by Michael Tillery
These are the days historical. The days where your phone rings incessantly, for your friends and family want to share in the moment. You give them the time to wax poetic, for they are of the game’s purity.
Some cats in the game are jaded just enough to exclude the soul of the fan from their work and that’s unfortunate. What will history show if your words are not objective? The cynic should not live on this day. He gets no run in this party. I write this not as a writer, but with all the above sentiment perched fossilized for future eyes. I’m meticulous when it comes to games like this. I freeze the moment in time. I remember every step. I pay closer attention to the cardinals and blue jays that pass my window. I watch absolutely no TV. I was the same when Doc came back and was honored and linked him to Kobe. I fall asleep the night before with Christmas Eve dreams and the eyes and smile of little boy gleam—that is, if I sleep at all.
So, I wake up and do my daily research like any writer should. Chance favors the prepared mind, I tell myself. I want to be the moment and feel the pulse of the grand stage, so it’s translated to you in relative — as if you were there visualizing what I see — terms. I do this for you. Yeah, I’m the messenger.
I’m about 25 minutes away from the Wachovia Center, so I get a chance to reflect and focus objectively during that time. There’s this XM radio show, Classic Example, that was bangin’ hits like it was 96. I couldn’t believe it. In succession, the DJ played Laflaur Leflah Eskonska, Whateva Man, Ambitionz Az A Ridah and Mo Money, Mo Murder. Daaaaaaamn.
Right then I knew this day was going to be special. It took me back to a time when Iverson shot out of Georgetown in a John Thompson Hoya, father bonded, molded—and shielded—rocket, boofin’ on any center as if for that moment his body was the size and strength of his heart. There was also the Rookie Game the next year where he and Kobe were going at it and he proved he could pass in front of the world as the NBA honored the 50 Greatest. He told his teammates “This is our ish, we can’t let him take this win from us!” Of course there was the moment where he crossed up Mike, but the legend had already begun. It was cemented in 2001 when he won All Star MVP and MVP of the league. The Sixers lost that year to Kobe and Shaq’s Laker juggernaught, but so what… Are you alright Tyron Lue?
Then the bad times came. All the drama in Philly with him and his wife which I feel had a tinge of racist BS. I don’t know if you remember, but Iverson in that moment was the only story reported. They waited outside his house, they wrote about his gear, his cornrows and his boys as if he was the suspect in a murder case. They almost ran him out of town here like they’ve done so many before — The Cheeks, the Barkleys, the Schmidts, the Dick Allens and the Randall Cunninghams.
This cat finally had the game on smash, but Philly did whatever it could do to crush his impending legacy like it was personal to them. He doesn’t shy away from some of the criticism because some of it was warranted. He knew he had a hand in what was going on here. A story is a story so I understand their need for glory and has no regrets…
“I’m 32 years old now. I don’t do some of the things I was accustomed to doing anymore. I don’t want to be that person that I used to be. I don’t regret any of it. Going through what I went through here—my ups and downs—helped me to be the man I am today. Helped me to be the father I am, the husband I am, helped me to become the teammate I am, and the player. I would never want to throw away the experience that I had here in Philadelphia. I don’t regret anything. I’m not that same person. I still make mistakes off the basketball court. I still turn it over on the basketball court. I just feel that I’m a better person and better player at this point in my life.”
He spoke of the success his former teammates are having like a proud big brother. He definitely wants the best for this town and you could sense the tears behind his face. I stood on the left of Iverson as he spoke at the podium. I wanted to see if this cat was real and he didn’t disappoint:
“A lot of people would think that I wouldn’t want those guys to succeed, but I’ve been in wars with Kevin Ollie, Andre Iguodala, Louis Williams…Sam (Dalembert). We became like brothers. We were with each other day in and day out. Why would I want them to go through any type hardships? I want the best for them. I don’t feel like ‘cause Allen Iverson left Philadelphia they wouldn’t be a successful franchise again. They were successful before me and they gonna be successful after me.”
