The Sixers retired Allen Iverson’s No. 3 jersey at halftime of their game against Washington Wizards at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Saturday night.
And with that ceremony the Sixers waved goodbye to a spirit that the present incarnation of the team will never embody.
Iverson, for all his warts and foibles, was a winner at heart. Of course there was his famous rant about practice when Larry Brown was the Sixers coach. But you always wanted Iverson on the court because you knew he was going to do everything he could to will the team to victory. If that meant driving the lane and crashing his 6-foot, 165-pound body into the behemoth’s patrolling the paint or diving into the crowd for a loose ball, so be it.
Iverson might have been the trend setter for other smaller guards like the Clippers Chris Paul and Portland’s Damian Lillard. His crossover was deadly.
You had to like the way that Iverson played basketball. He had the recklessness of a degenerate gambler and the skill of a micro-surgeon. It was that willingness to put it all on the line that made him a favorite of the notoriously unforgiving Philadelphia fans.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver was in attendance for the ceremony, which the Sixers had been planning since November.
”Allen was a special player,” Silver told the Associated Press. ”The great things he did for the league far outweigh the occasional headache. I always thought even at the time of Allen Iverson’s prominence in the league, he was representative of his generation.”
Indeed Iverson was the face of the franchise for 11 years. He fits nicely among the other Sixer icons like Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Irving and Charles Barkley. He was the 1997 NBA Rookie of the Year, an 11-time NBA All-Star, a two-time All-Star MVP, won the NBA scoring title four times and was the NBA MVP for the 2000-01 season, leading the Sixers in an improbable run to the NBA finals that season. In the team’s annals, Iverson is second all-time in points scored, second in steals and third in assists.
"I love you, Philadelphia," Iverson said during the ceremony. "I love y'all for accepting me and letting me be me, letting me make my mistakes, letting me learn from them, and letting me make this my home forever."
Of course the Sixers went on to lose the game to the Wizards 122-103 on Saturday night. This was not one of those “win-one-for-the-Gipper’’ moments. This version of the Sixers doesn’t have that capacity.
Iverson showed up for the ceremony dressed in black from head to toe. He even wore a black fedora. It’s villain’s garb. But he’s not fit for the role anymore. He’s been forgiven for all of his past sins.
The present day villain is Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie. He has stripped the team of talent with a strategy of someday building a championship team. It’s the kind of suffer-now, win-later strategy that fans hate. It doesn’t really play well in large cities. Ask the New York Knicks fans about it.
The Sixers have had one winning season in the last 11. Iverson was part of that recent history when he returned for a brief stint during the 2010-11 season. How long it will take to rebuild is questionable. It doesn’t help fan confidence when the team is willing to part with a talent like guard Evan Turner, whom they traded to the Pacers for a second-round draft pick, last month.
Iverson admitted he can’t handle the Sixers losing ways these deals. His solution? He said he doesn’t watch the games.
After giving him a bass fishing boat as part of the gifts for retiring his jersey, the Sixers will allow Iverson another diversion to watching them lose. He can hang the “Gone Fishing’’ sign out for a while. Who knows when the Sixers will become good enough to compete with the Indiana Pacers or the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference?
But Saturday night was a night for reflection and an opportunity to celebrate all that was good with Iverson and the Sixers.
“You know, I thought once this day came it would be basically a tragic day,” Iverson said at his retirement press conference. “I promise you it is a happy day for me. I really thought this day would be a tough day for me, but it’s a happy day. … I gave everything I had to basketball and the passion is still there, the desire to play is just not. I just feel good that I’m happy with the decision I’m making. It was a great ride.”
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