Philly Comes Together To Honor Iverson

VIDEO: Allen Iverson’s jersey jersey retirement ceremony

PHILADELPHIA — The motto for the Philadelphia 76ers this season has been “Together We Build,” a not-so-subtle nod to the aggressive rebuilding campaign the Sixers embarked upon starting on Draft night. Unable to live in the present, at least for this season, the Philadelphia 76ers have largely lived with their eyes on the future. But at least for one night, they pivoted toward the past and spent an evening celebrating the legacy of Allen Iverson.

Before a sold-out crowd of 20,856, with new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on hand along with Sixers legends from Dr. J to Moses Malone to former team president Pat Croce, the 76ers retired Allen Iverson’s No. 3 jersey in an emotional halftime ceremony. (“I’m proud of myself for not losing it, the way I felt like I was,” Iverson said later.)

When the buzzer sounded signaling the end of the first half, no fans headed toward the exits. After a video tribute, Iverson strolled onto the court to thunderous cheers as well as chants of “MVP! MVP!” Dressed all in black, his braids peeking out the back of a black hat, AI made his way down a row of friends and family, stopping to give each person a hug.

After a taped video message from former coach Larry Brown and a presentation of a personalized boat from the current Sixers ownership, Iverson stepped to the microphone. While swaying back and forth, Iverson ran down a list of people he wanted to thank, from various members of his family, to former teammates, to even Michael Jordan, “for inspiring me and giving me a vision. I was one of those kids who wanted to be like Mike.”

He ended by thanking the Philly fans that had given him such love throughout his career. “Y’all gonna have to show me the fool who says dreams don’t come true. Because they do.”

“I love y’all,” Iverson said. “And now it’s time to party.”

Iverson, who ended his career playing 25 games for the Sixers at the end of the 2009-10 season, officially retired in October, and received a standing ovation from fans between quarters back then at the Sixers’ home opener. But Saturday night was the first chance Sixers fans have had to fully revel in the AI experience. Throughout the night, an endless Iverson highlight reel rolled on the scoreboard, as well as tributes from the NBA’s current stars, from Chris Paul to LeBron James. In true Philly fashion, James drew the most vociferous boos of the night. But the brotherly love for Iverson felt endless. The hashtag in use throughout the night, “#AI3Forever,” seemed as much a wish as a statement.

A few moments later, Iverson held a press conference in the Sixers’ press room. As he took one large step from the floor up onto the elevated stage, the 38-year-old Iverson muttered, “I’m too old for this.” Sitting alongside three of his children, Iverson seemed circumspect. He termed his feelings from the evening as “bittersweet,” noting the finality of the ceremony: “Some part of my heart hurts because I realize that it’s over.”

While Iverson said he loves spending time with his kids and watching NBA basketball, he admitted that he couldn’t watch Sixers games with the way they’re struggling now. “It’s hard to watch because I want to help,” he said. “But it will turn around. it will happen.”

Iverson said he would pass on becoming a commentator only because he does not want to be “that guy on camera criticizing other guys.” Would he go into coaching? “Maybe rec league, high school.”

Although Iverson never won a championship, his impact on the league was undeniable. No player of his generation left as large of a mark on the culture of basketball. Braids, tattoos, arm sleeves, the comically large shorts — the recent proliferation of all of those things can be traced directly to AI. While Iverson was frequently decried for being “just” a volume shooter/scorer, it speaks to the singularity of his talent that no player of similar stature has been able to replicate his production since.

More than anything, Iverson always felt genuine — to his fans, certainly, but more importantly, he seemed to be true to himself. That authenticity endeared him to fans around the world with a ferocity seldom seen. People weren’t just casual fans of AI, they LOVED Allen Iverson. Maybe it was his size, the way he was a literal giant-slayer on the floor. Perhaps it was his heart, the way no obstacle could slow him down. Or maybe it was his fearlessness, like when a rookie Iverson put Michael Jordan on skates with a crossover dribble. That was a moment of coronation, not so much a passing of the torch but an instance of the torch being yanked away from one generation by the group on deck. Whatever it was, it all came together into a package that was larger than life.

These days the only AI in Philadelphia is After Iverson. The Sixers’ 122-103 loss to the Wizards on Saturday hardly registered. Until the Sixers are able to build a foundation that allows them to contend, they will still be building, together. And on this evening, it was special to have Allen Iverson be part of that process. During his portion of the presentation, earlier in the evening, Commissioner Silver had said that Iverson “defined the city of Philadelphia, more than any other athlete.”

Iverson made clear that he understood this. And that the feeling was mutual. “I was their own,” he said of Philadelphia and the Philly fans. “I am Philly. It’s going to always be like that.”


VIDEO: Lang Whitaker discusses Allen Iverson’s impact

18 Comments

  1. kek says:

    Iverson was a special player, im sure we will se him in the hall of fame soon:)

  2. MonkeyDScott says:

    AI you made me love the game of basketball. When I watched you in the 2001 play-offs I was memorized by your gritty performances. No one has more heart then you. I love your style and your personality. Your a special person! I still go on youtube to watch your highlights all the time! Ill never stop! Never again will a 6’0 point guard take his team (which was lacking in talent) to the Finals the way you did it man. I hope you have a wonderful life.

