There is no denying that on December 7th, 2009 the Wells Fargo Center had as much electricity running through the stands as it has at any time since, maybe more. That includes the Game 6 win that propelled the Sixers past the Chicago Bulls and into the second round of the playoffs last season. It also the Game 6 win over the Boston Celtics that tied the series at 3 games apiece and inched the Sixers towards an improbable chance at playing in the Eastern Conference final (they didn’t, of course, as they fell to the Celtics in Boston).
When the Sixers played their 21st game of the season that year, the next to last starter introduced was Allen Iverson, back to the team where he spent 10-plus electrifying seasons. The crowd greeted him with a hero’s welcome as the then-34 year-old returned not as a marketing ploy but as a player the organization thought could help a floundering team.
He couldn’t. And he most certainly can’t now.
Iverson was great in his time here, but the 25 games he played under Eddie Jordan in 2009-10 only proved what many still don’t want to believe – that even the greatest and most exciting players to ever run the court get beat by that common foe, time.
While he was (probably unfairly) thrust into the starting lineup by Jordan and asked to play more than 30 minutes a game, it was painfully obvious that Iverson was a shadow of the player that he used to be. Not that the Sixers were looking for him at that time in his career to be the player he was, but just having him available on a nightly basis was in doubt. He played the first 5 games of his comeback, all more than 30 minutes and averaged almost 16 points a game. But then knee troubles shelved him for a couple of weeks, and knee drainings became more common than Iverson sightings on the court.
Then, in about a month span, Iverson played in 17 games, highlighted by a 23 point effort against the visiting Los Angeles Lakers. He went head-to-head against Kobe Bryant, and both electrified the sellout crowd. Bryant scored 17 in the third quarter and scored 13 in row for the Lakers at one point spanning the third and fourth quarters. Iverson had 15 in the third, including 11 straight. As much as it was the type of exhibition the fans yearned for, it was obvious to me that Iverson’s time was coming to an end.
I remember when the quarter was over, Bryant had a look on his face like that of a boxer who had just shared punches with an opponent and hadn’t gotten hurt a little bit. Iverson, on the other hand, seemed to use every ounce of energy he had remaining in that small body, slowly walking to the Sixers bench when the horn sounded. I wrote down in my notebook how easily Bryant scored his points and how Iverson’s counter seemed to be so draining.
Two nights later, Iverson looked pedestrian on the court for 30 minutes against the Nets, taking just nine shots, missing six of them. After that game, he was out again for more than two weeks, with his knee again troubling him and rumblings of a medical problem hindering one of his children.
He played just three more games for the Sixers, making only 7 of his 28 shots, looking even slower while practically dragging his injured knee along with him. My feeling and hope at the time was that he should wave goodbye, thank the Philadelphia fans for their undying admiration and somehow accept the fact that his body would no long allow him be the player he expected himself to be.
Like many athletes, Iverson has had a hard time coming to grips with that, with a quick run in Turkey and now the latest talk of joining the Dallas Mavericks’ NBADL affiliate (Iverson has declined). That has, once again, stirred talk of Iverson coming back to the Sixers as perhaps a reserve on Doug Collins’ bench or maybe in another position with the team.
I’m not sure what type of position Adam Aron and company could give to Iverson in the front office, though many have emailed me that he could be an “after game consultant”, complete with a free shuttle to Friday’s. If the owners want to try and bring him back in the organization in some capacity, that’s their choice.
But if even a passing thought of returning him as a player has crossed anyone’s mind, it needs to be erased quickly. There is no good that could come out of it, either for Iverson or the organization. Let’s remember Iverson for what he was – one of the most electrifying players this basketball-rich city has ever seen – and leave it at that.