- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Democrats have commandeered the Fleet Center, and that had a whole nation ticking off the seconds Monday waiting for Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton to stride onto Paul Pierce's floor to rave about John Kerry.
Not me, though.
I was in a college gym in North Florida waiting for one of my favorite American patriots to finish his first pre-Olympic practice, unlace his high-tops with the stars-and-stripes flags on the tongues and uncork his second annual State of The Answer summertime address.
Allen Iverson met the Team USA media Monday afternoon.
It is completely understandable if you prefer to focus on what the folks in Boston are doing, since one of them might end up running the country someday. Just as it's understandable that folks who are ready to contemplate the Yanks' hoop prospects in Athens are inevitably fixated on all the starry names who no longer appear on the roster.
Fine. Your call.
After filing several months' worth of articles about the interminable string of big-name withdrawals, I was ready to hear from the only two Yanks -- Iverson and Tim Duncan -- who are living up to the two-year promise they gave USA Basketball. I wanted nationalistic passion without the politics, so I was drawn to the little guy who's eternally grateful that the chieftains in his sport have accepted Iverson the way he is. Without forcing him to "cut my hair off and laser my tattoos off and wear a suit," as AI told us in last summer's address.
Herewith, then, are The Answer's answers after Day 1 of his second Olympic training camp under old pal Larry Brown. Good stuff again from the little guy, who, incidentally, was unanimously voted a co-captain with Duncan by his teammates.
On sharing the distinction with Duncan as the only holdovers from USA Basketball's original list of nine "core" players, and why they're ignoring security fears in Greece:
"It shows me that Tim cares, and he believes that he's going to be all right, and that it means something to him. And that's the same with me. This thing means something to me."
Whether he ever came close to joining the long list of pullouts:
"Never. I knew that if I got well [recovering from a knee injury that ended his season prematurely] I was gonna play. ... The whole thing why I'm not disappointed in those [other] guys not going is because that's their decision. I guess they're thinking about their life, their family, the people that care about them, and most importantly themselves. You can't question that. But I just believe so much in God. I feel like God's protected me all my life, through ups and downs, and this is just another obstacle in my life that He'll help me through."
What it was like watching Brown, after all their years together in Philly, win the championship in Detroit:
"I was happy for him. I think I called him too late to congratulate him, because he was knocked out when I called him. He just said we [were] going to win an Olympic medal [together], and we got off the phone. But, man, I was happy. Coach is a Hall of Fame coach. Coach [has] been coaching for so many years, and for him not to have a championship . . . even if he didn't win it with me, he won it. He accomplished something that he and I couldn't. I was just happy for him. I was happy for guys on that [Detroit] team. You think I'm going to be in the East rooting for the West?"
More on Larry, after it was made clear to AI that the question wasn't suggesting he had rooted against Brown -- merely that it might have been tough for him to watch the Pistons prevail because Iverson wanted to be the one leading Brown to his first NBA title:
"You're right about that. You're right about that. And then once they won it, I was happy . . . but I couldn't watch [the celebration]. I couldn't watch all the champagne pouring and all that because I wanted -- and not for selfish reasons -- but I wanted to pour champagne on him and I wanted him to pour it on me. I'd be lying to y'all if I sat here and [denied] that. But I honestly, genuinely was happy for him, because I [saw] him accomplish something that he and I tried to accomplish together and couldn't get it done. And we went through hell basically trying to accomplish that. And then, for him to finally get it just made me feel good."
On his own championship prospects at age 29, after eight seasons in the league and with the rebuilding Sixers:
"I definitely feel like it's coming. And I don't want a championship where I'm 35, 40 years old, take a pay cut and go play for the team that everybody in the media is saying is gonna win it. I don't want it that way. I don't want that championship. I want the championship where I'm the leader on the team. I don't have to be the facial figure of the team. I honestly want to play with another All-Star or that type of player, but ... I want it in Philadelphia, simple as that. All the stuff that I've been through, that place turned me from a young man to a grown man, and I'm not talking about all the good things."
What it would mean to win a gold medal, compared to an NBA championship:
"I don't know how big it is, because I haven't gotten the feeling yet. I have an idea of how I'll feel to win a gold medal, but I honestly don't know. Just being an Olympian, I'm beside myself. But getting a [gold medal], all I know it's going to be something I never forget, something I cherish for the rest of my life."