Allen Iverson's Return to Philadelphia Was Bittersweet

Tim DohertyAnalyst IMay 24, 2012

He was a warrior. Respected by his peers and admired by his many fans. Every game was played like his last. His love and passion for the game of basketball was unparalleled.

Allen Iverson’s appearance at Game 6 of the series between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers was bittersweet. It was sweet because he received an enthusiastic ovation from the city that he gave his heart to for the majority of his career. It was bitter because his departure from the game has been as silent and saddening as any Hall of Famer has ever been dealt.  

I for one was cringing when I saw Iverson walk onto the floor before Wednesday night’s game. Seeing him fight off tears and solemnly wave to the crowd like a happily retired player despite his resistance to officially walk away from the game was hard to watch.

I realize that most, if not all, of Iverson’s issues have been self-inflicted. He allegedly owes money to numerous entities, and he has always been a noted partier. There are debates as to whether or not he is broke, but there is no question he has faced major turmoil in his post playing days.

Many have never liked Iverson. Those people view him as a selfish punk who only cares about himself, and use his infamous “Practice” rant as evidence.  

Despite all this, as a basketball fan, I have always admired Iverson.

My favorite team is the Boston Celtics. They play in the same division as the Philadelphia 76ers, who have been their fierce rival for decades.

I have absolutely no reason to like Iverson. Why would I root for someone who fought for division titles with my hometown team for so many years?

The reason I couldn’t help but appreciate the game of Allen Iverson was his fearlessness and undeniable passion.

Athletes today are often criticized for their holier-than-thou attitude and lack of respect for the game they play. We hate watching overpaid stars play as if they don’t care and are content with the money they’ve already made. Fans like to think if they were given the same physical gifts and skill set, that they would put everything they have into each and every game.

That was exactly who Iverson was. No one ever questioned his effort. No matter how much money he made or how much praise and awards he received, Iverson played every game with the intensity and determination reserved for a mother saving her child from a burning building.

He didn’t have to do that. He could have taken games off. He could have put 90 percent of his energy into a meaningless early February game in Utah.

That just wasn’t how the Answer worked.

He was listed at six feet tall, but he couldn’t have been taller than 5’10". Soaking wet, he weighed 165 pounds. That didn’t stop him from barreling into the lane game after game, night after night. He took a beating similar to that of an NFL running back, but he never backed down.

His creativity and skill as an offensive juggernaut were superior to any little man in NBA history. His 26.7 points per game ranks sixth all time, and he led the league in scoring four different times.

He was named league MVP during the 2000-2001 NBA season, and that same year he led an undermanned 76ers team all the way to the finals.

Iverson also made 11 All-Star teams and was selected to six first or second All-NBA teams. Still, what stood apart from his many accolades was just watching him play.  

Year after year he was the premier attraction in a league filled with so many superstars. Everyone wanted to watch the little man play.

It was jaw-dropping to watch him break an opponent’s ankles with his lightning-quick crossover and get to the rim possession after possession, battling seven-footers like Shaq, Ewing and Garnett despite being a foot shorter.

His mid-range game was equally lethal, always keeping his defender on their toes. He could also pick someone’s pocket in an instant and covert an easy layup the other way.

Since Jordan retired, Allen Iverson was the player I most enjoyed watching. That’s something that can’t be summed up by a statistic, but to me, it's just as important.

There will never be another Allen Iverson. It’s sad to see that the one and only left the game on such a quiet and somber note.