During Allen Iverson‘s retirement press conference yesterday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center, these were the two words that brought Allen to the inevitable tears. Not when he spoke on his family or friends or John Thompson. “Aaron McKie.” And all along his illustrious career, the media tried to tell me Allen Iverson didn’t care about his teammates. If you believe everything you’ve heard the media attempt to make Iverson out to be, then I’m here to sell you a golf ball that doesn’t slice.
The greatest thing about Allen’s hour long presser was just how candid he was throughout. He held nothing back, answered every question and addressed every topic with brutal honesty. He reminded us all the same thing he taught myself as a youngin growing up in the Philadelphia area: That it’s okay to be who YOU are.
He spoke on having no regrets, to many people’s surprise. Not to mine.
Allen Iverson knows he never has been and never will be a perfect person. And he reminded us that neither are we.
He is the exact same person I watched on a daily basis for his entire career, with just a touch more of wisdom in exchange for his explosive first step, a trade off that Allen himself surely embraces because it’s who he is now. In a society filled with people who are afraid to be the exact same person around any audience, Iverson certainly is not. He dresses the same, he speaks the same, he acts the same, he cries the same. And you know what, it’s ok.
He touched on everything yesterday afternoon, and gave us fans one more classic Allen Iverson press conference, and in doing so, brought most of Philadelphia to tears even before he began to shed them.
From the first person he thanked, Michael Jordan, to the final person he thanked, Pat Croce, and everyone in between, Allen gave us perhaps the most important hour of his life. Of course this hour isn’t possible without the hours and hours of great basketball he provided us over his award-filled career, yet somehow yesterday, he brought us all that feeling one more time, and perhaps in one way or another, helped lead an undermanned Sixers team to an improbable victory last night, one more time.
As any basketball fan will tell you, there’s something about attending NBA games that differs itself from any other professional sport. From the motivational speech from Hoosiers playing loud on the Jumbotron to vintage team highlights with an intense drum beat behind it to the songs that get us hype, like “Lose Yourself” or “In The Air Tonight” or however your favorite team does it, leading up to one of the most electrifying ways to get you jazzed up, if your PA announcer does it correctly, the starting five introductions and everything in-between, the NBA does a better job than any other professional sport at engaging its fans. Every arena does their own version of this, and most do it spectacularly.
Call me a homer, but no one is better at the pregame ritual than 76ers PA announcer Matt Cord.
Every game one attended during Allen Iverson’s tenure in The City of Brotherly Love was as loud from the start as it is in that video, and usually even louder by game’s end. Allen electrified the crowd in a way no player ever has before him, and probably ever will again.
He made every Sixers game a spectacle, whether it was a Tuesday night in the middle of February versus the Wizards or a May playoff Game 7 versus the Toronto Raptors or Milwaukee Bucks. It could be the first game of the year, or the last, and you can bet the seat you sat in he did exactly what he’s stated over half a million times: that he played that game like it was his last. As a fan, you got your money’s worth. EVERY SINGLE TIME.
The electricity that Allen brought to the arena has only been replicated three times since his departure from the team in December, 2006: His first game back as a member of the Denver Nuggets, his return as a 76er in 2010, also against the Denver Nuggets, and in Game 6 of the first round in the 2012 NBA Playoffs versus the Chicago Bulls, a game in which Iverson also attended and the Sixers were able to advance to the second round of the NBA Playoffs for the first time since his departure.
That is until last night.
On a special night in which Sixers fans celebrated Allen’s career, we also celebrated a new era of Philadelphia basketball.
Last night, the Wells Fargo Center had the electricity it had when it went by the First Union Center for the first time since the deep playoff runs of yesteryear. Sure, this was partially because of the festivities involving Allen, but for the first time since his departure, it wasn’t just about his presence. You could feel the camaraderie amongst the fans, cheering gleefully as their young team has a very promising future for the first time since Allen’s rookie season.
Philadelphia opened up with a 19-0 run against the best team in the NBA since the early 2000s Lakers teams.
We were all ecstatic with the play of our young talent, especially Michael Carter-Williams, who in his first NBA game put up a brilliant 22-point, 12-assist, seven-rebound and nine-steal night. You could almost hear the credit card swipes for his jersey ringing in the air. It was the best rookie debut by a Sixer since Allen Iverson dropped 30 in his first NBA game. MCW was either three rebounds or one steal away from joining Oscar Robertson as the only players in NBA history to record a triple-double in their first NBA game.
But more importantly, the fandom was back. I’d have bet my life before that game that it would be perhaps the only game the Sixers sell out this year. Not so fast. This team is going to be better than everyone thought, and if not, then certainly more exciting and entertaining. Hell, even Evan Turner was exciting to watch last night, even though it was MCW who now has our hearts.
Believe it or not, last night was a night that wasn’t entirely about Allen Iverson. It was about the Philadelphia 76ers with GM Sam Hinkie and head coach Brett Brown finally turning this team around and moving them in the right direction. It was about the noise inside that gym last night, and the sense that a year everyone thought was going to be brutal to sit through will actually be a year of celebration and of growth. This Sixers team knows what everyone says about them. They’re a young, self-aware group of athletes who showed us all last night they’re capable of being competitive and possibly even beating anybody.
With Allen Iverson hanging ’em up, 76ers fans can finally get away from the past. With all the stories that have surfaced recently about AI’s personal life, fans received some closure, seeing that The Answer seems to be in a very good place. We were extremely fortunate to celebrate him, and extremely fortunate for the hands in which this organization has been left in.
As for Allen Iverson, we certainly haven’t seen the last of him. He’s Philadelphia for life.
As for Michael Carter-Williams and company, this is only the beginning.
What will you remember about Iverson?
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