Emotional Allen Iverson marks Philly return
Allen Iverson felt the love as soon as he parked at the Wachovia Center.
He waved to the fans who waited outside in the Philadelphia cold to greet him, and turned a routine pregame warmup into a scene straight out of a red carpet arrival.
Fans lined the court to take snapshots of a picture they thought they might never see again - Iverson in a No. 3 jersey getting ready to play for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Iverson was in his basketball home Monday night and Philly's first sellout crowd of the season roared to let him know how much they appreciated having the one-time franchise great back on their side.
``That was the best part of the night, just hearing these people's voices all over again,'' Iverson said.
If his homecoming game had a familiar emotional tug for Iverson, so did the losing.
Iverson scored 11 points on 4-for-11 shooting and had six assists in Philadelphia's 10th straight loss, 93-83 to Denver on Monday night. The Sixers were on an 11-game losing streak the day Iverson was traded in 2006.
``I had chill-bumps running all through my body the whole game,'' Iverson said. ``It just felt good to be back.''
Yes, the A.I. Show played again in Philly.
And the early returns have 76ers fans in love with the revival as much as the original.
``I just felt like I was back home,'' Iverson said. ``It was deja vu. Just a real good feeling. The fans made it hard on me because they made me more nervous than I already was.''
Iverson took a familiar route to the Wachovia Center for his first game since returning to the Sixers last week. He pulled in to the player's parking lot at 5:55 p.m., a little more than an hour before tip.
He hit the court for warmups to the sound of fans screaming his name and holding ``Welcome Home'' signs. Iverson sank shot after shot to the delight of the crowd and broke out in a wide smile as they erupted in cheers.
Iverson was edited out of highlights and banished from the team in the week leading up to his acrimonious 2006 trade to Denver. But he got his own greatest hits montage on Monday and a sellout crowd of 20,664 never stopped cheering him on.
There was an NBA finals electricity in the arena for a team that hasn't won a playoff series since 2003 and was 29th in attendance. The Sixers averaged a measly 11,965 fans in their first eight home games.
Iverson kept them in their seats even as Denver pulled away and received a standing ovation when he left in the fourth quarter.
He was introduced fourth, bowed and kissed the logo at midcourt, then joined his teammates for a little dance. Iverson gave a friendly point to former coach George Karl and hugged ex-teammate Carmelo Anthony.
Iverson enjoyed his time in Denver, but his heart was always in Philadelphia. That feeling struck him in the gut once he stepped off the plane last week after he signed his contract.
``Just seeing people I'm accustomed to seeing, seeing the reporters, seeing some of the fans when I go out to eat,'' he said. ``Just the smell of Philadelphia when I go outside.''
Iverson's not sure how many minutes he can play because of his limited basketball activity over the past year. His stint in Detroit was cut short because of a back injury, and he played only three games for Memphis this season.
Iverson played 38 minutes but has some concerns about playing in game condition.
``If I can't get my scoring on like I want to, I just want to do other things on the basketball court that will help us win,'' Iverson said.
The Sixers hope Iverson can lead them back into the win column Wednesday against another one of his former teams, Detroit.
Karl, who had Iverson for two-plus seasons in Denver, said he was surprised Iverson was back with the Sixers.
``I was thinking it would be a team trying to win a championship that needed points,'' he said. ``He always had a love affair with the city and he took them on an incredible run.''
Iverson always dreamed of a return to the team he led to the 2001 NBA finals.
``In your dreams, you always hope for the best,'' he said. ``That's what I'm doing. I love these people here. They know that. They love me back. Hopefully, it'll just be a great experience.''
Iverson broke down in tears at his press conference after he signed a non-guaranteed deal with the 76ers last week.
Chairman Ed Snider said before the game Iverson was starting with a clean slate.
``I think he's learned a lesson and so have we,'' Snider said. ``I've learned that he's on a tight leash.''
Not everything was the same for Iverson. He once occupied two or three of the cushy end stalls in the 76ers' locker room. Iverson's new locker was sandwiched like a rookie between Jason Smith and Rodney Carney.
Jordan said he envisioned eventually pairing Iverson with injured point guard Lou Williams in the backcourt. Williams is out about six more weeks with a broken jaw. His injury sparked 76ers management to consider bringing back Iverson.
Iverson believes the Sixers can jump back into playoff contention.
``It's just going to take some time and I have to get back into a rhythm,'' he said.