An emotional Allen Iverson returned to Philadelphia, his voice cracking during a news conference at the Wachovia Center. He talked about his bond with the fans, the demands placed on his family as he bounced around with three teams, his role with the Sixers and paying for the mistakes he made early in his life.
"I really think it’s a blessing that I’m back here," Iverson began. " I think it's only right. Once I announced my retirement, I felt like the basketball part in my life was over. I always thought once that day came, that I would be sad. Once I did it, I was happy, because I felt like I could give me wife and my kids something that I haven’t been able to give them because of the NBA lifestyle. I was done.
"When my agent called and said there was an oppportunity for me to come home. It's a situation that I couldn’t turn down. My wife was all in. My kids were, too. This is a great day for me. I have fans all over the world. I appreciate my fans, in Memphis, in Detroit. The relations I have with these fans are like no other in sports. I have a love for them and they love me. It’s evident. When I had the opportunity to come back here, it’s something I couldn’t turn down. I’m just happy.
"I created a picture of me with the mistakes I have made in my life that is not me. I did a lot of things when I was young that I’m not proud of. I think those things helped me to be the man that I am now. Last couple of years have been hell. All I want to do is play basketball and help the guys that I play with.
"If I couldn't play basketball at the level I am accustomed to I wouldn’t have made this decision. I don't want to come back and embarrass myself. I’m going to prove that."
More on his return: “I couldn’t turn it down. All I thought about. I know how tough it is with the media in Philadelphia. Coming back home, all I could think about was the people who made me who I am. These people in Philadelphia made me a household name. I just grew a relationship with the fans. It was a no-brainer.”
On him not being the player he was before: “That’s what competition is all about, that is the way I felt when I was young. That’s what you play the game for. That’s all about competing. I love the fact that everybody is going to come at me, but I’m going to come right back.”
On other teams not pursuing him: “Once guys in the front office, start calling about a player and made the mistakes that I’ve made, you could see why guys were laying off me. I never thought it had anything to do with basketball. It was always stuff off the court. [Stefanski] pulled out a notepad and he said I have some issues and laid them all out. I told them, 'The biggest notebook you have as far as issues with me, you need something the size of a phone book with all the things people say about me.' I understood why teams weren’t trying to have me. It had everything to do with baggage.”
On the other teams he played for: "I got better as a person. I got better as a player. There were some positive things. I had confidence in myself that things would work out and I ran into bad situations."
On dreaming about returning to Philly: "I always dreamed about it plenty of times, but I didn't know. It's a tough issue for me. I don't watch the 76ers play. I watch other teams. I don't watch the Sixers. I was never able to. Not because there was any bitterness. It was just a feeling that I get. I gave everything that I had for 10 years. It was always tough for me to watch them, so I didn't."
On unwillingness to come off the bench for other teams: “The situation here is so great. It’s such a blessing. When I left that meeting, I felt good about everything coach said. All I told him was give me an assignment and I’ll help you win basketball games. That situation is so frustrating to me. It was so hard for me. I never had to do it my whole life, even from grade school when I started playing. It was something I wasn’t accustomed to. Didn’t know how to deal with it and I didn’t deal with it the right way. It was shocking to me.”
On helping the team’s young players: “I think a lot of my experiences, just from conversations with those guys, especially young guys, will help a lot. As far as preparing them in a way that they can be successful in this league … Put it in their head that they compete the same every night, regardless of what team they are playing. Just like Aaron McKie and Eric Snow did for me. Be the big brother type player on the court and in the locker room.”
On his role: “I’m a basketball player. I get my assignment from the coach. From what he told me, he wants me to be aggressive, have that confidence that I’ve always had and just to help. It’s totally different with those situation. You look at my career here, I was always called on to be the scorer every single night. There are guys on this team that can get it done on given nights. I’m not saying that I will come here and won’t want to shoot the ball and score. Some nights I won’t be the guy taking all the shots like I used to do. Some nights I will. All it is, is playing winning basketball. I don’t have the ego like that I walk out of my house and look out and say, ‘Damn, I’m the man.’ … I’ve done it already. I just want to be a situation where I can play basketball and be happy and that’s it.”
On the doubters that he can not be the focal point: “I don’t want to prove anybody wrong. I’m not in it for that, but if I can help my team win basketball games that way that the coach wants me to help, I’ll be satisfied. I’ve been gone from here for a while. I watched Dre get better. I’ve seen things Thaddeus does on the court. Elton Brand has always been a good player. I had a part in developing Sam … I want to fit in. I want to be a part of any success we have. I just want to be one of the guys. I don’t need a whole bunch of praise. I don’t need a whole lot of accolades. I just want to play basketball. I love to play basketball.
On the long-term: “I want to be here, not really so much, everything being for me. I want this situation to work for my wife and kids. I cannot keep moving my family all over the world. This is where my love is at. I want to be here. I always felt it was strange having another uniform on. I never felt comfortable with another uniform on, and that’s just it. I don’t want to keep doing this to the family. I will do everything in my power as far as what I have to do and what they want to even have a chance of thinking about staying here. I think that will be handled by me doing my part.”
On the future: “I only can see something positive with this situation. I want to retire here. I wanted it that way when I was young when all the stuff was going on before I left. I don’t think I made the right decisions. I acted a lot on anger. I wished that I didn’t have to go through the last couple of years in my career, but I think it will help me in my career.”
Iverson will practice with his new/old team for the first time on Sunday and dress for Monday night's game against Denver. Team president and general manager Ed Stefanski cautioned against expecting too much since Iverson has not played in nearly a month. Stefanski said, "no one guaranteed that he would start or a certain number of minutes."
However, he said, "I am not bringing Allen Iverson back here to add depth to our team. I am bringing him back here to help us going forward to win basketball games."