Former NBA star returns home to see fans, and the 76ers salute retirement of his No. 3 jersey.
It took the Philadelphia 76ers longer than it should have, because the dozen years that Allen Iverson spent in Sixers colors earned him more than the snub the franchise had given him since he left town in 2006.
But on Saturday, all the ill feelings between Iverson and the 76ers vanished amid the high-fives and hip hop tunes that signaled his return to where he made a name for himself, as well as for all small men who clung to dreams of careers in the NBA.
That’s what people who follow the game should remember about Iverson. That’s what the often-fickle Philly fans seemed to remember as they watched Iverson’s jersey No. 3 take its place high in the Wells Fargo Center rafters alongside Mo Cheeks' No. 10 and Charles Barkley's No. 34.
In Sixers history, Barkley might have been a more celebrated star, but to even suggest it is to touch off an argument. Barkley was great, but was he Iverson great?
No one will ever know the answer to that question – not really. It’s the kind of question that makes for animated talk in a barbershop, much like the talk about whether Kobe Bryant or LeBron James is better than Michael Jordan.
Does it matter? Does it really matter?
No, it doesn’t. For all that should matter to most of us is that we were blessed to enjoy the careers of players like them – and like Iverson. They all spoiled us with their athletic gifts; they all left us with SportsCenter moments, those highlights that left us breathless: Did you see that?
We said that a lot when Iverson was in the game. His Usain Bolt-like quickness did take our breath away, and his ability to throw his tattooed frame around like a burlap sack of Idaho potatoes amazed us. He would drive the lane, bang his body into men a hundred pounds heavier and come away from the collision as if he were a Mack truck, not a Tonka toy.
In the wind-down of his career, those moments are forgotten – forgotten because of the indifference and selfishness that highlighted his play when he wore a Denver Nuggets uniform and a Detroit Pistons uniform. Iverson will get no number retired at those places.
Yet that should be fine with everybody, for he was no more a Nugget or a Piston than Brett Favre was a Minnesota Viking or Gary Payton was a Los Angeles Laker. Neither man could shake people’s memory of where he had been the brightest star.
That’s why Iverson will forever be thought of as a Philadelphia 76er. That’s why 76ers fans will forever call him theirs, and, fickle or not, those Philly fans will always be people who Allen Iverson calls his.
Iverson’s people, Iverson’s town, just as Chicago will always be Michael’s town, just as Green Bay will always be Favre’s or just as Indianapolis will always be Peyton Manning’s.
Even when the departure came in a divorce, no one can say for sure that love doesn’t live there anymore. Iverson couldn’t say it, anyway, and he didn’t try to either.
"They all wanted me to talk about how much y'all loved me," he told Sixers fans on that chilled Saturday night in which the franchise honored him. "But trust me, the feeling was mutual.”
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Follow Justice B. Hill on Twitter: @jbernardh
(Photo: AP Photo/Matt Slocum)