“Everything is a business. When something happens that you didn’t like—and you’re upset—a lot of times if you can’t think about it before hand, you wouldn’t react a certain way. If you got a chance to calm down and deal with things that way, you wouldn’t act that way. A lot of times when things didn’t go my way, I acted angry—especially when I felt it wasn’t fair. I don’t have anything against this organization. It made me a household name. I’m known all over the world because of this organization. They enabled me to take care of my family for the rest of my life and theirs. I never went through any contract disputes. They always took care of me and showed me the respect that I deserved. I just appreciate them for that.”
I asked him about how the fans would react and if it mattered to him and he was sensitive, defensive while all the while passionate in his response, “Yeah it matters! I came in and gave it everything I had, night in and night out. First of all, I thank God giving me that ability, my teammates and my coaching staff and my fans. I gave it everything that I had for ten plus years. I want to feel appreciated. I don’t think it’s nobody that played this sport that don’t care. Well it shouldn’t be anyone that don’t care about what the fans think of them. I hope it goes the way I dreamed it up.”
Think of Dirk in reverse. When he won the MVP award last year, it was melancholy. He was more upset that he let his fans down and lost to Golden State and was embarrassed accepting the award. Iverson was the same way pre- and post-game. He’s upset that he’s gone from here. He wanted to mend fences with Cheeks. The animus had gone on way to long:
“The relationship…we haven’t talked to each other but I think it’s a lot better than it was when I left because it was such a pivotal point in my life. Being here all these years and then trying to get him in here as a coach. Begging Billy King all summer long…calling him everyday. For me to have to leave this organization with Mo Cheeks being the head coach was tough for me. It was a tough time for me and my family to go through everything that we been through. Like I said, looking back on it, I wish I didn’t react the way I did. Somehow some way you gotta understand if somebody lives their life in one place for so long and goes through so many things and not really want to leave and feel like you (are) forced out. It was tough for me to deal with. I’m pretty sure if you had to go through that, it would have been tough for you too because you probably would feel like you deserved a lot better—being that what you put your body through and what you dealt with mentally being here for ten plus years.”
This is Philly, so of course a reporter blurted out, “How do you think you deserve better?”
Even though his soul is on Philly fire, The Answer damn sure lived up to his name…
“I’m not going to get into all the ins and outs and all that personal discussions that we had because I don’t think this is a day for anything negative. I feel like I want to make this day a positive point in my life. I want to make it a day I’ll always remember and cherish for the positive things about it—not anything negative. I just want it to be a good time for the fans and people in Philadelphia. I just want everybody to remember this day as positive and not something negative. It’s time to move on—both the Sixers and myself. It’s time for both of us to move ahead and look forward to more positive things.”
David Aldridge then asked the question I thought would make the grown man cry. The question of game day Philly against whoever reminiscence. “Is there anyone you are looking forward to seeing the most, the ball boys, the security guys?” David wondered.
“Everybody. It made me happy to see a lot of those people, but it was kinda sad too that I don’t see them on an everyday basis. You know and um…one thing about it is…if I would have did things a lot different, then maybe I would still be seeing them people on a daily basis.”
“I had a big hand in me being traded.”
“You know so…um…like I said…I always wanted to finish my career here in Philadelphia. The opportunity was there for me to do that, but in a lot of ways, I made sure that didn’t happen.”
He was rescued by someone asking him about if he’s used to the Denver uniform and Allen gave us something to laugh about:
“Nah, I’m used to it now. Plus I like our uniforms (the media thong of 50 laughs along with Allen). That was one thing I thought about before. I wanted that uniform to look even better than it looked. I didn’t want to leave from having these nice uniforms and then put on some uniform that I didn’t like. That was an easy transformation for me—putting on another jersey—but everywhere I go all over the world, you still see the Sixers jersey. People come up to me with the Sixers jersey and want me to sign it. What am I supposed to do? (More laughter) I gotta sign it. Everyone can’t afford a Nugget (jersey). They had the one they had.”
