Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Going Back to Philly

During my time running this site, I've written about or made references to Allen Iverson quite a bit, and I've made it abundantly clear that he is, hands down, my favorite 76er who ever lived.

Yes, he is a flawed player, a flawed man, stubborn to the bitter end. But he is also a great player, an exciting player and polarizing man, to the bitter end. Never in my life has basketball been more exciting in this city than when the Philadelphia 76ers drafted the little man out of Georgetown and watched him become the fiercest, toughest competitor to take the court, watched him cross up Jordan, watched him transform the perception of a moribund franchise, lead an undermanned and underappreciated team to the NBA Finals, watched him defy the odds, win MVP, scoring titles, the Eastern Conference. He was the best thing to happen to Philadelphia professional basketball since another stubborn, controversial figure left town: Charles Barkley.

In the past week-plus, rumors have been swirling about the Answer's potential return to the City of Brotherly Love, the city that embraced him, appreciated him, criticized him and loved him like no other before or since. Through it all, I've remained silent, not because I didn't have much to say or didn't want to jump the gun. I just did it because I wanted to collect my thoughts. More likely than not, Allen Iverson will be a Philadelphia 76er once again in short time. He will be home, where he belongs. No one else may want him (and plenty of people around here don't want him either), but this is the one place he can come to and no matter what will be loved for what he's done and what he's meant to this city and this franchise.

Maybe Allen Iverson doesn't make sense for the Sixers in a purely basketball sense. This is a young team that is looking to the future for the most part, looking to develop the likes of Jrue Holiday, Thaddeus Young, Marreese Speights, trying to make Andre Iguodala into a lead dog and Louis Williams, now on the shelf and opening the door for an Iverson return, into a legitimate point guard. Then again, Elton Brand never really made any sense for this team either. At least Allen brings some buzz and excitement to a struggling team doing anything it can to fill its arena. And make no mistake, Allen will draw fans, at the very least initially. I know I'll buy my ticket to his first game immediately, just as I did when he returned to Philadelphia for the first time as a Denver Nugget.

But Iverson returning to Philadelphia will do more than just put some butts in the seats. This franchise right now is dead. They're hamstrung by outrageous contracts, poor signings and a lack of superstars. We're only in year two of the five-year Elton Brand experiment. Andre Iguodala is eating up the remainder of that cap space. The Sixers won't be players for a long time. Yes, it's their duty to develop the young guys, keep an eye down the road. But by bringing Iverson back, the Sixers have a chance to do something bigger, something greater than keeping a middling team stuck in mediocrity or worse.

By bringing back Allen Iverson, Philadelphia can do what Memphis could not. They can give Allen, the greatest Sixer of the past 20 years, a surefire Hall of Famer, the most influential athlete of his generation, the proper sendoff. They can give him the minutes he craves, the starting spot he covets, and let him go out in style, on his terms, showcasing that he's still got it. Philly will bring out the best in Iverson. His first game back showed him that through all the good and bad, this is a city that understood him better than anyone, appreciated him for he was, who he is, warts and all. Allen Iverson will kill himself out on the court to prove to the world he still has it, and he knows that effort will be acknowledged in Philadelphia like nowhere else.

It looks as though Allen Iverson is coming back to Philly, and that's because he should. Allen Iverson belongs in Philadelphia. He belongs back home. This is where he should be for his final NBA chapter, not floating around the league as the unwanted man. He deserves better than that. We deserve better than that. Allen Iverson will forever be the Answer to Philadelphia.

BallHype: hype it up!

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