Forcing the Boston Celtics into a Game 7, the Sixers are just one victory away from a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The last time Philly made it to the Eastern Conference Finals?
2001, the year of Allen Iverson’s MVP season.
In a fitting twist of fate, Iverson was in the building last night, appearing pregame to present the game ball and hype up the crowd while he watched his old team in his adopted city earn an 82-75 victory and extend their season.
During the game, Andre Iguodala had a dunk that made the crowd erupt and caused the broadcast team to show Iverson’s reaction to “the other A.I.” putting on for his city.
It was weird.
Iverson is the original A.I. Even if Iguodala’s initials make him an A.I., it felt odd to see someone else be called A.I. while Iverson was in attendance.
Trying to follow the superstardom that Iverson brought to the Sixers isn’t an easy task. Iguodala has been a consummate professional since being drafted in 2004. He's grown as a player each season, and has matured into a leader on and off the floor for his team. He can do a little bit of everything on the basketball floor and he is one of the smartest basketball minds in the league.
He isn’t a superstar, though. Drafted in 2004, that ship has already sailed. There aren’t many players who break out to grab superstar status in their eighth or ninth seasons.
Don’t expect it to happen here.
We’re so obsessed with superstardom in sports. It makes sense, of course, since they’re the ones who put bodies in seats, bring national-television interest and lure free agents into signing with franchises. Hero ball is fun, and so is watching the best players in the world do what they do. It's why we love the All-Star Game, even when it's sloppy basketball without any defense being played.
The Sixers are doing OK without a traditional star, though. They continue to build and add pieces to their team, allowing them to grow and develop together while tweaking each offseason.
Iguodala has also grown as a person over his time in Philadelphia. At first a shy and quiet player, he has learned how to embrace his celebrity, use his voice to lead his team and unite his fanbase. While Sixers fans needed time to warm up to him, they back Iguodala now. He has become their backbone. It just isn't likely that he also becomes their next big superstar.
This isn't a slight on Iguodala, either. He's very good at what he does. He's played such a huge part in helping this team come together and in supporting and nurturing his younger teammates as they've learned the NBA game. He has made his situation in Philadelphia work, and one game away from the Eastern Conference Finals, it's nice to see him enjoy the taste of postseason success.
In a way, it seems as though not having that one marquee name works for this Sixers team. Doug Collins preaches togetherness and family. He's coaching a bunch of talented pieces coming together for a greater goal. In the city of brotherly love, there don't seem to be any power struggles or ego clashes. It works.