When the BIG3 rolled into Well Fargo Center on Sunday for the fourth week of the inaugural season of the 3-on-3 summer basketball league featuring ex-NBA players, Philadelphia fans wanted one thing more than any other: a chance to once again watch Allen Iverson suit up and take the floor on the court where he became an NBA legend for the Philadelphia 76ers.
The fans did not get what they wanted.
The 42-year-old former NBA Most Valuable Player and Hall of Famer is listed as the “player coach and captain” of 3’s Company, a team that also features former NBA players DerMarr Johnson, Michael Sweetney, Ruben Patterson, Al Thornton and Andre Owens. Iverson trotted out for just nine minutes of work in the league’s opening contest last month, before saying in a postgame press conference that he’d signed up “to be the face of the whole thing” rather than an exceptionally active on-court participant, that “the playing part” of his job description “is not going to be what you expect,” and that after being retired since 2010, he’d only be playing a couple of minutes per night: “You’re not going to see the Allen Iverson of old out there.”
That proved true in Philly on Sunday. Those in attendance at Wells Fargo Center did not see the Allen Iverson of old out there. In fact, despite a BIG3 video promoting the returns of Sixers legends Iverson and Julius Erving to the City of Brotherly Love …
… they didn’t even see old Allen Iverson out there.
Twenty-five minutes before the evening’s 6 p.m. ET tipoff, Iverson posted a video to his Instagram account announcing that he would not take the court for 3’s Company game against Tri-State.
A post shared by Allen Iverson (@theofficialai3) on Jul 16, 2017 at 2:35pm PDT
To all my fans out there: based on advice from my doctor, I will not be playing in the game tonight for the BIG3. I will be there to coach my team and beat Dr. J’s team. I’ll be interacting with all my fans and we’ll have a great time. You will see some great basketball. I love you, fans, for supporting me all of the years up to date, and I’ll see you when I get there.
As promised, Iverson did interact with fans:
Allen Iverson on the concourse signing autographs pic.twitter.com/7HquQYV3I6
— Enrico (@The700Level) July 16, 2017
And he did step out onto the court to say hello:
Allen Iverson about to address the crowd in Philly. pic.twitter.com/YiXXrNjGaI
— BIG3 (@thebig3) July 17, 2017
— Wells Fargo Center (@WellsFargoCtr) July 17, 2017
“I’m glad I had a chance to come back home,” Iverson said, according to Rob Maaddi of The Associated Press. “Ain’t nothing like this relationship we have. I love you for supporting me throughout my career and still today you’re still supporting me.”
That was it, though.
Allen Iverson was in the building last night. But that was it. He was just… in the building. pic.twitter.com/OoOKFfR68C
— Enrico (@The700Level) July 17, 2017
No announcements about Iverson’s status were made during the first three games of the evening. Nobody offered a specific reason why he wasn’t playing, and neither Iverson nor BIG3 co-founder Ice Cube spoke to the media after the game, according to Jessica Camerato of Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia.
Hours later, Ice Cube took to Twitter to simultaneously express disappointment and attempt to put a positive face on the event:
A.I. not playing was disappointing to everybody, including myself. Doctors told him not to get out of bed and he came anyway. Sad but true.
— Ice Cube (@icecube) July 17, 2017
According to Adi Joseph of For the Win, many fans in attendance had no idea he wasn’t going to be playing until they heard about it from a reporter:
Many of the fans nearly filling the lower bowl of the Wells Fargo Center for the 6 p.m. event had no idea Iverson wouldn’t be playing until that game began. In interviewing hard-core Iverson fans, For The Win repeatedly had to be the bearer of bad news. Austin Hendricks and Sarah Pasetsky had driven down to Philadelphia from the Lehigh Valley, about an hour north. Their reaction was common.
”Shut — no!” Hendricks said, exasperated. “Why isn’t he playing?”
“This is like a joke, right? Then he’ll come out,” Pasetsky said in disbelief.
Hendricks’ brother, Jared Richmond, froze in his tracks at the news. He hadn’t been to a game at Wells Fargo Center since Iverson retired. “Right there, by my reaction when you said that, that’s all you need,” he said.
Even some players didn’t know Iverson wouldn’t be suiting up, according to Dan McQuade of Deadspin:
“I kind of found out right before we were about to play them,” said Bonzi Wells, who helped the Tri-State team to a victory over Iverson’s 3’s Company squad. “We understand Allen is the guy who drives our league. We were hoping he was going to play for the fans. But we got the win, so it was good for us.”
Jermaine O’Neal then asked reporters how they felt about it. There was silence. “That bad, huh?” he joked.
When the realization began to spread through the stands, Philly’s fans were none too pleased, according to Dan Levy of BillyPenn.com:
Even with his pre-game comments he didn’t mention he wouldn’t be on the court and Dr. J all but said he was playing. Fans were chanting “We want A.I.” the entire game, and at one point it looked as if Iverson was starting to cry on the sidelines.
When fans started to realize Iverson wasn’t going to get in the game, many started to boo. Then they started to leave. By halftime of the final game, the place was half cleared out, with thousands of Philly fans leaving disappointed.
One fan/writer in attendance, longtime friend of the program Enrico Campitelli of The 700 Level, found himself less disappointed than “insulted” by A.I.’s no-show:
This is glorified pickup ball and Iverson can’t go out there and dribble around, do a crossover once or twice, and hurl up a four-pointer or two?
The fact A.I. used a half-assed excuse without providing any detail is the real kicker. Did anyone really buy the excuse that a doctor told Iverson not to play??? I certainly didn’t.
The fans may not get to see A.I. play, which is fine, but they at least deserve a legit reason after shelling out good money for a ticket for the primary reason of seeing Iverson play one more time.
An idealist might look at how Sunday unfolded and say a league still stumbling through its paces as it gets up and running received devastating news — the star attraction suddenly can’t go — and didn’t do a great job of handling both the dissemination of that information, and the expectations-management that goes along with accepting fans’ money. A more cynical sort might suggest that the BIG3 pulled a bait-and-switch on the fans of Philadelphia, using one of the city’s sporting icons as a promotional device to sell tickets with the promise of getting to see him play one more time, and then declining to communicate Iverson’s public announcement that he wasn’t playing to keep fans in the gym and buying concessions hours after he’d pulled the plug.
Iverson and Ice Cube didn’t speak to the press on Sunday, but they had sat with reporters on Saturday, with Cube discussing “the dream, the hope, the wish” that helped get the BIG3 off the ground. From Mike Jensen of the Philadelphia Inquirer:
“Just seeing him run out of that tunnel in that uniform, seeing him warm up, basketball in his hands. I just look at the faces of the people in the crowd. They just love it. They just love that they get to see Allen Iverson on the court playing again.” […]
“If it’s just a glimpse,’’ Ice Cube said, “they feel appreciative just to get that glimpse.”
When they don’t even get that glimpse, though, they get pretty — and very understandably — ticked off at the feeling that they’d been cheated.
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