Iverson Opens Up in Philly Return

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Allen Iverson planted a kiss on the 76ers logo at midcourt and blew imaginary ones to the fans.

With a packed Philadelphia crowd standing and roaring in appreciation for their former MVP, Iverson had to wonder if his career would be different had he simply kissed and made up with the Sixers last season.

"I had a big hand in me getting traded," a reflective Iverson said Wednesday night. "I always wanted to finish my career here in Philadelphia. The opportunity was there for me to do it. In a lot of ways, I made sure that didn't happen."

All of Iverson's arguments with former coach Larry Brown, the complaints about practice - practice! - and his falling out with coach Maurice Cheeks that led to his trade to Denver were forgotten the moment he walked into the Wachovia Center for the first time as a visitor.

Iverson hugged security guards, embraced Cheeks, kissed the team logo and joked about not knowing where to go inside the Wachovia Center. He took a different route to the arena than he did in his years with the Sixers, dressed in a new locker room and sat on the visitor's bench.

"That is a locker room that I never wanted to end up in," Iverson said.

Not everything was strange in Iverson's first game in Philadelphia since he was traded to the Nuggets in December 2006, like the earsplitting ovation that greeted him when his was name was called first in the pregame introduction.

All anyone in the packed arena could hear was "Ladies and gentlemen, let's welcome back, from Georgetown University ..." before the rest was completely drowned out by the wild cheers.

Iverson waved and saluted the crowd, then blew some kisses. He cupped his hand to his left ear and the ovation only become louder and longer. He pointed to all four corners of the arena and clapped his hands in approval. Only the rest of the lineup cut short the appreciation.

Iverson seemed touched to receive the reaction he wanted to hear.

"I want to feel appreciated," Iverson said before the game. "I don't think there's nobody that plays this sport that don't care about what the fans think of them and think of what they gave on the basketball court. I hope it goes the way I dreamed it up."

Iverson was cheered after all his baskets and had 12 points on 6-for-10 shooting at halftime.

Iverson was open and honest, almost cathartic, about his time with the Sixers and accepted some of the responsibility for the bitter split with the Sixers. In a wide-ranging press conference, Iverson touched on fatherhood, his maturation in Denver, his indiscretions, and how he also "did a lot of things right" being a Sixer.

"I don't make mistakes and do some of the things I was accustomed to doing anymore," he said. "I don't want to be the person that I used to be. I don't regret any of it because I felt going through what I went through here, my ups and downs, helped be the man I am today."

Iverson had "THXPHILA" imprinted on his sneakers and the fans responded with their own tributes. Iverson's No. 3 jerseys dotted the crowd and a few fans held signs of appreciation. One read "We Miss You A.I." and another said "The Answer Deserves Brotherly Love."

"I don't think this a day for anything negative," Iverson said. "I feel like I want to make this day a positive point in my life. I want to make it a day I'll always cherish and remember for the positive things about it, not anything negative."

Iverson posted the highest scoring average in team history (28.1), is second on the points list (19,583) and holds the record for 3-pointers (877). He was a seven-time All-Star, won four scoring titles, two All-Star game MVPs and the league MVP award in 2001 after taking the Sixers to the NBA finals.

"I don't have nothing against this organization," Iverson said. "Obviously, they made me a household name, known all over the world because of this organization. They enabled me to take care of my family for the rest of my life and theirs."

Iverson entered the Wachovia Center for the first time as a Nugget with a crush of media worthy of a playoff game waiting his arrival. There was a similar horde in the press room where Iverson, with a Denver yellow headband wrapped around the cornrows, spoke for nearly 20 minutes.

Iverson hugged arena employees, stopped to joke with Sixers center Samuel Dalembert, but did not cross paths with Cheeks. Iverson and Cheeks had a splintered relationship - it was Cheeks who banished A.I from the team - that was one of the catalysts for the former MVP getting traded.

The two had not spoken since the trade, but Iverson went over and shook hands with Cheeks shortly before tip.

"It's time to move on, the Sixers and myself," Iverson said. "It's time for both of us to move ahead and look for more positive things."

Iverson joked with his Denver teammates in the locker room before the game, then had to take care of some business.

"Where the bathrooms at?" he said, laughing. "I ain't too familiar with this area."


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