The Philadelphia 76ers have said goodbye to A.I.
Allen Iverson’s second stint with the team he once led to the NBA Finals ended with a whimper last Tuesday when the Sixers announced he would not return for the rest of the season.
Iverson has mostly been absent from the team for a month, returning to Atlanta to be with his family as they deal with an undisclosed illness of his 4-year-old daughter, Messiah.
Iverson, who returned to the 76ers as a free agent in December, has not played since Feb. 20.
“After discussing the situation with Allen, we have come to the conclusion that he will not return to the Sixers for the remainder of the season, as he no longer wishes to be a distraction to the organization and teammates that he loves very deeply,” team president Ed Stefanski said. “It has been very difficult for Allen and the team to maintain any consistency as he tries to balance his career with his personal life.”
The former NBA MVP and four-time scoring champion averaged 13.8 points in 28 games this season. He started the season with Memphis but only played three games before he announced a short-lived retirement.
Coach Eddie Jordan said at practice it was best for Iverson to move on and put his focus on his family.
“I think it was the right thing to do at the right time,” Jordan said. “His body of work has proven to be a terrific body of work in the history of the NBA.”
Iverson’s agent, Leon Rose, did not immediately return messages seeking comment. Other attempts to reach Iverson were unsuccessful.
Iverson, 34, made a tearful return to Philadelphia eager to prove he wasn’t finished after disastrous stints in Detroit and Memphis. He returned to a sold-out crowd dotted with No. 3 jerseys, but he only showed flashes of his former playmaking self when he ruled the NBA as one of the best guards around. He scored at least 20 points six times — including a 23-point effort in a game against the Lakers that turned into a throwback 1-on-1 duel vs. Kobe Bryant.
“Before it was like, give him the ball, everybody spread out and let him do his thing,” Sixers center Samuel Dalembert said. “Now, he’s like, you have to run this, you have to get him involved. He was still learning the offense. There were a couple of games where it was a struggle offensively, but other games he got the feel for it. You got the flash of A.I.”
Iverson said at a Feb. 15 practice that it was emotionally draining to leave his family to play basketball.
“It was tough to leave her and my wife and kids,” Iverson said. “But I do have a commitment and an obligation to be with my team and to do my job. But it is rough. I think this is the only thing I do in life where for a couple hours during the game I don’t think about nothing but (basketball).”
Iverson was hobbled by an arthritic left knee and constantly needed it drained. He usually walked gingerly around the locker room after games. His dwindling production didn’t bother his fans — Iverson was voted a starter for the East All-Stars, though he did not play.
Dalembert, who played with Iverson in both his Philly stints, said A.I. was not the same player who once terrorized the opposition. But Dalembert also noticed a more reserved, humbled Iverson who just wanted to fit in instead of dominating the ball or making splashy headlines with controversial or selfish actions.
“He was focused, he was being a leader,” Dalembert said. “It was a completely different Iverson. The role we needed him to play, he was doing it. He understood what he needed to do for the team and he came in and did it.”
The Sixers have been awful with or without Iverson. They are 22-37 after a 126-105 loss to Orlando on last Monday night. They were on a nine-game losing streak when Iverson made his debut on Dec. 7.
Andre Iguodala, another Sixer who saw both ends of Iverson’s time in Philly, said he’ll miss No. 3.
“He did a good job bringing his personality to us,” Iguodala said. “On the plane, on the bus, just having a chance to laugh. He brought a huge positive side. Guys enjoyed being around him.”
Iverson was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1996 draft and spent 10 seasons in Philadelphia before he was traded to Denver in December 2006. He won the MVP in 2001 when he led the Sixers to the Finals.
Now, the global superstar who popularized “talking about practice,” might be talking about retirement. This time, to stay.