Bob Ford: As always, Iverson says the right words

New jersey, old number. "I'm human," Allen Iverson said."I'm going to make mistakes again. It's going to happen."
New jersey, old number. "I'm human," Allen Iverson said."I'm going to make mistakes again. It's going to happen."
Posted: December 04, 2009

The words have never been a problem for Allen Iverson. He has always been able to come up with the right words, and there's little doubt that, at the time, he has always meant them.

The words were there again last evening when he came back to the 76ers after three years in the wilderness. He didn't need a script, and the words that came from his heart were perfect for the occasion and, as always, he meant them at the moment they were delivered.

This is home. This is the team he loves. This is the only situation that could have lured him out of his brief retirement. This is the only place where the thought of playing again could bring tears to his eyes.

And it did.

"The opportunity to come back here. . . . I couldn't turn it down," Iverson said, his voice cracking with emotion. "I'm just happy."

Of course, Iverson was also happy to leave in 2006, happy to join the Denver Nuggets, happy two years later to join the Detroit Pistons and happy this fall to become a member of the Memphis Grizzlies. Each time, he meant it.

"You never know what you've got until it's gone," Iverson said. "I thought all those situations were going to work because that's the confidence I have in myself. I ran into some bad situations."

Yes, he did. He ran into three separate situations that didn't work. He found himself a member of three organizations not willing to accommodate him as the Sixers had done for a decade.

The Sixers didn't set out to create the Allen Iverson who took too many shots, who didn't work on his game, who played indifferent defense. It happened slowly over time. The organization shaped itself around his undeniable talent and looked the other way at his equally undeniable drawbacks.

If he didn't feel like practicing, well, that became part of the deal. If he didn't take care of himself off the court, that would have to be ignored as well. He helped revive the entire franchise, after all, filled the new arena, and brought excitement that translated easily to the fan base.

The people cheering in the stands didn't care that there were two sets of rules for the team, those for Iverson and those for everyone else. Why would they? It was the team's burden to bear, and the organization bore that burden until it finally broke.

Only then did Iverson run into those bad situations, and is it possible that Denver, Detroit, and Memphis were all wrong and Iverson was right? He says he doesn't see it that way, either, and admits his reputation as a team-killer was one he earned.

"I've done a lot of things to bring it on myself, mistakes and decisions I've made throughout my career. That bad rap followed me and ended up hurting me," Iverson said. "I'm human. During my time here, I'm going to make mistakes again. It's going to happen."

Well, just so everyone understands that from the beginning.

When general manager Ed Stefanski met with Iverson this week, he brought a legal pad that listed all the transgressions and potential problems he wanted to bring to Iverson's attention.

"That's the biggest notebook you have for all the issues with me?" Iverson said. "You need something the size of a phone book for all the issues people have with me."

Stefanski said the team had not promised Iverson he would be starting - the issue that soured things in Detroit and Memphis - or promised him any particular amount of playing time.

"But we didn't bring him here just to add depth to the team. We expect him to help on the court to win basketball games," Stefanski said.

In the process, the Sixers are going to at least partially shelve Eddie Jordan's Princeton offense, which the mastering of requires - dare we say it? - a great deal of practice. The other players will learn what it's like to stand around waiting to see what will happen next as Iverson pounds the basketball and tries to break down his opponent.

Iverson sidestepped a question about his willingness to be a bench player, which might be the first branch snapping in the forest. We'll see where that goes.

The real issue in putting Iverson back on the court as a regular player is not whether he can still produce points. In the regular season in this league, Iverson will be able to score 20 a night when he's 44, let alone 34.

The issue is that the Sixers are a horrendously bad defensive team at the moment. It is their greatest failing, and defense also happens to be a weakness in Iverson's game. Always has been.

The Sixers are allowing opponents to average 48 percent shooting from the floor and score 102 points per game. They have enough offensive talent to trade baskets with anyone, but not enough to win those games.

The addition of Iverson to the equation is not going to change that. In fact, his penchant for poor shot selection, which leads to easy runouts for the opposition, could exacerbate the problem.

"I think the wasteful, cheap possessions that we used to have - 10 to 15 a game - they don't exist much anymore," Denver coach George Karl said after Iverson was shipped to Detroit for Chauncey Billups.

Avoiding that situation will be a test for Jordan, whose job just got a whole lot tougher. Dealing with a fading superstar who is the darling of the crowd will present a difficult tightrope to walk. Best of luck with that.

But when the lights go down on Monday evening in the Wachovia Center, it will all seem possible once again. Iverson will say all the right things and show enough of his old game to sway the doubters and thrill the old believers.

If nothing else, the words will be perfect. Of course, they always are.


Contact columnist Bob Ford

at 215-854-5842 or bford@phillynews.com.

Read his blog at http://philly.com/postpatterns.

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