Basketball

Iverson gets his do-over

He signed autographs. He knelt at center court and kissed the Philadelphia 76ers' logo. General manager Ed Stefanski had filled a legal pad of requirements for Philly's prodigal son, but it's hard to believe that pregame meet-and-greets and worshipping the ground that Allen Iverson again walked and ran on were part of it.

No, this was his own contribution to this do-over, a chance for him to restart and redesign himself in a place that has always forgiven his transgressions because of his unyielding willingness to hurl himself into pain and danger nightly.

There was none of that Monday night, much to the chagrin of the sellout crowd of 20,664 at the Wachovia Center, many of whom arrived earlier than he did and left earlier than he did, too.

Iverson reached the arena an hour before the game was to begin, and by then the perimeter of the court was surrounded by fans wearing his jerseys and carrying signs of devotion. Later he would liken their mutual passion to "a marriage," saying, "Fans have always appreciated my effort and how I come to play every night.

"That's all you want as a basketball player."

Which isn't true, of course. You want to play well and you want to win, and when one or both do not occur, you want to play elsewhere. Iverson has learned during the past three years that divorce is rough, too, that it takes its toll on you, too. It explains why he kissed center court, explains why, despite his late arrival, he signed about a dozen autographs as he walked back to the locker room after warming up. And it explains why he played nervously as the game began, leaving a few early bunnies well short.

Still, when the first quarter ended, Iverson's line read as follows: four points, three rebounds, two assists and two fouls. Eleven minutes, 59 seconds played. It was an impressive pace for a 34-year-old man one month removed from his last game. And it was a pace he simply could not sustain.

"My heart said yes, my body said no," he said repeatedly afterward, his tiny frame draped over a tiny stool in the locker room. Despite a month of inactivity and after only one practice with the team, Iverson logged more than 37 minutes in the Sixers' 93-83 loss to the Denver Nuggets. Somehow, he managed some moments, too, drilling a baseline jumper and feeding an alley-oop slam to Samuel Dalembert that pushed the Sixers' third-quarter lead to nine points.

That's right. They led, for three quarters, before the 16-5 Nuggets leaned on their gears, went on a 22-3 run and quieted a crowd that was sensing something special.

"My legs were weak, my arms were weak," Iverson said. "I'd see the openings, my heart would see the openings, but my legs couldn't get me there. It's going to take some time."

Sixers coach Eddie Jordan estimated three to five weeks. Iverson thought it would come sooner. In the meantime there is this version of him, not unlike the version Larry Brown always pleaded for, albeit slower.

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