Allen Iverson hasn’t played for the Philadelphia 76ers in two years, but he remains one of the most beloved athletes in the sports-crazed city.
Iverson returned to the City of Brotherly Love on Wednesday before Game 6 of the Sixers-Celtics Eastern Conference semifinal series to give the game ball to the officials. When his name was announced over the public address system, the sold-out crowd at The Wells Fargo Center — formerly the Wachovia Center, Core States Center, and First Union Arena — gave him a rousing ovation.
As Iverson walked up to referee Joey Crawford, he cupped his right hand to his ear the way he used to when he soaked in the loud cheers in the same arena he played on for more than a decade.
“I really don’t have words that can truly describe it, but it was the best,” Iverson told ESPN’s Lisa Salters. “I mean I love these fans and obviously they showed me a lot of love. I was basically trying to hurry up and trying to get off the court because my legs started wobbling and was getting ready to tear up. Once my eyes got teary and my lips started shaking I knew it was time to go and time to get off the court.”
Salters asked why he felt so much emotion in his return to Philly, Iverson explained, “Just the appreciation that [the fans] have for me and for what I’ve done in this league. I gave it my all, and that’s why they love me because I played every game like it was my last.
“Just from the way they embraced me when I first came and the feelings that they still have for me it’s just special.”
Iverson understands the passion of the Philly fans, and the effort needed to gain their utmost respect. He gave every ounce of his energy when he wore the 76ers uniform and nearly brought them a championship in 2001. “I know these fans. They’re passionate about their sports,” said the former NBA MVP. “They love it when you give that effort. Only thing I have for Philly fans is high praise, and I love them.”
Even though Iverson hasn’t played in the NBA since 2010 he hasn’t ruled out a comeback. He would welcome another shot in Association, but he also realizes his window of opportunity is fast closing.
“I wanna play basketball so bad,” he said. “The way it is right now, I’ve accepted the fact that may not happen. If I could play basketball where it’s going to make me happy at the end of my career I’ll take that opportunity. I just love to play and I want to have another opportunity to play on the professional level.”
Iverson’s presence in the building may have inspired the 76ers as they defeated the Celtics in Game 6, 82-75, forcing a Game 7 in Boston.