His bags were packed, Allen Iverson patiently awaits for his long flight from New York to Shanghai for a visit to where he says has the ‘the greatest basketball fans in the world’, China. Iverson couldn’t wait. He was going to China, a trip meant for a relaxing mini-vacation with his wife/ex-wife Tawanna Turner and to interact with his fans. He was also ready to make his amateur coaching debut leading a group of American basketball players in exhibition games against local Chinese squads.
It was April 20th when NBA agent Muhammed Abdur-Rahim of Goodwin Sports finalized the contract that would send Iverson to China for twelve days, from May 19th to May 31st. Abdur-Rahim was first introduced to the idea of bringing Iverson to China early in the year by Chinese sports agent Li Dong of Tianjin Qi Di Culture Co., Ltd who would later partner who partner up with David Lee of Beijing Landmark Advertisement Co., Ltd.
Everything was set, so they thought. A few miscommunications leading up to the departure date caused Abdur-Rahim to make a quick stop in Washington D.C to gather the travel visas, a duty that was supposed to have been taken care of by the Chinese counter parts, but no big deal. Abdur-Rahim got it done and flew to New York to meet up with Iverson, Turner, and Iverson’s body guard.
“I flew from Atlanta (Sunday) to Washington, Monday morning I got the Visas. But everybody was excited to go to China so, whatever, it didn’t bother me or Iverson,” says Abdur-Rahim via telephone interview.
“We flew from New York to Shanghai and met up with Li Dong and his translator. From Shanghai we were supposed to fly to Daqing, but we were delayed because of the traveling visa mishap, so we rescheduled Daqing for later in the tour and decided to fly from Shanghai to Harbin.”
Iverson was ready for China, and China was ready for him. Upon his arrival to Harbin, a city known for its extremely cold winters in the northern part of China, fans waited at the airport to welcome their basketball hero. There to capture every moment was Abdur-Rahim.
“I’ve been around a lot of stars. But traveling with Iverson was unbelievable. It’s overwhelming, I saw people chasing down cars or sleeping outside near the hotel just to see him.”
Iverson would go on to attend promotional events in Harbin, as well as coaching the American team, ‘Team Iverson’, to a victory over the CBA’s Liaoning Leopards junior team. Everything seemed to be going well; then, unfortunately, the trip took a turn for the worse.
The next morning, in Harbin, Abdur-Rahim made his way down to the hotel lobby after a sleepless night to find Chinese agent Li Dong arguing with a local Harbin promoter. With Iverson and the rest of the crew waiting in the lobby, Abdur-Rahim approaches Li Dong to tell him they are ready to go to the airport. Their flight to Xi’An, the next city which Iverson is scheduled to visit, was waiting. But to Abdur-Rahim’s surprise, there was a problem, the first of many problems to arise on this trip.
“I told Li Dong we were ready head back to the airport, but there was something going on with the local promoter. He wanted Iverson to do some kind of video. At the time I was confused. But the local promoter said we couldn’t leave Harbin until Iverson made a video apologizing to the fans of Harbin. Apologize for what?”
Prior to Iverson’s arrival, Li Dong made a side deal with the local promoter of Harbin stating Iverson to play in the game. So the local promoter had no problems selling tickets to local fans advertising the former NBA MVP to play in an exhibition game. Li Dong knew the contract with Iverson is a coaching only contract. But coaching might not sell tickets, and in the end, coaching might not get Li Dong the money he wants. So what Li Dong thought he could do, is lie to the local promoters, and have the local promoters lie to the fans, and finally try and use some convincing skills to make Iverson play. But Iverson wasn’t budging. He is in no shape to be playing. So when Iverson refused Li Dong’s constant effort to make him play, Li Dong was in trouble. According to sources familiar with the situation, Li Dong approached some of the American players from ‘Team Iverson’ after the game and demanded them to tell the Chinese media that Iverson didn’t play due to a leg injury.
So back to the hotel, the next morning, after the game. Iverson and his crew are being held hostage at the hotel lobby. The local promoter is telling all the taxis not to take Iverson anywhere. The local promoter needs to save himself because he, due in large part to Li Dong’s blatant lie about Iverson playing, misled the public into buying tickets for an event that didn’t really happen the way it was advertised.
“Look, we are all really tired,” Abdur-Rahim tells the local promoter. “It’s been a long couple of days, we are still jet lagged, just let us get to the airport, check in, wake up a little bit, I’ll get Iverson to make you a video once we are on the plane, and then send it to you. Sounds good?”
