It felt good watching Allen Iverson get cheers upon cheers of a standing ovation heaped upon him last night in his return to Philadelphia, the type of "welcome home" that enough athletes don't receive in our booing obsessed fan culture.
As I watched A.I. soak everything in, pounding on his heart, holding his hand to his ear to absorb every last voice, I really appreciated that sports fans can be good people, and that our heroes can need us and love us as much as we do them. It was as warm and mushy as it gets.
As the spectacle went on, though, I started thinking what a Denver fan must feel like watching their superstar's lovefest in another city.
Iverson's trade to the Nuggets was a big deal. He was a superstar getting a new start in an attractive situation, alongside Carmelo Anthony and with a fan base excited to get him. Pundits debated the availability of shots in Denver's now star-laden lineup, but no one really predicted the trade would fail. Things looked good.
Over a year later, the trade still isn't a failure, but the Nuggets haven't had the type of success it seems they would've expected from Iverson either. They made the playoffs last year and bowed out in the first round, and they're currently the odd team out in the West playoff picture. Iverson and Anthony haven't exactly been Bryant and Gasol.
So that's why I think last night must have been quite awkward for a Nuggets fan. It seems like it would've felt a lot like being in a so-so relationship with a beautiful girl, and then having her see her ex for the first time in a while.
Your relationship isn't exactly on the rocks, because things aren't going poorly, per se, but you two aren't exactly drawing up marriage plans either. You know she had a long, passionate, intimate relationship with this ex, even making it to the altar one time, before breaking it off in an ugly fashion a few years later.
That's when she found you.
You were kind of a rebound for her at the time, but both of you were excited, because rebounds are fun and she was hot. A year later, though, and the physical stuff is getting monotonous, arguments are more frequent, and it's pretty clear that while it can be fun, neither of you thinks the other is the one.
And that's when the ex came back.
That's where we found Iverson last night, re-uniting with an old flame. They hadn't seen each other in a long time, and it was clear the passion was still there from both ends. The 76ers fans cheered Iverson without hesitation, and he did everything but run into the stands to give them all hugs. It was nice, but...isn't he seeing someone right now?
If I were a Denver fan, watching the ovation would've made me feel good. It would've been good to see that our guy has such qualities that make him so endaring to fans, and I'd hope we got to that point some day. I'd have felt okay with all of that.
Nerves would've set in, though, when I saw "ThxPhila" written on A.I.'s shoes. That would've sent up a red flag, the girlfriend equivalent of her wearing an old locket or ring when she knew she would be seeing her ex.
She knew she'd be seeing him, and she knew wearing that would go over well. Iverson had no doubt about the way he'd be received.
As the game went on and Iverson seemed incredibly energized, scoring 32, albeit missing the game winner, I'd have been sweating a little bit more. Is he going to feel this way about us, or is this something he only brings out for the old love?
But the real trouble would've started at the postgame press conference, when Iverson admitted he still had feelings for his old city, coming as close to saying, "I want you back" as you can without actually uttering the words.
"Maybe I won't be selling that house," Iverson said.
His return to Philadelphia was, almost definitely, a good thing by sporting standards. We saw love from the fans, but more importantly, love from Iverson, when athletes today seem repulsed by the idea that they should foster a connection with their team's city, when they could be leaving any day.
At the same time, I hope Iverson enjoyed his brief fling with his ex, because if I were a Nuggets fan, I'd have him sleeping on the couch when he came home.