  3. bernardo says:

    a lot of controversy for nothing if you ask me

  4. laker says:

    Practice..Practice..

  5. There was something about AI. I grew up in Nigeria and I’d wake up at 3am just to watch him play on satellite tv. The swagger of the NBA and it’s crossover cultural effect all came by AI. He was Philly and not only that he was every inner city kid who had to claw for everything they got. He took maybe the least talented squad in NBA history to the Finals. I think that is a legacy worth shouting about. He gave everything while on the court, injuries and all, it would take a semi-truck to drag him out of a game even when his body cried for it. I think that’s where the “we talking about practice?” saga came from, he really couldn’t believe that after all he did putting his tired frame on the line with all the bruises somebody felt he wasn’t give it his all. When you really think about it he had to go half speed in practice otherwise there is no way possible his battered body could hold up in a game that needed him. The article writer is correct in saying people wanted to see MJ but gosh the world over people absolutely loved AI.

    Good luck Answer

  6. Kaydee573 says:

    To okc2014:
    At this point does it matter what he has on ? He didn’t cupitulate to the ideals of anyone, isn’t that why they are retiring his number? Albeit a bit premature. But due to his size some might have suggested that he play a different sport. You can’t be an innovator conforming, and listening to others who don’t try anything different. Respect the man for what he is great at, playing basketball with all his heart.

  7. Dominik says:

    Thank you AI for all those great moments !
    I was not fan of Philadelphia but you make me I loved to watch them.

    Your place is among the stars … NBA Stars. There is no doubt about that.

    Have a great life AI !

  8. Elly says:

    AI didn’t just belong to Philly nor the NBA. He was a global icon. Heck I could remember back in the early 2000’s all the way down on the northern tip of South America, in the country of Suriname, you could not be a basketball player without the baggy shorts and sleeves. Everybody loved MJ, but AI gave kids worldwide something, a look, and a feeling like you were on an NBA court, simply by dressing like him.

    Thank you AI, for being a part of my youth. Even to this day, young people dress like you on ballcourts around the world, not even knowing that it all started with you. God speed, you did good…

  9. dustydreamnz says:

    The guy has such aura and speaks so well, I really enjoyed the ceremony. I wish him all the best in retirement.
    The best pound for pound player ever?

  10. squala96 says:

    It’s sad to see him be forced to retire when guys like Ray Allen, let alone old and broken Steve Nash are still in the NBA. The awful East, particularly those under .500, should have thought outside the box and gave Iverson a chance to, well, bring them over .500. There have been players far worse in attitude and morally than this guy, but it’s probably AI’s loudness that got him condemned for life.

    Godspeed in life after basketball, Allen Iverson, at least until some team comes to its senses and get you out of retirement.

  11. Fro says:

    Thanks alot Brad Childress, we vikings fans wanted to have a moment like that with Randy Moss when he came back and couldve retired here, but you ruined everything.

    Hats off to AI! One of the most unfairly depicted -and underrated due to that- players to ever play in the NBA. Youre still a top 15 player of all time in my book!

  12. Nasir says:

    I love being from philly,they booed everyone(including the commissioner) except for the legends. Work hard we show appreciation. Thanks A.I for those memorable moments

  13. okc2014 says:

    He takes being “true to himself” to the next level, which is way too far. For this special night, to honor himself, and out of respect; and certainly as a roll model to the younger people, he should have tried to at least show up in a suit, no hat, no coat and a nice haircut. No braids. I know, I’m old school. Just watching him there speaking at that podium, it would have been nice to see that transformation, even if for a few minutes……

    • Fro says:

      wow, thats been the problem AI had his entire career. People intentionally trying to point out these teeny preferences they have that he is somehow not satisfying. Making a mountain out of a mole hill. Let the man be and you go ahead and try to satisfy everyone.. My god, what does his clothes have to do with anything?

      • Siddiq says:

        Well said Fro,

        Its people that care more about a persons image than how the person really is, that makes the world we live in today so screwed up. Judging people by their appearance instead of by the content of their character continues to be a troublesome human flaw.

  14. Quentin says:

    I think Allen Iverson is one of the most great player.I am Quentin ,I am from china.I was born in 1992.
    I begin to watch basketball When i was a child.I know Allen when it is 1996.Although he never win a championship ,that year he was.We grew up with him.I know that a lot of people get different opion about
    him,but his impact on the league was undeniable.Now he left the league I just thought it is so a pity.
    GOOD LUCK AI

  15. kaibaboy says:

    Man, you know,:)), as a Turkish fan I am so proud of he chose Beşiktaş to play when his real home forgot him for a while even though ı am galatasaray fan…
    A:I is more than a player for fans…it is not all about his skills set, his toughness, his inspiration but his sincerity as a human being.. He is a style in styles..Love you Answer…May God bless you…

  16. wdrums0 says:

    Hey Lang, I enjoyed your writing style on Hang Time Blog. Thanks man!
    AI is still the man…