“I can remember at that time I still had no idea what was going on. But we were all so tired we just wanted to get to the airport and sleep on the plane.”
But the local promoter’s reputation was on the line here. And there was no way he was letting Iverson leave without his video. The local promoter wanted the apology from Iverson. Of course, Li Dong took advantage of the situation, putting the blame on Iverson and not himself. Li Dong was telling the local promoter that Iverson didn’t play because he was sick, tired, and injured. So the local promoter wanted an apology from Iverson for something that wasn’t even Iverson’s fault to begin with.
So by that point, Iverson and the crew were about to miss their flight. So to save further trouble, Iverson records the video saying, “To all of my Harbin fans, I’m sorry and I’ll see you soon.” Short and sweet. But apparently not good enough as it still took the local promoters fifteen minutes to allow them into a car and drive them to the airport. And of course, Iverson and the crew missed their flight.
“We ended up missing the only flight out of Harbin to Xi’An. So we had to take an indirect route, and didn’t get to Xi’An until later that night. We were supposed to arrive there at 2 p.m. but didn’t get there until about 7 p.m. That day we had an event scheduled for 3 p.m., so obviously we missed that. And I know by this point Iverson is exhausted from everything that is going on,” said Abdur-Rahim.
Iverson finally arrived to Xian, late, and exhausted. “When we landed in Xi’An, I sent Iverson, Tawanna, and Iverson’s security guard in a separate car. I told the driver to take them directly to the hotel. But the driver kept saying he was supposed to take him to a pep rally or something but I told him no, we are so exhausted from missing our flight and all these delays and stuff that there’s no way we can go to the pep rally. We just wanted to go to the hotel and go to sleep.” said Abdur-Rahim.
But the driver kept getting phone calls from Li Dong, who stayed in Harbin to ease the situation with the local promoters. Li Dong was on the phone demanding the driver to take them to the pep rally. So against Abdur-Rahim’s instructions, the driver took orders from the man who was paying him, Li Dong. And Iverson arrived to the pep rally, tired, confused, and unprepared.
Abdur-Rahim recalls the moment Iverson finally arrived at the hotel in Xi’An. “Iverson and Tawanna were both really frustrated. They just wanted to get some sleep but the driver took them to the pep rally. And I told the driver, like three or four times, to go straight to the hotel. But that was my fault, I should have put the translator in the car with them so that he (the translator) could mediate the situation.”
But the worst has yet to come. Abdur-Rahim thought of a new strategy. From this point on, every city they go to, he is to communicate directly with the local promoters to avoid any funny business from Li Dong. “We were reunited with our new local translator, his name was Stan. I swear this kid was a gift from god. He was the best,” said Abdur-Rahim. “Stan let me know everything that was going on. He told me what the media was saying about the Harbin incident. Because I still didn’t know the whole scoop. So Stan really let me know what was going on with all this stuff. When that happened in Harbin, I knew something was wrong, so I called RealGM and let them know what was going on.”
In a statement released to RealGm on May 21st, Abdur-Rahim put forward information on the incident that took place in Harbin, “He (Iverson) did everything he could to leave for his next city, and they still held him hostage. For a guy who’s beloved in China, it was ridiculous.”
By this point, the original contract was already breached by the two Chinese agents who were a part of it, Li Dong and David Lee. In the contract, it clearly expresses the duty of both Chinese agents to communicate with the public that Iverson will be coaching, and only coaching. The public was misled thanks to Li Dong and David Lee’s side deals with local promoters.
So with the contract breached, a city disappointed with Iverson, and local Chinese media spinning the story with negative remarks against Iverson, Abdur-Rahim thought it couldn’t get any worse. That’s until he got a knock on his hotel room door in Xi’An the next morning.
“I remember waking up the next morning in Xi’An, and the government was knocking on my door. I remember they had some military guy with camouflage pants next to them holding a video camera. And they asked me if they could interview me. My response was first I need my translator here. Then I asked them for what reason do they need to interview me. So my translator is beside me, and the government official asked me two questions. The first question was, ‘is Iverson going to play tonight’. My answer was ‘no’. Then he said, ’in the contract, it doesn’t state that Iverson is supposed to play two minutes?’. Absolutely not,” said Abdur-Rahim.
So right after that morning interview with Abdur-Rahim, the local Xi’An government took action to cancel the game in which Iverson was supposed to coach because the public was misled once again by Li Dong and David Lee saying Iverson was going to play. But Iverson wasn’t going to let his fans down. Despite the game being canceled, Iverson participated in the promotional events where he got to interact with his fans. Again, the worst is yet to come.
