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David Aldridge: Iverson came back a better man

One is tempted to take Allen Iverson's return to Philadelphia last night and make some sort of Prodigal Son analogy. But that's from a book that's stood the test of time - and whose parables didn't involve Western Conference playoff tiebreakers. (Besides, who would be the older son - Dalembert?)

One is tempted to take Allen Iverson's return to Philadelphia last night and make some sort of Prodigal Son analogy. But that's from a book that's stood the test of time - and whose parables didn't involve Western Conference playoff tiebreakers. (Besides, who would be the older son - Dalembert?)

Better to just be impressed by how Iverson and Maurice Cheeks each handled the wholly unimportant issue of whether they'd spoken to each other (they hadn't) since Iverson was traded. Each said that he would get around to it in time, and indeed, when Iverson came out for the opening tip, he went over to Cheeks on the 76ers' bench and hugged him, warmly.

Better to be impressed by the sellout crowd at the Wachovia Center, which gave Iverson a heartfelt standing ovation as he cupped his ear one more time, asking for noise, blowing kisses to the crowd. It was a poignant scene - which was interrupted only when the Sixers decided it was more important to get on with introducing the visiting Nuggets than let Iverson bask in the applause.

And better not to be impressed with the Sixers' decision to low-key A.I.'s return. No video tribute, no messages on the scoreboard. They've been talking about how to handle this for months, and they decided to do . . . nothing. There was talk by many about making it up to Iverson when he retires, and how this is how they handled other returning stars.

I'm sorry; Iverson was one of the five or six best players ever to put on your uniform. It wouldn't have killed you to take a minute to say thanks - for keeping us relevant, for filling up this building for a decade, for giving us a chance at a championship. Doing nothing, and interrupting the applause, was a little petty.

Ah, let's keep it positive, as Iverson said when asked if he was still angry about how the whole thing ended for him here, with his owner sending him home for two weeks until the trade was finally official.

Iverson will always be 6 feet tall, but he finally looked like a man in full last night. He's spoken often in recent years about how he doesn't do the same things he did when he first came to town, with little to his name. He's said again and again that becoming a father changed him.

But he was never as earnest as he seemed at the podium an hour before tip-off, taking the high road and taking responsibility for his mistakes here.

When he was asked about seeing old ball boys and security people again, he said, "One thing about it is, if I would have did things a lot different, then maybe I would still be seeing them people on a daily basis. I had a big hand in me getting traded. Like I said, I always wanted to finish my career here in Philadelphia. The opportunity was there for me to do it. In a lot of ways, I made sure that didn't happen."

It was the assessment of a grown man. And it made you wonder what could have been had everyone - not just Iverson - been a little more mature around here.

And after a great, great game, a 115-113, playoff-type thriller in which Iverson scored 32 and had the game in his hands with seconds left, and in which Andre Miller again was dominant against a top-shelf opposing point guard (28 points, 12 assists), and in which the 76ers made all manner of enormous plays, Iverson was no less charming.

"After leaving here, I felt like I was going to leave for good," he said. "But after that ovation, and seeing the way people still cared about me as a person first, there's no way I could leave this place alone. So, I've got a lot of changes planned. I might not be selling that house [in Villanova] now."

Barack Obama said something the other day, in his moving speech about the racial divide in our country. You can reduce any person to caricature, Obama said, and judge him by a few stolen utterings or behaviors. Under such conditions, in the wrong hands, any person can be made to look callow, incompetent, or worse.

And that was the problem with so much of what happened here with Iverson. His whole complicated, crazy relationship with this city was reduced to a single sound bite about practice, as if that neatly summarized everything about him, and everything about us.

But life is more complicated than that, and Iverson is a complex person. His failings were lived out in front of a tough city, and there were scars for the longest time. But last night was like a balm, making that hardness soften, making it all right to move on.

This is what closure feels like.

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