PHILADELPHIA — Authenticity is a rarity in sports today, an age of marketing mavens and spin doctors, a time when it seems like most superstars are more concerned about what they say—and how it's taken—than how they play.
Authenticity was never one.
So it couldn't be one Wednesday afternoon, not as the 11-time All-Star officially, finally retired. It has been so long since Iverson's forgettable second stint in Philadelphia that, when he last played for the 76ers, LeBron James was still a Cleveland Cavalier.
James, an unabashed Iverson fan, was in Philadelphia on Wednesday, scheduled to arrive at the Wells Fargo Center a few hours later with the Miami Heat to take on the current misfit outfit that passes for the 76ers. But in the early afternoon, the stage belonged only to Iverson, wearing a gold chain, a leather jacket and a cap.
Backward, of course.
Those in the audience included franchise great Julius Erving; Iverson's college coach, John Thompson; and his mother, Ann.
The latter was wearing his jersey.
What they saw was what they have always seen:
No more. No less.
"No regrets," Iverson said more than once, and always with emphasis, even if he admitted he wasn't proud of everything.
He thanked all his coaches, from high school (Mike Bailey) to college (Thompson) to the pros (Larry Brown). He thanked Michael Jordan for "giving me a vision." He thanked his teammates, choking up when talking about Aaron McKie, one of those he helped carry to the 2001 NBA Finals. He thanked his trainers, joking that he had "broke every bone in my body," a product of playing so passionately and recklessly at such a small size. He thanked his family, while acknowledging that "I cheated my kids out of love a lot, as far as being a father" when he was playing. He thanked late Philadelphia Daily News writer Phil Jasner, for his support but also for their sparring, saying he wished Jasner could be present to cover this.
This was a "happy day," as Iverson put it, not the "tragic day" he once anticipated.
He thanked Philadelphia fans who embraced him because of, not in spite of, his warts.
"They grew on me just like I grew on them," Iverson said.
Some will say that Iverson didn't grow enough.
"I had no problem with people misunderstanding who I was to be me," Iverson said. "When I looked in the mirror, I wanted to be the same person that I was. I didn't leave out of my house and then turn into somebody else. I wanted to be me, I wanted to be the same person that my kids knew. I didn't want never to go home to Virginia and look at my me, like who is this guy? I always felt like it was cool being me. I thought that was the style. I think that's the style. Being me. Being who I am. I had no problem with that. I mean, it rubbed people the wrong way, because they didn't accept it the way I wanted them to, but I didn't care. Because I felt like I wasn't doing anything wrong, being who I am."
And he couldn't help noticing that others were following his lead.
"I took an ass-kicking for me being me in my career, for me looking the way I look, and dressing the way I dress," Iverson said. "My whole thing was just being me. And now, you look around, you see all the guys in the NBA now, all of them got tattoos. All of the guys wearing cornrows...I'm proud to say that I changed a lot in this culture and in this game."
That, more than the killer crossovers or the 24,368 points, may be his legacy.
"In this profession, you have no idea how hard it is, trying to live up to all the expectations, trying to be a perfect man when you know you're not," Iverson said. "Being in the fishbowl, everybody looking at every move you make, talking about everything you do. It's just a hard life to live. It's a great one. I wouldn't trade it for nothing, I have no regrets on anything. People ask me all the time, do I have any regrets? And I don't have any. If I could go back and do it all over again, would I change anything? No. Because obviously if I could go back and change everything, then I would be a perfect man."
"And I know there's no perfect man."
Not a perfect man.
Just a man.
Whose press conference provided the perfect capper.
Ethan Skolnick covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.
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