Allen Iverson Gets Much-Deserved Celebration in Philadelphia

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There has not been a player quite like Allen Iverson. Forget the tattoos, the off-the-court drama, the final sad years of his NBA career and the reported financial woes he suffers now. When Iverson was on the basketball court with the Philadelphia 76ers, he was magic. Not like Johnson, just magic, like awe-inspiring, mouth-opening, how did he do that? good.

The Sixers retired his No. 3 jersey over the weekend; it was a moment that Iverson deserved and one he punctuated with poise and gratitude and charm.

Yes, Allen Iverson has grown up.

But the 20,000 fans who cheered him Saturday night screamed for the player he was, not the man they hope he becomes. Iverson was a projectile, a quick, fast and daring point guard who was virtually unguardable and unbreakable.

He led the NBA in scoring four times, was the league’s MVP in 2001, led an inferior Philly team to the NBA Finals that year, was twice the NBA All-Star Game MVP. At 6-feet (generously), 165 pounds (wearing a coat), what Iverson accomplished as a player was remarkable. . . and Hall of Fame worthy.

He’ll be remembered as much for his merging of hip-hop culture with the NBA as for his “killer-crossover” or imagination-defying flights to the basket. At the ceremony Saturday, Iverson was true to Iverson, wearing all black–shoes, pants, shirt, coat, eyeglasses and hat–along with a medley of chains around his neck. Underneath all that was a body replete with so many tattoos that the NBA once had them airbrushed off when he was on the cover of one of the league’s publications.

“They all wanted me to talk about how much y’all loved me,” Iverson said to the 76er fans. “But trust me, the feeling was mutual.”

The fans loved him, and he blew them kisses after the No. 3 was raised to show how much he loved them back.

“I am Philly,” Iverson said. “It’s always going to be that way.”

Iverson joined  Maurice Cheeks, Charles Barkley, Wilt Chamberlain and Julius Erving among the eight retired numbers in franchise history. Erving attended the ceremony. Moses Malone, Dikembe Mutombo, Theo Ratliff, Gary Payton and former team president Pat Croce also were at the celebration.

Iverson was candid after the event.

“It feels good,” he said, “but some part of my heart hurts because I know it’s over.”

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