“It’s crazy to think that I’m still in the league and my Sixers jersey is a throwback.” (Yeah, more laughter)
Since there were so many of us, we had to be opportunists. This is where we attack as reporters—if we shall seek to. “Will you make an effort to talk to Mo?” someone asked.
“I’m pretty sure I will. I don’t have…any hard feelings. Honestly, I know the organization moved in another direction—getting another GM and President—but I kinda wish Billy (King) was here too to share the whole moment as well. In the end, people can talk about how ugly things went towards the end. I think when you have a marriage and you get a divorce, it’s not peaches and cream at the end. You are not the same way you were when you met or when you got married. As time goes on I still have kids with this organization (laughter) with Billy and everybody else—my other teammates. We try to bring ourselves back and have that relationship we once had.”
“Looking at the whole thing, it’s a business…it’s not personal.”
My boy Chris Murray of the Philadelphia Tribune then asked if Allen thought all the criticism was fair and Allen was brutally honest:
“Yeah, I was there to accept all the praise that ya’ll gave me, so I accept the criticism. I did a lot of things right being a Sixer. I did a lot of things wrong. I came to this organization…I was 21 years old. I thought I was ready, but I wasn’t ready. I never had a dime in my life and all of the sudden I come into millions of dollars. It was a different experience for me. I was a fish out of water. I made a lot of mistakes. Looking back on it, it was embarrassing, but it is honestly something I can help my kids with in their development in becoming an adult. I can share a lot of experiences that I had. A lot of do’s and do not’s. I don’t regret it.”
Comcast’s Dei Lynam asks what Allen wants out of the game tonight in terms of the result both personal and as a Denver Nugget.
“Honestly Dei, if it’s by one point or thirty points, I just want a win. That’s it. I don’t care how many points I score. The relationship with the organization and my teammates (former)…I don’t want to come out here and embarrass nobody.”
“I just wan to win.”
The players of both teams most likely enjoyed this night. There was no talking to anyone else unless they passed you. It was all about Iverson tonight.
As he came out of the tunnel with his new team, the crowed erupted. I’ve never heard anything louder. He ran over and kissed the Sixers logo at center court and the crowed roared even louder. It thundered throughout your soul. Even the most cynical and bah humbugged Philly reporters appreciated the moment. This is Philly, so it didn’t matter what people said beforehand. You just didn’t know what the response would be. I’m glad it all worked out. If you can imagine, the crowd was even louder when Allen went over and embraced his former coach, the trainers and his former team.
Closure’s sweet release…
The game was melodramatic until the final moments. There were eight dunks in the first four minutes because neither team played a lick of defense. There was a sick cockback by Melo on Andre Miller — I thought Melo threw down so ferociously because of early frustration — that made Andre laugh…you know the embarrassing kind. Andre Miller with his 28 and 12 is the new Philly king.
As the game progressed the fans realized the gem they received in return for giving up one of their own. He demanded respect tonight and even was very demonstrative when making plays—as was Iguodala. Philly is surprisingly defeating quality opponents on the regular. This team is no joke. They want it all and then want it now. It remains to be seen how successful this season will end up, but trust that I’m not betting against the Sixers. I’ll leave that to the fools.
Allen’s Mom, who was a fixture here for ten years, was not far from press row cheering on her baby like the proud Mom she is and forever has been. I had to get something from her and she gave SLAM some love: “Hey baby, how you doing? I remember SLAM. You always gave my baby some love.”
I’m great. Do you miss it here? What’s it like in Denver? Is it a different world?
“It’s wonderful. They love him. It’s low key. He has a piece of mind.”
Do you get a sense that he misses it here?
“Probably the people. When he was here the Sixers organization didn’t give him any help. They waited until Billy King was fired to change things around here. Billy King wasn’t going to give it to him.”
Are you used to him being a Denver Nugget (Damn that still sounds crazy to say)?
