Long before Allen Iverson stepped onto the court last night to begin his second life as a Sixer, he had won. No, not an NBA championship; he will likely never win one of those. What Iverson won, very simply, is us.
All it took were a couple of jokes, at his own expense, and a flood of tears. When Iverson sat before us last week after a three-year hiatus, he did something that few Philadelphia superstars have ever been willing to do. He showed himself, flaws and all. He didn’t hide behind a goofy face or an empty line. He shared himself with us, and we instantly forgave his sins. It was that easy. I have never really liked Iverson because he is the most selfish player I have ever encountered. For an entire decade, he was a solo act in a team game. Great players make their teammates better; Iverson often had to be reminded that he had teammates. His problems after he left here only reinforced his image as a great player who would never sacrifice his own acclaim for an NBA title. However, Iverson created a bond with Philadelphia fans that no other athlete has ever managed — and that includes Julius Erving, Mike Schmidt and, yes, Donovan McNabb.
There’s a very good reason why only one basketball hero was ever able to sell out our arenas, and we’re seeing this phenomenon on display again. Less than a minute into his first news conference, he broke down when he was talking about his love for the fans. The fact that he had insulted these same fans by not appearing for a Fan Appreciation Night in his last full season here was no longer relevant. Iverson was giving a passionate sports city what it craves the most:?emotion.
I had a chance to talk to Mike Schmidt on my WIP radio show last week, and I asked him why he was far more beloved now than during his Hall of Fame career. He knew the answer immediately. When he played here, he rarely showed any emotion. It wasn’t until his unforgettable retirement announcement, when he sobbed uncontrollably, that fans truly embraced him. Hey, I’m not arguing here for a weekly sob-a-thon. Not at all. What I have learned by talking every day to these fans is that detachment doesn’t work. Erving couldn’t sell seats here because he was too cool. Schmidt never found comfort here because he waited too long to show his feelings. And McNabb will never be loved here because he values his privacy more than he does his fans. What does work is the kind of raw emotion Allen Iverson has shown, even if it’s only for a passing moment at the end of a bittersweet career.
– Angelo Cataldi is a Metro columnist and host of 610 WIP’s Morning Show, which airs weekdays from 5:30-10 a.m.
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