Growing up in the area during the Allen Iverson days was probably the greatest way to become indoctrinated as a Sixers fan. Full disclosure: I wasn’t even born yet when the team drafted him in 1996, but seeing him take the court at the Wachovia Center shaped my earliest sports memories. That arena used to be filled with a certain electricity the Sixers could only dream of replicating these days, as all 20,000-plus fans in attendance knew that at any given moment Iverson could do something unforgettable.
And they were right.
Outside of Michael Jordan, there is no one more iconic figure in the history of basketball than Allen Iverson, from both an on-court and off court perspective. The image of Iverson stepping over Tyronn Lue as he brushes the back of his hand over Lue’s head is one of the most remarkable moments of showmanship ever. Michael Jordan helplessly swiping through air as Iverson crossed him up as a rookie sits immortalized on the front of a hat I wear as I write this. There were his patented cornrows, the creation of the shooting sleeve phenomenon, and the misconstrued practice diatribe. All these things helped create the aura around Iverson that shaped him into the legendary figure he is today, but all of this doesn’t seem nearly as impactful without Philadelphia in his corner.
In a city where they’ll always tell it like it is, Iverson’s authenticity matched the personality of where he played to a tee. He dressed like he wanted to, spoke with a sense of raw emotion, and carried a chip on his shoulder bigger than he was. Iverson wasn’t the creation of some PR firm like most stars tend to be today, and Philadelphia couldn’t help but gravitate towards him because of it. In a place where a fictional movie character is treated like our most honorable native son, Iverson embodied the same fighting spirit that made us cherish Rocky Balboa. Philadelphians have always asked for their athletes to give it their all while also producing wins, which has been an overly daunting task for some of those who have had the weight of a franchise bestowed upon them. Iverson answered the call, and then some. Standing six-feet tall at best, weighing 165 lbs., he played with enough heart that it overpowered his obvious physical limitations.
He threw himself onto the hardwood for loose balls, battled with big men for rebounds, and attacked the rim with a reckless indifference for his own health. The two parties fed off each other so well. Iverson would turn to the stands, cup his hand to his ear for a response, and the fans would answer his call. The fans would turn to Iverson to come up with a big play, and he would answer their call. Together, they enjoyed many memorable Eastern Conference playoff runs. As his youth faded, the injuries began to take a toll on his body, but his knowledge of the expectations and love Philadelphia had for him pushed him as far as he could go.
When Allen Iverson gets inducted into the Hall Of Fame Friday, it’ll be an enshrinement for Philadelphia as well. Iverson needed the fans to achieve greatness, and the city needed Iverson to show them that maybe the lofty expectations for their athletes can be achieved.
They were undoubtedly "The Answer" for each other.