Li Dong (left), and David Lee (right).
“When we were driving back from the events I get a text message from Li Dong saying ‘we’ll give Iverson $10,000 per minute to play in the next city’. I responded back saying, ‘Li he’s not playing. I told you he’s not playing’. Li Dong wrote back saying, ‘I know, I know, but they made me send it’. As an attorney, I’m obliged to let my client know about the offer. So I communicated the offer to Iverson, and he still says he’s not playing. Iverson told me to talk to them and be clear about that.”
Iverson, Abdur-Rahim, and the rest of the crew got back to the hotel in Xi’An only to see government officials still present. David Lee, who was working with Li Dong negotiate side deals with local promoters was being detained in a small room next to the front desk of the hotel. Li Dong was there too, but wasn’t locked in a room. So Li Dong and Abdur-Rahim had a meeting discussing the current status of the tour. “Li Dong said he was going to give Iverson $10,000 a minute, but maximum five minutes so $50,000 per game. This time I was very direct with Li Dong, I told him, ‘Li it’s not about the money. It’s about doing things the right way. We had a contract. Iverson wants to spend some times here with his family and be with his fans in China. That’s it. It’s not about the money’,” said Abdur-Rahim.
Li Dong continued to insist on a new deal, and Abdur-Rahim continued denying him. Iverson joins Abdur-Rahim and Li Dong in the meeting. Now things are about to get serious because in this room is Li Dong, Abdur-Rahim, Iverson, and Tawanna. Now Li Dong is desperate, and throws a ridiculous number at Iverson. Li Dong offers Iverson $1 million for a combined 10 minutes of playing time for the remaining four games of the tour. That’s $1 million for two-and-half minutes per game. Iverson’s eyes light up, and he says… no. “My intent when I came to China wasn’t to play. I’m not going to mislead my fans and give them a bad show. I gave you my word that I’m going to coach and I’m sticking to the word I gave. There’s no amount of money that’s going to make me play,” says Iverson.
For Iverson, his word is bigger than a dollar value. His word was he’s not going to play, and for Iverson his word is stronger than anything. Unfortunately, for Li Dong, this is not what he wanted to hear.
“That’s when Li Dong played me as a fool,” says Abdur-Rahim.
“He played me using emotions. As soon as Iverson rejected the “final offer” of $1.5 million to play two minutes per game in four-games, Li Dong said, ‘if Iverson doesn’t take the deal and play, David Lee will go to jail for misleading the public. And before David Lee goes to jail, he’s going to commit suicide by jumping off the hotel building’.”
Iverson wasn’t ready to have someone commit suicide over all this. So in an attempt to save someone’s life, he accepts the offer to play.
“It wasn’t about the money, it was about the whole sympathy thing,” says Abdur-Rahim
So there it was. Li Dong will pay Iverson $1.5 million to play two-minutes per game in the next four games of the tour, David Lee doesn’t go to jail and won’t commit suicide, and Li Dong’s name will be cleared from all of his mistakes he made from misleading the public to straight up lying to local promoters.
But $1.5 million is a big number. And Abdur-Rahim knew that these two agents were shady. So he writes up another contract stating the new details and that the reason for signing a new contract is because the first one was breached.
“We didn’t trust these guys. So we said money up front. But I knew that wasn’t going to happen. I could see Li Dong panicking a little when this was all going down. So as expected they couldn’t do the $1.5 million up front. Li Dong said he could front $1 million up front and the rest on August 2nd. So we agreed on that.”
The game in Xi’An was still cancelled. But with the new contract, the show must go on. So Iverson and the crew were on to the next city, JinJang, China, a factory city in Fujian province with a population of about two million people.
On Monday, May 25th, Iverson arrived in JinJang. And again, more inconveniences were waiting. ‘We were coming out of an event in JingJang and there was a complete security breach. The driver was supposed to be waiting in the car, Iverson was waiting on the street for like ten minutes. So the Chinese security guard was there and he was over by the car talking to the driver. So both of them were talking right. And the driver said to Iverson, ‘no picture, no car’. So the translator is there going crazy. ‘What do you mean no picture no car?’ So we had to take a picture with the driver. And if we didn’t, he wasn’t going to drive us.”
He played two minutes in front of a sold out arena. There are no video clips of this game but rest assured that he did in fact play. The $1 million that was guaranteed up front did not yet arrive in Iverson’s account. It was Memorial Day in the United States so banks were closed.
