The Allen Iverson Experience was captivating regardless of the medium — live on television, in the newspaper the next morning, hearing from teachers about the West Coast game that went past your bed time.
But it was best in person, no question.
I was there on Feb. 12, 2005, when Iverson scored a career-high 60 points in a Sixers’ win over the Magic. The victory improved them to 25-26 in a season that would ultimately end with a first-round loss to the Pistons, but those are the kind of boring details you have to look up years later.
It was all about Iverson, as it tended to be during those years. I remember, as a 10-year-old kid, trying to do the math throughout the night of how many points he was on pace for. As Iverson kept flying down the floor with the baggy shorts of that era flapping around his knees, bouncing off big bodies and knocking down free throws, I had to keep recalibrating.
The subplots and opposing players and emotions from when I was around that age have stuck with me. During the 2002-03 playoffs, I was fascinated by the Hornets’ gargantuan Robert “Tractor” Traylor and the Pistons’ lanky Tayshaun Prince. I watched Ben Wallace take free throws hours before tip-off and attempted to decipher how an All-Star could be so poor at one part of the game.
The Sixers lost Game 6 of their second-round series against the Pistons in overtime in that 2002-03 season. Iverson couldn’t get a shot off at the end of regulation, Chauncey Billups was clutch in OT, and I got a good-natured speech from a random fan as we walked out of the arena. He said what I'd just witnessed— being so close, building hope, failing at the decisive moment — was what I should expect as a Philly sports fan.
I don’t remember the exact words, but the gist of it was memorable. It felt like I’d shown a willingness to suffer and deserved the truth, and that was oddly comforting — believe me, the guy was actually very kind. I was hooked on the idea of being there as much as I could, whatever the circumstances.
Heading into that 2005 game vs. the Magic, I wondered how Jameer Nelson would fare against Iverson. This was Nelson’s second game back in Philadelphia after four decorated years at St. Joe’s, and though I understood he was a rookie and a bench player — Orlando started Steve Francis, who scored 32 points — I was excited about the minutes when Iverson and Nelson would match up.
With all due respect to Nelson, who finished with 10 points and eight assists, he ended the night as just another guy who tried very hard to stop Iverson and couldn’t.
Consulting the box score and highlights now, I could give you more detailed analysis. Only six of Iverson’s 60 points came from three-point territory. A 23-year-old Kyle Korver made the Sixers’ only two other threes and was establishing himself as an elite specialist and draft-night steal. Korver, Andre Iguodala and Dwight Howard are the only players from that game still currently active in the NBA.
Sixers head coach Jim O’Brien used just three bench players — Willie Green (now an assistant coach with the Suns), Aaron McKie (Temple head coach) and Marc Jackson (NBC Sports Philadelphia analyst). It’s interesting to see how much the NBA has changed in 15 years, and to track the paths of everyone who was part of the game.
That’s all secondary, though. There was a single-mindedness to the whole night that was thrilling, and it’s the thing I’m least likely to forget. Everyone staring up at the big screen after a free throw to track Iverson’s point total, everyone wanting him to have the ball in his hands and knowing he would, everyone grateful they were there and unconcerned with the game, the season and life outside of sports.
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