IT HAD the feel, the aura of a prizefight. Here was Allen Iverson, in his Denver Nuggets uniform, a Band-Aid covering a cut above his left eye, resolutely walking through the door of the postgame interview area, past a cordon of TV cameras, tape recorders and security, the final steps of his path roped off from the assembled reporters.
In this corner . . .
Was the former 76ers star guard.
This wasn't the Iverson who, before facing the Sixers in Denver in January, said, "I don't care anything about them," and said that despite having been with them for 10 years "they kicked me out as if I had been there 1 day. "
This was a gracious, contemplative Iverson. The warrior in him would have to wait until the game started.
"I'm 32 years old now, simple as that," Iverson said before last night's 115-113 Sixers win. "That's the only answer I can give you. I don't make the mistakes, do some of the things I was accustomed to doing anymore. I don't want to be that person that I used to be.
"But I don't regret any of it, because I feel like going through what I went through here, my ups and downs, helped me to be the man I am today . . . I would never want to throw away the experience I had in Philadelphia. I don't regret anything, but I'm just not that same person.
"I still make mistakes off the basketball court. I still turn it over on the basketball court. But I think I'm a better person, a better player at this point in my life. "
He dealt with the media for 15 minutes, 6 seconds, then left to complete his preparation for his first game against his former team in his former arena. When he came through the tunnel leading to the court to warm up, he ran directly to center court, kissed the Sixers logo and waved to however many people were already there.
When public-address announcer Matt Cord - who usually low-keys the visitors' lineup during introductions - began a louder, more complete introduction of Iverson, it was virtually impossible to hear his final words. The sellout crowd was already standing, applauding, cheering wildly. The ovation lasted 1 minute, 5 seconds and might have gone longer had Cord not begun introducing Iverson's backcourt mate, Anthony Carter. As a frame of reference, when Charles Barkley returned to the Spectrum for the first time with the Phoenix Suns in 1993, his standing ovation lasted 42 seconds.
Through it all, Iverson remained stoical. He walked a few steps in different directions. Finally, he cupped his hand to his ear, a signature move from the best days of the Iverson Era. The sound level rose.
He said he wanted the entire experience to be positive. And it was. There were Iverson jerseys all over the stands. There were also some Andre Iguodala jerseys. And at least one Thaddeus Young jersey. You knew Iverson was taking it all in. Meanwhile, his mom, Ann, sat courtside in the second row near the Nuggets' bench, signing dozens of autographs.
But earlier, he reflected on the Iverson who came to Philadelphia in 1996 as the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft.
"I came to this organization, I was 21, I thought I was ready," he said. "I wasn't ready. I never had a dime in my life, and then all of a sudden I came into a bunch of millions . . . I was a fish out of water.
"I did a lot of things [with the Sixers] . . . Looking back on it, it's embarrassing, but I can share a lot of experiences, a lot of do's and do nots. I don't regret any of it. "
By the time he was traded to the Nuggets in December 2006 after 10-plus seasons with the Sixers, things had become contentious - even between him and Maurice Cheeks, the coach he campaigned for, the coach he said he wanted "to kiss on the lips" when Cheeks was introduced in 2005.
"Everything is business," Iverson said last night. "When something happens you don't like and you're upset, a lot of times if you could think about it, you wouldn't react in a certain way. A lot of times, when things didn't go my way, I acted angrily, especially when I felt it wasn't fair.
"I don't have anything against this organization. They made me a household name. I'm known all over the world because of this organization. "
He has always contended that he never wanted to leave. People within the Sixers' hierarchy have contended that he asked to be traded.
As it turns out, they're all right.
"I had a big hand in me getting traded," Iverson said. "I always wanted to finish my career in Philadelphia. The opportunity was there for me to do that. In a lot of ways, I made sure that didn't happen. "
But again, no regrets. Just perspective.
"I just want everybody to remember this day as being something positive," Iverson said. "It's time to move on, the Sixers and myself. It's time for both of us to move ahead and look forward to more positive things. "
Finally, it was time to play. He made a good showing, finishing with 32 points in front of the old fans.
Allen Iverson went onto the court wearing a pair of sneakers prepared specifically for this night, this game, this moment.
Inscribed on the side of the sneakers was "Thanks Philly."