7th Wonder

This article was originally published on June 4, 2001.

THEY WERE raging bulls, the 60-year-old coach from New York, the 25-year-old guard from Hampton, Va. The coach who insisted his players do everything the right way, the rebellious kid who said he had his own way.

They could not do it alone, but they had yet to find a way to do it with one another, within the framework of Brown's definition of a team.

The coach seemed in a constant, unspeakable quandary, the kid seemed lost in a maze. His talent was exceptional. All that was missing was the right showcase.

They found each other just before the NBA All-Star break. They grew closer and closer as the season wore on. By the time the playoffs started, they had melded. They were together. The 76ers were together, prepared to go where precious few people truly believed they could.

Last night was a culmination, an outpouring. In their second Game 7 together, Brown, Iverson and the Sixers raced past the Milwaukee Bucks at the First Union Center, 108-91, to win the Eastern Conference championship and advance to the Finals for the first time since 1982-83.

The attempt to climb the final mountain will begin Wednesday night against the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in the Staples Center. Games 1 and 2 will be played there, with Games 3, 4 and 5 in the best-of-seven series at the First Union Center.

"I'm just so happy we're going,'' Brown said. "[The Lakers] are the best team. That's why you play the games. It's like David vs. Goliath. That's the way it's going to be. We've got to figure out how to slay a giant. I don't know. ''

Fittingly, Brown and Iverson are each going to the Finals for the first time. The difference is, Brown has been a coach for 29 years, 18 in the NBA. Iverson is in his fifth season as a pro. Just as fittingly, the two embraced before the tipoff, then again as pandemonium reigned at the final buzzer. Sometime today, the Lakers, their 11-0 record in the postseason, their 19-game winning streak and the imposing figures of Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant will be something on which to focus. But not late last night.

First, the Sixers literally leaped into one another's arms. Forward Tyrone Hill danced giddily on the press table. A portion of the mob on the court carried Iverson off on their shoulders. In the runway leading to the locker room, Brown and his wife, Shelly, shared an embrace. The fans chanted "Beat LA, beat LA. . . ''

Brown scrawled his signature on what has to be his most statisfying season as a pro coach, milking 32 minutes from Eric Snow, playing with two fractures in his right ankle, getting an almost surreal nine minutes from late rookie addition Raja Bell, and a furious, 44-point performance from Iverson. And even as Iverson was draining 17 of 33 shots from the floor, including four three-pointers, center Dikembe Mutombo was doing precisely what he was brought here to do: 23 points, 19 rebounds and seven blocks. At the same time, the ever-steady Aaron McKie was feeding the ball through forests of bodies to accumulate 13 assists.

But in the center of the storm, it was the coach and the kid. Still, in their own ways, bulls, but no longer raging at anyone or anything other than the opponents.

"You know my frustrations during the season and before,'' Brown said. "But I'm learning more and more about what Allen's made of. There are still some issues I don't understand completely, but I know where his heart is. Whatever else is going on, I know he cares. He has an unbelievable will; I have the same kind of will. In my career, I've had some great things happen to me, but these guys have taken me with them. I look at us, and there are just so many great stories. ''

These are the Sixers, with 56 victories and the No. 1 playoff seed in the East, riddled by injuries, nearly torn apart before the coach and the kid found one another. It should be, Snow suggested, a movie.

"Will Smith as Allen, Sylvester Stallone as coach,'' Snow yelped.

Places, everyone. The cameras are rolling.

"I understand pressure where I come from, with what I go through in everyday life,'' Iverson said. "I don't put pressure on myself when I'm dealing with basketball. I go on the floor with four other guys. ''

He knew the questions about he and the coach would be coming, so he took a pre-emptive strike.

"I heard about, 'Can me and coach co-exist,' a bunch of talk,'' Iverson said. "All I thought about was, I had the opportunity to change everything around. ''

The kid led the league in scoring, became the Most Valuable Player. Brown became Coach of the Year. With everyone else riding the wave, Mutombo became the Defensive Player of the Year, McKie won the Sixth Man award.

"Coach and Allen both wanted to win,'' guard Kevin Ollie said. "They just didn't know how to handle each other until they realized, to win, they needed each other. Both are stubborn, but both sacrificed a little, gave a little, took a little. ''

There were times it seemed the coach and the kid might never find common ground.

"When it looked bad, though, it was never as bad as it appeared,'' said backup center Matt Geiger. "When it was good, it wasn't as good as it seemed. That's how it was for a long time, but somewhere along the road it came together. And when it did, it helped the whole team. Really, it was awesome.''