, finishing his college career as the Hoyas’ all-time leader in career points/game with 22.9.
Iverson was the number one pick in the 1996 NBA Draft to the Philadelphia 76ers. Listed at just 6’0”, AI remains the shortest player ever selected with the top pick. Iverson won the NBA MVP award and his second scoring title in the 2000-01 season, guiding his team to the finals that same year. At 165 pounds, he became the shortest and lightest player to ever win MVP.
Pundits expected the overpowering Kobe-Shaq Lakers to sweep the Sixers, but Iverson’s team took game one 107-101—a game that included AI’s iconic step over Laker guard Tyronn Lue. Iverson finished with 48 points and handed the Lakers their only postseason loss that year. Though the Sixers lost the series, Iverson averaged 35.6 points and cemented his performance as one of the greatest losing efforts in finals history.
After several up and down, tumultuous seasons in Philadelphia—playing through injuries, coaching changes, and personal matters—as well as a few late-career stints with the Denver Nuggets, Detroit Pistons, and Memphis Grizzlies, Iverson returned to the Sixers in December 2009. He played in what would become his final NBA game on February 20, 2010—a loss to Derrick Rose’s Chicago Bulls.
Two days later he left the team to care for his 4-year-old daughter who had become sick with an illness that was later revealed to be Kawasaki Disease. On October 30, 2013, he officially announced his retirement from basketball, citing his lost passion to play and expressing it was a “happy” day.
Allen Iverson is widely regarded as one of the greatest scorers in NBA history and is arguably the most influential basketball icon not named Michael Jordan. His devotion to himself and his refusal to be molded into anything else—both as a player and a person—continue to inspire young players and our culture at large.
His playoff career scoring average of 29.7 points per game is second to only Jordan. His fashion, speech, and unique swagger heavily influenced the NBA that we know today. He remains a go-to mentor for many young players in the league and has expressed that he is a “Sixer for life” as he enjoys his post-retirement life, now aged 45.
Allen Iverson’s game was never just about scoring points. He was dedicated to doing whatever the team needed from him on the court to win. His career almost never happened because of the racial prejudice acted against him, and the relaxed demeanor and tone he displayed during these hardships speak to his strength and ability to overcome.
Pairing his career highlights with the easygoing, passionate, and thoughtful delivery of Bill Withers—who was no stranger to the restraints and horrors that come with reaching success in a white America—is a match that I would have never imagined worked this well, initially. Both exhibited exemplary leadership of their own lives, as well as the collaborations within them, and I hope you enjoy this mashup as much as I have!
The Answer’s Game TOTALLY SOUNDS LIKE Bill Withers.
Appreciate you spending the time with me here on MMH as we jump forward into a beautiful March ahead of us. Have a fantastic weekend and, as always, stay Strong!