Allen Iverson, a 76ers all-time great, was immortalized when his number was retired in the rafters at the Wells Fargo Center Saturday. Credit: Getty Images
Allen Iverson walked onto the court at the Wells Fargo Center and the sellout crowd of 20,000-plus roared.
In fact, it was deafening.
Few players can spark that type of response.
During his time with the 76ers, beginning with the team selecting him No. 1 overall in the 1996 draft, Iverson won over the passionate fan base. Oh, there were rocky times and tense moments along the way. There were mistakes and missteps.
But the 6-foot, 165-pound guard could overcome anything with his play between the lines. He was a whirling dervish, unafraid to take on anyone. This tiny guard would challenge the whole world and go head first at all times. It was a joy to watch and it culminated with a trip to the NBA Finals in 2001.
The Sixers fell to the Los Angeles Lakers in a hard-fought five-game series, but the memory of Iverson draining a clutch baseline shot and stepping over Tyronn Lue en route to a Game One victory will be etched in this city’s memory forever.
Even without a championship, Iverson will always be loved in Philadelphia. That is supremely evident every time he comes back.
Saturday night, Iverson’s No. 3 jersey was retired and lifted to the rafters in an emotional ceremony.
“It’s basically bittersweet,” said Iverson, now 38 years old. “Some part of my heart hurts because I realize and understand it’s over. When I come into the arena, I’m stepping out onto the basketball court with street clothes on, and I know it’ll never be in a uniform again. That part of it brings back so many memories, just hearing the roar of the crowd and doing my signature put-my-hand-up-to-my-ear thing. It brings it back. But it kind of hurts still.
“I’m a basketball fan. I can watch basketball, but it’s hard for me to watch the Sixers play. I can watch another team, another organization. It’s just different when I walk in here. It feels like just yesterday that I was trying to entertain these fans.”
The Answer entertained the fans one last time. During the ceremony, he stepped away from the microphone and cupped his hand to his ear.
The crowd went crazy.
“Ya’ll have to show me the fool who says dreams don’t come true,” Iverson said. “But they do.”
Former players and supporters who showed up to honor Iverson included Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Earl Cureton, Gary Payton, Pat Croce, Dikembe Mutombo, Theo Ratliff, Clarence Weatherspoon, Maurice Cheeks, Aaron McKie and Doug Overton.
Former Sixers coach Larry Brown, now coaching Southern Methodist University, sent a video message: “I just want to tell you, and I say this fondly -- God put me there to coach you.”
Iverson’s current teammates all wore Iverson warmup jerseys with the No. 3 on back.
“A.I. was a great, great player,” said forward Thaddeus Young. “To do the things he did at his size was amazing. He did every night and he did it against the greats in the game. He deserves all of this.”
Iverson wound up being an 11-time All-Star, four-time scoring champion, a two-time MVP of the All-Star Game along with a league MVP.
Being drafted No. 1 overall in 1996 when even his own coach – John Thompson – didn’t believe he would go in the lottery, will always stand out.
“The rest is just extra,” Iverson said. “It’s just a blessing.”
And the Sixers fans were blessed to witness Iverson for 12 seasons. No matter how much time passes, he will be an icon in Philadelphia.
“I am Philly,” Iverson said. “It’s always going to be that way.”