The night Iverson returned to Philly to play the 76ers

JESSICA GRIFFIN / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Allen Iverson acknowledges the crowd upon his return to Philadelphia with the Denver Nuggets, on March 19, 2008.
JESSICA GRIFFIN / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Allen Iverson acknowledges the crowd upon his return to Philadelphia with the Denver Nuggets, on March 19, 2008.
Posted: November 23, 2012

The setup: After years of rumors, rhetoric and bickering, the 76ers, on Dec. 19, 2006, finally put their actions where their hearts were and sent Allen Iverson, one of the most beloved players, and the most exciting, in franchise history, and Ivan McFarlin to the Denver Nuggets for veteran point guard Andre Miller, former Sixer Joe Smith and two first-round draft picks. And on March 19, 2008, he came home.

THE CITY of Philadelphia had a love affair with Allen Iverson. And the love was mutual. But both the city and the player knew that the relationship wasn't built to last.

He was like the child who would kick you under the table, leaving a bruise, apologize, flash a big smile and all would be forgiven.

He was the teenage son who would take the family car without permission, go out on a joy ride, smashing mailboxes and tossing trash cans and picking up friends, girls and alcohol on the way, and return the car the next day figuring all would be forgotten because he returned it fully detailed and with a full tank of gas.

And he was the child for whom tough love was coined. You loved him to death but his petulance, his warped sense of right and wrong, his insubordination and his defiance toward authority made you push him out of the house that you knew, deep down, he loved being a part of.

A little more than 10 years after they made him the No. 1 pick in the 1996 draft, the Sixers sent their prodigal son to the Rocky Mountains. They knew that one day he'd return home and all would be forgiven. And so it came. On March 19, 2008, Allen Iverson returned to the (bank du jour) Center, wearing his familiar No. 3 but the unfamiliar powder-blue uniform of the Nuggets.

All of the past discretions were forgotten.

* The bouts with Larry Brown.

* The incident on April 18, 2006, when he and teammate Chris Webber arrived late for Fan Appreciation Night. Instead of arriving 90 minutes prior to the game, they came minutes before tipoff, drawing the ire of management. It was announced that neither would play that night, and would be fined.

* The walking out of practice on Nov. 29, 2006, when he left in a huff. That night, he missed a mandatory corporate sponsor event. He was the only player not to appear. While he gave the excuse that he overslept because of medication he was taking for a tooth problem, he made it known to teammates earlier in the day that he had no intention of showing up.

* Asking to be traded on Dec. 8, 2006. Combined with missing practice prior to a game against Washington, Iverson was told that he was not to attend any further practices or games. That night, owner Ed Snider let a national television audience know that the team was trying to trade Iverson.

But was forgotten on the night Iverson returned. It was a lovefest. He was the first of the Nuggets to be introduced. "A 6-foot point guard from Georgetown University, number 3, Aaaaaaaaaaallen Iverson."

The crowd went nuts, giving the little fella a rousing standing ovation that lasted a good 5 minutes. And Iverson responded. He blew kisses and then saluted the crowd. He triple-pounded the left side of chest and put up his right index finger, letting those in attendance know that he felt they were indeed No. 1.

When the introductions were complete and the house lights were turned on, Iverson went to center court, did a pushup and kissed the logo on the way down. He then went over to the Sixers' bench and hugged Sixers head coach Maurice Cheeks. It was heart-warming moment. The Kid had come home.

"The way these people embraced me," Iverson said after the game, "and the love they showed me tonight just made me feel good about the basketball player and the person that I am."

As for the actual game, Iverson scored 32 points and had eight assists. His three-pointer tied the game at 113. After Andre Iguodala and Samuel Dalembert teamed up for the go-ahead basket, Iverson missed a 22-foot jumper with seconds left and the Sixers, led by Miller's 28 points and 12 assists, beat the Nuggets, 115-113.

There would be another homecoming. On Dec. 2, 2009, after being discarded by the Nuggets and Pistons and after an ugly three-game stay in Memphis during which he felt he should start and Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins wasn't in agreement, Iverson signed with the Sixers. The team was struggling and needed seats filled.

On his first night back, Dec. 7, coincidentally against the Nuggets, the Center was filled. A few games later, the empty seats returned but Iverson's previous magic did not, and on Feb. 20, 2010, his NBA career was over.

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