This past Saturday, March 1st 2014, the Philadelphia 76ers officially retired Allen Iverson’s #3 jersey. This was undoubtedly one of the most emotional nights that this city has been through in quite some time. I was lucky enough to witness this historic event in person, so I will attempt to relay to you the feelings and emotions that were felt inside of the Wells Fargo Center that Saturday night. Words simply cannot describe how one felt physically being at the event, but I will try my best to do so.
The actual jersey retirement ceremony was at halftime, so there was plenty of suspense leading up to the event. The stadium was packed (almost a sellout), with die-hard Sixers fans claiming their Allen Iverson bobbleheads, rubber ducks, or gumbies, all of which were being handed out as giveaways. Various posters of Iverson hung from the rafters.
Nobody actually cared about the game being played; it was all about Allen Iverson. This could be seen as the fans greeted ex-members of the Sixers organization shown on the big screen with a roaring round of applause. Some of this cheering even came right in the middle of game action. Dikembe Mutombo, Julius Erving, and Pat Croce are just some of these people who were in attendance.
Throughout the game, recordings of NBA stars such as Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade, LeBron James as well as ex-Sixers such as Kyle Korver and Lou Williams appeared on the big screen to speak about what Allen Iverson meant to each of them. Lou Williams said that he wears #3 in Atlanta because of Iverson.
When halftime came, everyone rose to their feet. The countdown to the ceremony started. 3…2…1… and it begun. A video with AI’s highlights played for about two minutes and then the stadium announcer came on.
“AND FINALLY, A 6’ GUARD FROM GEORGETOWN, #3, ALLEN IVERSON!!!
Chills ran down my spine.
There were some introductory statements made before AI started talking. A recording of ex-Sixer coach Larry Brown appeared on the big screen. Brown said to Iverson, “I just want to tell you, and I say this fondly, God put me there to coach you.” I was speechless when I heard this. It was as if a wave of awe overcame the crowd. This was truly a magical moment. Iverson and Brown shared a special connection, unlike any other player/coach relationship.
At last, the man of the hour took center stage. First, Iverson said he must be dreaming, and that he wants to see if this is true. He walked away from the stage, and put his cupped hand to his ear; Iverson’s signature move. The whole arena went absolutely nuts. It was finally setting in amongst the crowd that Allen Iverson was retiring. No one on the Sixers would be allowed to wear his legendary #3 jersey anymore.
Not many Sixers made the city of Philadelphia feel how Allen Iverson made the city feel. When someone says “Philadelphia basketball,” Allen Iverson is definitely one of the people who instantly come to mind.
AI united the city of Philadelphia. Yes, Iverson was a Rookie of the Year, four-time scoring champion, 11-time all-star, 2-time All-Star MVP, 1-time NBA MVP, and led the Sixers to the finals in the 2000-2001 season, but he was so much more than this to Philly. He brought the city together and gave Philly something to root for. Philadelphia united as one, and rooted for Allen Iverson and the rest of the Sixers to bring home a championship. Although he never brought one home, his fierce competiveness and swagger captured our hearts.
Iverson reinvented the game of basketball with the swagger he brought to it. AI had cornrows, tattoos, and wore a headband and arm sleeves. Other players soon followed to imitate his style. Even LeBron James said on an Instagram post in regards to Iverson, “U the reason why I got tattoos, wore a headband and arm sleeve. Thanks for everything!!” Iverson was truly an inspiring figure.
AI wasn’t just an inspiration on the court, but off the court as well. Iverson had this “I’ll do whatever I want” type of mentality. Iverson inspired others to be themselves, regardless of what others think. He motivated people to be who they want to be; uniqueness is what makes a person special.
All of this was going through each fan’s mind as Iverson made his retirement speech. There was a common theme throughout Iverson’s speech, and this was love. He loved everyone who believed in him throughout his life and basketball career, and knew they loved him back too. AI knew he was one of the great basketball players ever, but at the same time humbled to be able to be mentioned with names such as Julius Erving, Charles Barkley, Moses Malone, Maurice Cheeks and Bobby Jones. Iverson said that Philadelphia will “be his home forever.” Eventually, this magnificent speech came to an end, and Iverson’s #3 banner rose to the stadium ceiling as the crowd roared.
Iverson’s last words of his speech were “and I love you Philadelphia, the best fans in the world, the best fans in the world. Hands down, hands down, definitely for the sport of basketball. And I love y’all, and now it’s…time to party.”
History had been made.