The December 7th matchup between the Denver Nuggets and the Philadelphia 76ers was not just a typical early season interconference matchup. A crowd of 20,664 descended upon the Wachovia Center on a night when the game took a back seat to something special. The game itself was more than a game, it was an event complete with commenrative t-shirts, balloons and local radio DJs. The event was bigger than basketball, it was a homecoming celebration for the city’s fallen hero Allen Iverson.
From the 30th street station, to Chickie’s and Pete’s, to the Wachovia Center there was a buzz across Philadelphia and for the first time since 2001 the buzz was created by the Philadelphia 76ers. The fevorish atmosphere taking over the city was due to a 6-0 guard who seemingly couldn’t or wouldn’t be signed by another NBA franchise. When entering the Wachovia Center it wasn’t about AI’s last chance, it was about the return of the Sixers franchise player, the former league MVP, the Answer. It is hard to understand what Iverson meant to/means to the city of Philadelphia but, every person you talked to in the arena had the same sentiment,a sentiment best described by a 24 year old Philadelphian named Gary.
When he (Iverson) left my love for the Sixers and basketball left with him. Him coming back made my holidays, it is the best Christmas present anyone could have given me. AI is everything the city embodies, everything the city is……
It is his heart, his desire, his constant underdog status that the city of Philadelphia remembers most about Allen Iverson, it is what makes him an embodiment of the city. It is why the city and the franchise rolled out the red carpet welcoming back the Answer. As the fans navigated their way through the festivities to their seats, it was obvious that the 76ers crowd was still Allen’s crowd 3 years after he was traded to the Nuggets. Whether it was the Reebok Question commercial, the Allen Iverson montage or the team running out of the locker room, everytime Iverson appeared on the jumbotron the entire arena erupted in cheers. The excitement culminated with the team introductions. Thaddeus Young, Elton Brand and “Slamming” Sammy Dalembert were introdced and the crowd barely reacted as if to say you aren’t the reason we came tonight. Then the Sixers announcer, Matt Cord, announced “a six foot guard from Georgetown” and the crowd erupted. The crowd cheered as AI walked to center court and kissed the logo, the crowd cheered though the other AI’s introduction and the camera focused on Iverson the entire time (from the stands it wasn’t even clear if Iguodala came out to join the other starters). The entire capacity crowd was there to see Iverson, it was his show.
Once the game started, however; Allen Iverson stepped out of the spotlight and deferred to his teammates. He made sure Andre Iguodala (31 pts 11-21 shooting) was able to shine (even opting to have Iggy bring the ball up court), he had half the shot attempts of the up and coming star Thad Young and he led the team in assists. For that one night, the night we would have most accepted it, the “selfish” Iverson was no where to be found, in fact at times he passed too much. AI might have been a step slower and clearly was not in game shape but he gutted out 37 minutes, leaving his heart and soul on the court. In that sense he was the Iverson Philadelphia remembered, longed for, needed. The team fell short but, it was clear Iverson’s impact on the Sixers will go well beyond the box score and the win loss column. Philly Phaithful founder Dan Hershberg summed up Iverson’s affect on the city best.
It is a win-win situation for Allen and the franchise. There is a renewed energy in the city for the team and sport of basketball, an energy that has been lost since he was traded to Denver. Iverson can teach our young players about heart, drive and competitiveness. He shouldn’t have gone out the way he did leaving Memphis. He should be able to end his career in a place he wants to be, a place where he is loved. We are all happy to welcome him back home.
The welcome home celebration was spoiled by a Nuggets victory but the buzz created around the event remains though out the city. The prodigal son has returned to City of Brotherly Love and has made the 76ers relevant again.
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