About that title...Go get it!

This article was originally published in the Daily News on April 20, 2001.

The gospel according to Sports Illustrated is that San Antonio's Tim Duncan is the NBA's Most Valuable Player.

The magazine's rationale is, take the best player on the best team.

Never mind that, with Duncan surrounded by David Robinson, Sean Elliott and Derek Anderson, the Spurs won just two more games than the 76ers.

Never mind that the Sixers finished 56-26 with Allen Iverson leading the league in scoring, tying Dallas' Michael Finley for first in average minutes played, and leading in steals per game. Or that Iverson was surrounded by staunch role players Tyrone Hill, George Lynch and Eric Snow, and center Dikembe Mutombo, who didn't arrive until Feb. 22.

Ironic, isn't it, that Iverson is on the cover of the latest issue of the magazine, but is not its MVP choice?

"I didn't even know [I wasn't the MVP choice],'' Iverson said yesterday after a long practice to prepare for tomorrow afternoon's opener of a best-of-five, first-round playoff series against Indiana at the First Union Center. "I don't care too much about that. I owe too much to myself, to my teammates, to my coaching staff, to the fans of Philadelphia to be worrying about MVP when we're trying to win a championship. I'd rather have a championship ring than win MVP. ''

Iverson also would prefer to concentrate on the job at hand than have to respond to the Pacers' Jalen Rose, who questioned what really happened Jan. 28 in Indianapolis, when Iverson said he heard racist taunts from fans. Tuesday night, Rose referred to Iverson's claim as an "untruth. ''

"It's negativity, man,'' Iverson said. "Negativity sells. What else is there to talk about besides basketball? Negative stuff. I'm too strong for that, to get caught up in all that stuff. That's for y'all [reporters] to do, to get that kind of thing hyped up. I'm coming to play a basketball game, and that's that. I'm not thinking about fans or reporters or anybody talking about [other things]. All I'm worrying about is what players are doing on the floor.

"I could care less about what's going on in Indiana, how they feel about me, how they feel about this team, [whether the fans] said those things or not. It's ridiculous, man, for Jalen Rose to sit and say he didn't hear anything like that. He might not have heard it; they weren't talking to him, they were talking to me.

"So Jalen Rose is over there with me when I went to the bench every time, too, huh? When I went on different spots of the court, he was right there with me? It's nonsense, man, it's just something negative for people to talk about and just get something stirred up. And when you talk about something negative and put my name in the same sentence, then it's even better news. That's why it gets blown all out of proportion. It doesn't make sense for it to be going on as long as it is. ''

The Sixers, the No. 1 seed in the East, hold the homecourt advantage against the No. 8 Pacers, who won 14 of their last 19 to finish 41-41. Missing the retired Rik Smits and the traded Mark Jackson and Dale Davis, these aren't the same Pacers who eliminated the Sixers in the second round in each of the last two seasons. But Iverson expects this series to be as physical and demanding as ever.

"I let my basketball do my talking,'' he said. "I feel like if the team does that and doesn't get caught up in making the series bigger than what it is, we can concentrate on the agenda at hand. ''

To Iverson, that means focusing on tomorrow's game rather than the series or what might be waiting down the road. He referred to the situation as "a learning experience'' and said, "We're better than we were'' in previous series.

Iverson frequently has been compared, because of similarities in size and explosiveness, to Isiah Thomas, the former Detroit star now in his first season as the Pacers' coach. Without offering his preference for MVP, Thomas said Iverson is "a guy secretly all of us have rooted for because we saw his struggles as a young man trying to grow up in the league. ''

"Even though we didn't like some of the things he did, some of the choices that he made, deep down inside everyone secretly kind of rooted for the kid to make it,'' Thomas said. "I think we're all glad it happened, that this day is here. But we still want to beat him. ''

The feeling, obviously, is mutual. When Sixers coach Larry Brown was asked for keys to the series, he mentioned beating the Pacers on the glass, taking care of the ball, making the Pacers' major players work at the defensive end, and preventing easy baskets.

Iverson was more succinct.

"The key to beating them is playing harder than them,'' he said. "Playing smarter than them. Playing more aggressively than them. Playing like we've been playing all year. Playing like we played them the first three times we played them [this season].

"Beat 'em. That's the key to beating them.''