Iverson's comeback: No tears, but just barely

Originally Published: March 20, 2008
By Chris Sheridan |

Allen IversonJesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty ImagesAllen Iverson reacts to the standing ovation he received upon reintroduction to Philly.

PHILADEPHIA -- Allen Iverson did not cry as the crowd inside his old stomping grounds showered him with 35 seconds of unadulterated love during pregame introductions. He blew kisses to the crowd, he pounded his chest, and when the applause and the screaming would not cease, he cupped his hand behind his ear and made the noise level rise by another dozen decibels.

"I didn't actually have tears in my eyes, but they were burning," Iverson said. "At one point I had to hold my head up so they wouldn't fall.

"But when I'm back at my hotel all by myself later tonight, they'll come out."

In an incredibly emotional comeback to the city where he spent one of the most eventful decades any NBA player has ever experienced, Iverson was given the warmest of receptions by the same fans he tantalized and frustrated for so many years.

He had a chance to be the hero of the game, too, but his jumper from the corner with four seconds left was off-target, and Iverson's old team, the Philadelphia 76ers, celebrated as though they had won a championship as the final buzzer sounded on a 115-113 victory Wednesday night over the Denver Nuggets.

"I'm not saying I'm cool with losing, cuz I'm not," Iverson said, "but I can't take away from what these people gave me tonight."

It was a night when Iverson played for the present but opened up about the past, expressing his regret and embarrassment over some of the episodes that discolored his 10-plus years in Philadelphia. And the night included a little extracurricular Iverson-related excitement, too, as a scuffle broke out involving Iverson's friends who were sitting along the second row of the baseline seats near the Denver bench.

The altercation appeared to begin when someone pushed or jostled Iverson's mother as the game was in its final minute and the entire sellout crowd was on its feet. Iverson's friends refused security guards' orders to leave the arena after the fight, which resulted in one very large, very angry man being escorted away with a very large tear in his shirt. But it was all over in time for Iverson's friends to see him get a chance to tie the game or win it.

[+] EnlargeIverson's shoes
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty ImagesNuggets guard Allen Iverson wears shoes that read 'THXPHILA' during the game against the 76ers.
Iverson received the ball on the final play a couple of feet closer to the basket than he would have liked, saying he wanted to end things with a 3-pointer from the corner rather than the 19-footer he attempted instead. The shot felt bad the moment it left his hand, and the miss helped the 76ers reach .500 with their eighth victory in nine games this month. For the Nuggets, it was their fourth loss in seven games and further harmed their chances of climbing into eighth place in the West and making a trip to the postseason.

"They were the better team than us tonight," Iverson said. "It almost ended perfect. I almost had the perfect trip back to my home away from home."

Still, the adulation Iverson received blunted the pain from the loss. He sounded like a happy man afterward, a proud and more mature man, and he exited the building undoubtedly feeling better about his time in Philadelphia than he did when he was walked off the visitors bus some four hours earlier, his re-entry chronicled by some 50 cameramen and reporters.

"That chapter is over, but it doesn't mean the book has to have a sad ending," Iverson said.

It wasn't sad.

Quite the contrary, it was a class act all around -- from Iverson himself, and from the Philly fans.

"It was emotional, and it made me feel like the time I spent here was worth it," Iverson said.

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