“I didn’t expect the money to go through right away,” said Abdur-Rahim. “But the day before we arrived in JinJang, Li Dong sent me proof of a wire transfer that was sent from Li Dong’s account to Iverson’s account. So I wasn’t too worried.”
But on Wednesday, May 27th, the wire transfers still hadn’t gone through. And Iverson was fed up. Tawanna approached Abdur-Rahim and told him these agents were lying. She called Iverson’s accountant in America to see if any wire transfers were pending, and of course nothing was on the account.
“At that moment I texted David Lee,” says Abdur-Rahim. “And he told me he was in Beijing selling his investment proprieties to come up with the $1.5 million. So I texted Li Dong and he reassured me again that $1 million has been wired, everything is ok. And that they were working on coming up with the rest of the money.”
A fake bank transfer sent by Li Dong to Allen Iverson on Sunday, May 24th, 2015
Nearly a week passes since Li Dong sent the proof of a wire transfer to Abdur-Rahim, and still no money has shown up in Iverson’s account. By this time, Iverson and the crew are in Hefei. “I told Li Dong that this is it, Iverson is not going to any events until money is transferred to the account, enough is enough.” Li Dong agreed to Abdur-Rahim’s request, Iverson was not going to participate in any events in Hefei.
So Abdur-Rahim called an emergency meeting with both David Lee and Li Dong at a Hefei hotel. “Li Dong and David Lee both came to Hefei and met with me and the local promoters. During that meeting, both Li dong and David Lee admitted to sending out fraudulent wires. They both admitted that everything they did regarding the second contract was only done to keep the tour going.”
Iverson, Abdur-Rahim, and the rest of the crew were dealing with two Chinese criminals. Abdur-Rahim’s first reaction was to pack up and leave.
“There’s no way we can continue doing business with people who are sending out fake bank wires. I told Iverson like I don’t feel safe. We didn’t know what was going on or where we were going. We still didn’t have a schedule so we had to rely on Li Dong and David Lee to navigate our tour. I told Iverson let’s go. But Iverson said no, he wanted to stay in China to finish the tour just for his fans. He said, ‘I can’t play after what Li Dong and David Lee did to me. But I will coach the games as part of the original deal’.”
At this point Abdur-Rahim is crushed. He’s known Li Dong for over two year and thought he had built a solid relationship with him but that all collapsed. Li Dong embarrassed Abdur-Rahim, who was representing Iverson. “It was a really, really bad feeling. To know that the people you are supposed to trust and do business with are lying to you and misleading the public.”
But things got really scary when the Hefei government sided with Li Dong and David Lee rather than offer protection like the Xi’An government did. “In Hefei, the government wouldn’t even show up. We called down from our room, and the staff at the Westin hotel said the government wants Iverson to play and they weren’t coming. Then they cut all the phone lines from our room so we couldn’t call out.”
The show must go on. Iverson didn’t want to leave his fans disappointed by skipping out on the rest of the tour. While he was late for his first events due to unfinished business back at the hotel, Iverson attended the game in Hefei as a coach, not a player. At the game, the local promoter and Abdur-Rahim made a public announcement apologizing to the fans while telling them that Li Dong and David Lee were at fault.
So now that Hefei was over, Iverson had one last stop, Daqing, China. Daqing was supposed to be the first city Iverson visits but it got delayed due to unprepared documents by Li Dong and David Lee (the visas which Abdur-Rahim travelled to Washington to obtain). In each city, local promoters were lied to by David Lee and Li Dong. So with that in mind, the mayor of Daqing decided to cancel the game. In an effort to make Iverson breach the contract, Li Dong insisted on canceling the tour. “They wanted me and Iverson to breach the contract by us canceling the tour on our own will. Despite all that Iverson still wanted to continue the tour. More importantly, he didn’t want to disappoint his fans. So we went to all the events,” says Abdur-Rahim.
Iverson and the crew all made it back to America safe and sound. But the damage remains in China. Iverson’s fans were completely misled and misinformed causing a bad spell on his image. Li Dong and David Lee, two Chinese agents looking to become big players in the market had no regard for proper business etiquette. They took this opportunity as a cash grab, without any consideration for Iverson or his fans, they saw dollars signs and stopped at nothing to grab it.
While Iverson still loves his fans in China, he had this to say, “I will never come back to China because of David Lee and Li Dong.”
Strong words from someone who put a lot of time and effort to give back to the fans he called ‘the greatest basketball fans in the world’. As for Li Dong and David Lee, they are facing multiple lawsuits from local Chinese promoters and from Abdur-Rahim himself.