“Sometimes I find myself saying when I say go Nuggets to say Go Ssss. (Sixers). But it’s all good. I see happiness in him and he looks good in the baby blue.”
Makes my stomach hurt for her to say that. I’ll never get used to seeing him in baby blue. Imagine the Incredible Hulk pink instead of green and there you have my thoughts on that.
I did appreciate him adorning “Thx Phila” on his kicks. Classy.
I talked to her right after the final buzzer. Allen missed a potential game winning three from the corner. Fitting, I would say. Allen was able to show out for the fans to the tune of 32 and 8, while the Sixers got a win. The reporters didn’t see the final shot because there was an altercation with some of Iverson’s people and this big offensive linemen type of cat. Security was apprehensive to break it up for some reason. I don’t do the bouncing thing anymore, so I moved on.
I spoke to a fan, Aki Tymes of Newark, Delaware. I asked him what he thought of Iverson’s return, where he ranked in the Sixers’ pantheon and if this was closure for the fans and he responded, “I’ve been a Sixers fan as long as I can remember. Doc is my favorite player of all time. There is no bigger star than Allen Iverson. I’m blessed to be here. He ranks number three to me.”
“Number three? Behind…”
“Well, Wilt because of the records, Julius because that’s my man and Allen is right there.”
Allen right there over Charles (Barkley)? Really?
“Yes over Charles.”
Why over Charles?
“I don’t think Charles had an impact on the game here like Allen Iverson did. Being the height he is and to have his scoring ability is amazing. I guess Charles was the same way, too. I don’t know (he laughs).”
Typical Philly fan…we never can make up our minds. Is this closure?
“Yeah this is closure. It’s closure. He’ll always be a Sixer. I’m quite sure he’ll go into the HOF as a Sixer.
“I’ll never get used to seeing him in that uniform. The uniforms are pretty, but he ain’t pretty in it.”
So I’m walking across the court when I spot AO from the AND 1 tour in the tunnel leading to the press conference. He was speaking to my boy Izzo of 103 The Beat in Philly. After we both did a little radio interview describing the game I asked AO what he thought of the night. I swear dude looks like Diddy every single time I speak to him. It’s uncanny.
“The atmosphere was very competitive. Everybody wanted to post up to Al, but at the end of the day it was a good atmosphere. To see all the people out, the energy…it can carry the team over for the rest of the season and into the playoffs.”
Are you optimistic of the future here? I know you are from around the way. Still ride or die with Philly?
“Oh yeah, you know I went to school in Kansas, but that didn’t matter, its about where you from. I think they will make the playoffs, but after that… They are more like the Golden State of the east. They like to get up and down instead of the Larry Brown slow it down. You have Miller, you have Iguodala, you have Thaddeus, you have Carney, and you have Willie Green. That’s like five guards that like to get out and run. Then you have Dalembert who likes to run a little but and you have an unconventional team that will cause match up problems for anyone. They just want to get out and have fun.”
Who on this team you think has a shot to be great?
“Lil Lou. Lou is nice. I think he can flourish. He has fast feet. If they let him go? Man he’s gonna cause problems. He’s young so he has the legs to do it every night.”
So this amazing experience is almost over. Two press conferences left — one with Mo and another with Allen.
Mo put the night in perspective. He was touched by the fans response and also by Allen coming over to him before the intros to the point where he almost lost it. He also was proud of his team’s performance on such an emotional night. He gave high praise to Andre Miller (his birthday), Iguodala and Dalembert. This team is rolling. It was also fitting this team got to .500 tonight. It’s remarkable they are a couple of games over .500 since the trade. Cheeks will get considered for Coach of the Year. Trust me on that.
I asked him about the quality of teams his team is winning against and if they could sustain the intensity against lesser opponents (crazy ain’t it).
“Where we are today we are trying to get into the Playoffs. It’s not that we have to make this grand speech to beat a lesser opponent. We understand we were 5-13. We have to play at a high level to get to where we want to go.”
