The setup: It's May 7, 2002, and 4 days earlier the Sixers had been eliminated in five games in the first round of the NBA playoffs by the Boston Celtics, 129-87. It was Philadelphia's third-worst postseason loss. A year after reaching the NBA Finals, the club went 43-39 and there were questions to be answered.

IT WAS BOUND to boil over and become public. Larry Brown had had enough. The organization had had enough. For years, Allen Iverson used verbal crossovers to get around showing up for practice. The media was told on more occasions than can be counted that Allen was excused from practice because of the flu, a sick child, car issues, bumps and bruises . . . there were tons of reasons.

There was to be a press conference on May 7, one where Brown and the mercurial Iverson were to show a united front. Brown and Iverson, along with general manager Billy King, had just had a meeting that was termed "great," and a press conference with the coach and his star was decided upon. Instead, because Brown had another commitment, Iverson went solo. And history was made.

We've seen the press conference a thousand times. We've counted the number of times "practice" was repeated (24 1/2). Hell, just Google "Allen Iverson practice" and you'll get 1,570,000 results. But it's what was said and not what was lampooned that makes this a cringing moment. It was so bad that in a recent interview with The New York Times, King said he actually resigned because of it.

"[Following the press conference] I called [owner] Ed Snider and resigned because I said, 'This is a disaster.' Later, Ed said, 'You're not resigning.' I went to the Palm, had some Scotch, and I'm thinking both of these guys are making a lot more money than I am, they're in a good situation and this is what I'm dealing with."

What King was dealing with was a Hall of Fame coach trying to co-exist with a selfish future Hall of Fame player. You had a great player, a 6-foot, 165-pound guard who had taken the franchise on his boney back and carried it to the NBA Finals a year earlier, but he had no idea about being a team player, about being a leader, about being a good teammate.

He had no idea that it was up to him to help make each and every one of his teammates better.

It was an attitude that eventually cost coaches their jobs and made him a basketball nomad the last 4 years of his NBA career, wearing out his welcome in Denver, Detroit, Memphis and back in Philly, and ending up in Turkey, where his stay was short-lived. There were always excuses. There was never self-blame.

So after some questions from the media about the season and about what he and Brown had discussed in Brown's office, Iverson was asked if he was upset by Brown's comments a few days earlier, about Iverson's practice habits.

"No question about it," he said. "That's what happens when you lose, though, you know. When you lose, there is a whole bunch of room for negativity and I don't feed into this stuff and I do not do any talking. I don't run my mouth. If Coach has any issues with me, I believe there are things that I can control, things that I can get a grip on, but this is what happens when you lose; you know, 1 year you go to the Finals and the next year you're out in the first round. That's what happened, you know, everybody take shots at Allen Iverson. It's just unfortunate that I can't punch back."

And then, after praising Brown and discussing how his daughter was upset because she had to answer questions from her classmates about whether her dad was staying in Philadelphia, the question came:

Reporter: "Could you be clear about your practice habits since we can't see you practice?"

Iverson: "If Coach tells you that I missed practice, then that's that. I may have missed one practice this year but if somebody says he missed one practice of all the practices this year, then that's enough to get a whole lot started. I told Coach Brown that you don't have to give the people of Philadelphia a reason to think about trading me or anything like that. If you trade somebody, you trade them to make the team better . . . simple as that. I'm cool with that. I'm all about that. The people in Philadelphia deserve to have a winner. It's simple as that. It goes further than that."

Reporter: "So you and Coach Brown got caught up on Saturday about practice?"

Iverson: "If I can't practice, I can't practice. It is as simple as that. It ain't about that at all. It's easy to sum it up if you're just talking about practice. We're sitting here, and I'm supposed to be the franchise player, and we're talking about practice. I mean listen, we're sitting here talking about practice, not a game, not a game, not a game, but we're talking about practice. Not the game that I go out there and die for and play every game like it's my last, but we're talking about practice, man. How silly is that?

"Now I know that I'm supposed to lead by example and all that but I'm not shoving that aside like it don't mean anything. I know it's important, I honestly do, but we're talking about practice. We're talking about practice, man. [Laughter from the media crowd.] We're talking about practice. We're talking about practice. We're not talking about the game. We're talking about practice. When you come to the arena, and you see me play, you've seen me play, right? You've seen me give everything I've got, but we're talking about practice right now." (More laughter.)

Reporter: "But it's an issue that your coach continues to raise."

Iverson: "Hey, I hear you, it's funny to me, too. Hey, it's strange to me, too, but we're talking about practice, man, we're not even talking about the game, when it actually matters, we're talking about practice."

Reporter: "Is it possible that if you practiced, not you but you would make your teammates better?"

Iverson: "How in the hell can I make my teammates better by practicing?"