Commentary

Iverson's return to Philly brings back memories

Originally Published: March 19, 2008
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com

There is one thing I'll say about Allen Iverson: He's worth the price of admission.

I'd go ahead and spend money for the chance to sit close enough to the court to fully appreciate the thrill of watching Iverson play in person. To experience what it's like to see such a special package of speed, energy, fearlessness and skill, putting his passion on display, playing this game as though it were his last -- the mind-set Iverson has always claimed to bring onto the court every single night.

[+] EnlargeAllen Iverson
Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty ImagesAllen Iverson's fun to watch no matter what jersey he's wearing.

The first night I covered him was at Madison Square Garden in his rookie season of 1996-97, and the little guy was an absolute blur, with Knicks point guards Chris Childs and Charlie Ward looking hapless against him. He was like Robert Pack on Red Bull, Tiny Archibald on a caffeine high.

I was down the road in Philadelphia, sitting literally 25 feet away, right on the baseline under the basket, when Iverson broke Michael Jordan's ankles with a crossover move at the top of the key that will forever remain among the top three Iverson highlights of all time. To me, it was a play that encapsulated the coming end of one era and the start of another, which is why I listed it at No. 3 -- ahead of Iverson's rookie year accomplishments -- on my list of Iverson's best and worst moments in Philly.

I was there with him the day before the draft in June 1996, when Iverson and Stephon Marbury sat at adjacent tables during their media availability session, each of them claiming to be a better player than the other while it was debated which of them the Sixers should choose with their No. 1 pick.

I spent 20 minutes with him in the visitors locker room at Pepsi Arena in Albany prior to an exhibition game as he entered his second NBA season, listening to him explain how he wanted his tombstone to read "Misunderstood," because that was what he believed his legacy would ultimately be.

I sat at a bar with him in the Belgrade Hyatt in 2004 (we drank Budvar, the Czech Budweiser) and listened to him spill his guts about how much it meant to him to be wearing a Team USA jersey for the upcoming Athens Olympics. He made his case that he was the embodiment of America being the land of opportunity, where someone could go from sitting in a jail cell as a convicted 17-year-old felon to being a multimillionaire, a celebrity, a basketball icon and an Olympian.

I kept my eyes riveted on him some three and a half weeks later when he stood on the bronze medal platform in Athens and couldn't bring himself to turn his head to his right and look over to the gold medal platform, where Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola and the rest of the Argentine national team were unbridled in their celebration.

[+] EnlargeAllen Iverson
Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty ImagesAlways full of emotion, Iverson's face often tells the story.

An IOC official had draped a wreath on every player's head and handed each a bouquet of roses before awarding them their medals, and I can't begin to describe how out of place, uncomfortable and borderline ashamed Iverson looked as he stood there, stone-faced, as the medal ceremony dragged on and on.

I can't remember how many times I've driven down the Jersey Turnpike to cover Sixers games and flipped to 610 AM as soon as I was within radio range of Philly, intent on hearing what bombastic local sports talk radio shock jock Howard Eskin had to say about the Sixers, especially his latest take on the exploits of Iverson, who made as much news off the court as he did on it during his decade in Philadelphia.

Making the trip down the Turnpike was always worth it, and when the Sixers announced they were intent on trading him, I mourned the fact that a thrilling spectacle would no longer be just two hours down the road.

But I'll be back in the end zone seats in Philadelphia on Wednesday night when Iverson finally makes his return to the city he captivated before wearing out his welcome, the accumulation of bad finally outweighing the good he had brought.

The fans will probably boo him upon his return, because that's what they do in Philly, they boo. It's a Philly thing. If you live there and your grandma puts too much oregano in the gravy, you boo her. They once booed Santa Claus, and they grew tired of the likes of Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton and Ron Jaworski long before they stopped showing up to see Iverson.

But they'll cheer him, too, and the true measure of how Philly's reaction to Iverson will ultimately be judged could come when he walks off the court, not when he's introduced.

And if I'm a gambling man, I'm wagering the positive outweighs the negative by the time the night is over, and I'm also betting that Iverson gives the fans their money's worth and sends them home with something special to remember from the night he made his return.

Maybe he'll score 50. Maybe he'll shoot 40 times. Maybe he'll show up 30 minutes before tip-off. Maybe he'll show up to his postgame news conference dressed in full Robin Yount regalia. I've seen him do all those things in person, and if I had to, I'd dig into my wallet to see what he'll do in his comeback.

To me, he's that mesmerizing, and as I said before, worth the price of admission.

Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider and has done extensive international basketball reporting. To e-mail Chris, click here.

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