In Allen’s press conference he spoke of the script almost being to his liking. The game was almost perfect to him outside of the 115-113 Sixers win. He spoke of having the last shot and how your mindset changes if the score is tied at the end and how the shot didn’t feel good out of his hand. His heart stopped when Camby got the rebound to no avail and gave the Sixers credit for being the better team. He seemed very relieved it was all over.
I asked him was he nervous and what his thoughts were as he initially ran on the court.
“You know what? I’m nervous before any game. I get nervous if I’m playing in a pickup game. It’s just for the first couple minutes. Once someone knocks me down or hit me and wake me up then I know I’m in a war. Then I’m back to being myself. But I’ll always be nervous and it was no different tonight. You know the whole thing coming into the game…you want to play well and you want to win the basketball game. I’d rather not play well and win the basketball game. I was saying to myself that I didn’t want to come in here and not play well. I wanted to play well and try to win it. I didn’t want to play well and lose…cause I’ll take a Oprah….Winfrey… (mad laughter) before I have a good game and lose the basketball game.”
“We have all moved on but that doesn’t mean the book has to have a sad ending.”
“I have four kids and one on the way. I’m almost about to put together my own team.” (Laughter)
“I’m the coach in that house. If I’m not setting a good example, then I’m failing as a father. That’s the last thing I want to do is fail my kids.”
“The Sixers were probably tired of all the hoopla. I tried to avoid it because it was driving me crazy. Those are my young guys. You take Kevin Ollie out of the equation. When you talk about Sam, Andre and Lou Williams…you know Shavlik (Randolph). Them being young guys, they want to beat the old head. They wanted this game bad. Then you had all the fans saying we love Allen Iverson, but we don’t want him to come here and win. My teammates didn’t like it too much, but I didn’t pay it any mind. My teammates didn’t like it so much because they wanted it so much for me. They wanted to come in here and help me win. They felt like they came up short. I’m sure they are upset, but it is what it is.”
“If I go into the opposing locker room and don’t see my name one or two on the scouting report, then I need to look in the mirror. If teams aren’t going to focus on stopping me night in and night out, then I’m not the player I used to be. I want to have nights where I can dominate a game. They try to stop me and Melo night in and night out and it makes it rough on us, but that’s the reason you have three other guys.”
Coming into the league there were comparisons between Lou Williams’ game and Allen Iverson’s. Maybe it was just to give fans a sense of Lou’s game because he came straight out of high school, but the comparison has some cred. Iverson hit for thirty the first night he entered the building—like he did tonight—so I’m not at all saying Lou is Allen Iverson, but…Allen do you see any similarities or influences in Louis Williams’ game?
“Do I see any similarities?”
Ok, at least in your early development.
“I look at it like Lou Will has the heart. I don’t know about the game so much, but the heart is there. The competitive nature is there. He had to deal with me at practice. He would put his head down when things didn’t go right and Mo would tell him to not get down. He (Iverson) does it to everybody. I see it in him. The speed and the way he attacks the basket. Looking at him tonight and looking at him on TV, he’s getting waaaay better game after game. He’s not the same person coming into the game straight out of high school. Ay man, the future is bright for him.”
“I didn’t have tears in my eyes, but they were burnin’. At one point, I was holding my head up so they couldn’t fall. My teammates were telling me that I was going to let it out. My whole thing was not to do it so they wouldn’t tease me but, when I get back to my hotel by myself…it’ll come out.”
Just then his Mom and Allen had one of those moments where words don’t have to be spoken. I was one of the few reporters who saw the almost telepathic exchange. She had this glowing smile and was so proud of her son. Allen almost broke down right then and there, but a reporter woke him up with that legacy question that always gets asked about what his legacy in Philly will be when it’s all said and done.
“He played every game like it was his last.”
Allen almost seems like he still wants to be here in everything he says and even in his mannerisms. He spoke about not selling his house here because the fans were so appreciative of him but I can only wonder…
Will Iverson play in Philly again?