DAN GELSTON, AP Sports Writer
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Allen Iverson’s highlights played one more time on the big screen, diehard Philadelphia 76ers fans and Julius Erving all part of the crowd catching one more glimpse of No. 3 in his prime.
His killer crossover in his rookie season that dusted Michael Jordan.
The jumper he buried over Tyronn Lue, then the highstep over the fallen Lakers defender in Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals.
All there. All as much part of Iverson’s DNA as the rants about practice, the cornrows, the controversy.
All in the past.
This was time for A.I to say goodbye.
Iverson officially called it quits — though, in truth, it was the NBA that gave up on him — nearly four years after he played his final game.
He did it in typical A.I. flair, eschewing a suit fit for an elder statesman for a black, leather hoodie, askew black cap and a gold chain around his neck.
“I always felt like it was cool being me,” Iverson said.
Iverson retired Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Center, the site of so many of the moments he crafted into a Hall of Fame worthy career. Iverson led the Sixers to the 2001 NBA finals, won four scoring titles, clashed with former coach Larry Brown, and was an All-Star game fixture. Winning a championship is the lone void in a bio sheet that forever stamps him among the league’s greats.
The undersized guard with the supersized heart was a perfect match in a city that prizes authenticity and hustle as much as production.
“I’m going to always be a Sixer til I die,” he said.
And his number will always hang in the rafters. Iverson’s No. 3 will be retired on March 1 against Washington.
The 38-year-old Iverson had not played an NBA game since Feb. 20, 2010, in his second, short-lived stint with the Sixers. The 6-foot, 165-pound guard also played for Denver, Detroit and Memphis over a 14-year career that has him 19th on the career scoring list with 24,368 points.
He also played in Turkey before realizing the NBA doors would not open for him again.
“I thought that once this day came, it would be basically a tragic day,” Iverson said. “I never imagined the day coming, but I knew it would come. I feel proud and happy to say that I’m happy with my decision and I feel great.”
Iverson always proclaimed his love of Philly, the fans and the Sixers and swore he wanted to end his career with the franchise that made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 1996 draft.
He fearlessly crashed the lane against players nearly a foot taller than him, played through countless injuries and added the pizzaz that was missing in what was a staid franchise. He transformed the 76ers from lottery losers to contenders, though he couldn’t bring home an NBA title to this championship-starved city. He came close in 2001, when the 76ers lost to the Lakers.
Iverson was arguably one of the four greatest Sixers, compiling a sparkling resume that put him in the mix with Erving, Wilt Chamberlain, and Charles Barkley. His No. 3 jersey was a best seller around the globe, the headband wrapped snugly around his cornrows, and the tattoos were as much a part of his image as the way he ricochets around the court. Play every game like it was his last was more than a catchphrase, it was a lifestyle.
“My whole thing was, just being me,” Iverson said. “Now, you look around the NBA and all of them have tattoos, guys wearing cornrows. You used to think the suspect was the guy with the cornrows, now you see the police officers with the cornrows. You know what I’m saying? I took a beating for those types of things.”
From the throwback jerseys to the bling in his ears, Iverson shaped a generation of kids that star in today’s NBA.
“He made it cool to be a hip kid,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said.
Iverson’s years in Philadelphia were marred by arrests in 1997 for carrying a concealed weapon and for possession of marijuana and in 2002 over a domestic dispute with his wife. He was sentenced to community service in 1997 and all charges were dropped against him five years later.
Then there was the never-released rap album, which drew criticism from civil rights groups and got Iverson a reprimand from NBA commissioner David Stern because of its offensive lyrics.
“I made a lot of mistakes, a lot of things I’m not proud of,” he said. “But it’s only for other people to learn from.”
Iverson and Brown were a volatile combination during the six seasons they spent together in Philly. Brown criticized Iverson for taking too many shots and accused him of being selfish at times.
Iverson often arrived late for practice or missed them entirely. In one infamous blowup at the end of the 2002 season he repeated the word “practice” nearly 20 times during a rambling monologue. Iverson said he had no regrets about what he said, or any part of his career, including his beefs with Brown.
Brown and Iverson eventually reconciled and the coach made his former guard co-captain of the 2004 Olympic men’s basketball team.
Iverson was a recent guest speaker at SMU practice, where Brown is starting his second season.
“I’m sick that he’s going to retire. I don’t think he’s ready,” Brown said. “I think he still could play. He came to speak to our team, and it was phenomenal. And he didn’t sound like a guy to me that was ready to retire, and I didn’t feel like he should.
“He had an unbelievable career. I don’t think any little player in the history of our game impacted the game like him, like he did. I don’t know if many players impacted the game like he did. I can’t go anywhere where people don’t stop me and ask me about Allen.”
Iverson credited Brown, and his Georgetown coach John Thompson, who was at the ceremony, for turning him into a man. He had a catch in his voice taking about his deep relationship with former Sixer Aaron McKie. He called Jordan was an inspiration.
But Iverson’s post-NBA career has been marred by divorce and stories of financial ruin and alcohol abuse. Iverson was flanked on the podium by three of his children, and said he couldn’t let every rumor about his personal life upset him.
Brown said he wasn’t worried about Iverson adjusting life without a uniform and an adoring crowd chanting his name.
“I hope Philly gives him a job in the front office like he deserves,” Brown said. “That would be a great step, keep him involved with basketball. He needs that, and kids need that because so many kids admire him and want to be just like him and it’d be nice that they’d see him involved in the game.”
The Sixers have talked to Iverson about a role with the franchise, a person familiar with the talks told the AP on condition of anonymity because no decision has been finalized.
Miami’s LeBron James, a 2004 Olympic teammate of Iverson’s, said it was time to give The Answer his due.
“Allen had a great career, one of the best players to ever play the game,” James said. “What he did for this league was great and will always be remembered.”
AP Sports Writer Stephen Hawkins contributed to this report.
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