Royal Ivey limped through the locker room, applied some ice to his knees and slumped down in the seat in front of his locker. He looked as if he had been through a 48-minute battle with the likes of Kobe Bryant or LeBron James.
He wasn't. It was still about 2 hours before game time. Ivey was just showing the rigors of the most recent three-on-three game that some 76ers players conduct a few hours before a game.
A couple of minutes later, Sixers assistant coach Aaron McKie walked through the locker room, a hand cupped to his eye. Jason Kapono, the jokester of the locker room and a participant in the pregame games, tossed a few verbal jabs McKie's way. "Man, it's not worth a scratched cornea, is it?"
Yes, it is. And McKie wouldn't have it any other way. Now in his third year as an assistant, McKie knows the importance of the games, in which he also participates.
"Guys that don't play, they get into a routine and they start pouting," McKie said after a recent practice. "They might not outwardly do it, but you can tell, and they stop working. Then, when injuries start piling up on a team, guys are going to be put in there right away. And in this profession, you can't not be ready. You've got to keep yourself ready. And a lot of guys, because they're so young, they're not professional enough to understand that it's up to you to keep yourself in shape and be ready to go when your number is called. That's the reason why I do it. I don't do it for me. I enjoy it, don't get me wrong. It's something I love to do, but it's more so for them. And they enjoy it, as well."
The transition from playing pro, where McKie enjoyed a 13-year career, to coaching seems to be going as smoothly as a Kapono jumper. After a stellar career at Temple and then his time in the NBA, McKie knows of nothing else he'd rather be doing after injuries put an end to his playing days.
"The injuries started piling up on me," McKie said of his last few playing years. "I went out to LA and blew my knee out the first year. The second year, I came back and hurt my back. So the writing was on the wall for me. I knew that my time was up, so I had to figure out what was next. I was talking to some people, Mo Cheeks, and some other people who were involved in coaching, and I told them I was going to be done playing, and I wanted to take a year or 2 off and then I wanted to get into coaching. Pretty much everyone told me not to do that. They said if I get an opportunity, do it right away, because there are a lot of people who are trying to get coaching jobs. If you go away, people will forget about you."
When the time was right, McKie called Cheeks, and informed the then-Sixers coach of his intentions.
"I told Mo I thought I had a lot to offer to the guys, as far as experience and as far as being taught by some of the game's greats," he said.
McKie, a Simon Gratz grad, played there for the legendary Bill Ellerbee, then under John Chaney at Temple. During his NBA career, he played for stalwart such coaches as Phil Jackson and Larry Brown.
While playing, McKie absorbed knowledge from wherever he could. It was a necessity, he says, to keep him doing what he loved.
"I wasn't a guy who was playing on top of the rim or anything like that," McKie said. "I was one who was always trying to outthink my opponent. I think that will carry you a long way in the game of basketball. Athleticism will only carry you so far, because, as you start to get older, you get away from being more athletic, and the game becomes more mental to you. For instance, look at a guy like Grant Hill. There weren't that many guys that I came across who were as athletic as he is. When injuries started to mount on him, he had to learn to reshape his game. He's always been a thinker in playing the game of basketball."
As was McKie, and now it's time to share that knowledge.
"He's done a body of work as a player that is solid, and now he's a solid coach," head coach Eddie Jordan said. "He was a terrific teammate, a great defender, he was a great passer. He was very flexible at what he could do. He could make a shot, he could back you up as a post-up player, he can defend post-up, he can defend perimeter play. He can go through the whole gamut of how to defend certain people and certain positions."
And McKie gets to do it all in his home city.
"I couldn't dream it up, couldn't dream it up," McKie said. "It's so ideal for me. My family is here, and I got the opportunity to play here in college, I got the opportunity to play here as a professional, and now I'm coaching here. I've been blessed in that aspect."
It's probably the most asked question posed to a Sixers beat writer: "What's Allen Iverson like?"
Since his return to the team, the 34-year-old guard has been nothing but terrific. He has been great with the media, seems to get along very well with his teammates, and has been accommodating to fans.
"Since he's been here, he's done everything I've asked," general manager Ed Stefanski said. "On the court, he's getting better. As he gets in better shape, he takes time out to talk to the young guys, showing things to make them better players. He's been terrific."
Tonight at Boston: The Sixers have lost twice to the Celtics this season, getting blown out at home, then losing a close one in Boston. In the first win, the Celtics hit 14 of 20 three-pointers. In the second game, the Sixers hit 13 of 20.
Tomorrow vs. Clippers: Though top pick Blake Griffin hasn't made his regular-season debut with the team after suffering a stress fracture in his left kneecap, they are treading water well, posting an 11-13 record thus far. Griffin isn't expected to return until after the New Year.
Tuesday at Washington: On paper, this one doesn't look too appetizing, as both teams are struggling mightily. In the first meeting, Antawn Jamison dropped 32 on the Sixers in a 108-107 Wizards win.
BY THE NUMBERS