On the Beat: Iverson, His Speech Strike Positive Chord

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

SPRINGFIELD, MA - Allen Iverson said plenty about others during his more than half-hour long Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame speech.

Before and after he took the podium Friday, others, too, had plenty to say about him.

One such person was the man who, 20 years ago, lobbied heavily for the 76ers to select Iverson number one in the draft.

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Pat Croce, who appeared on a recent episode of The BroadCast, said of Friday’s enshrinement festivities in Springfield, Massachusetts. The former team president joined the franchise in 1996, just in time to land that year’s top pick. He then parted ways with the Sixers in 2001, following their Iverson-fueled run to the Finals.

“It’s great to see the family together again,” said Croce, who, in 1997, helped convince Larry Brown to take over the Sixers and coach Iverson. Brown was one of Iverson’s on-stage presenters Friday.

Several of Iverson’s old running mates - George Lynch, Eric Snow, and Doug Overton - were in the crowd as well. Overton, a 1991 La Salle graduate who went on to enjoy an 11-year career in the NBA, called Iverson “one of the best teammates” he ever had.

“As much of a superstar as he is, and rock star status, he really cared about everybody that he played with,” said Overton, entering his first season as Lincoln University’s head coach. “He took time to make sure we were O.K. “

Overton first crossed paths with Iverson in the mid 1990s, while playing for Washington. At that point, Iverson was still at Georgetown. Overton later signed with the Sixers as a free agent, his first year in Philadelphia coinciding with Iverson’s rookie campaign.

“His heart is so big,” Overton said, “he wears it on his sleeve. But he’s such a giving guy.”

There were plenty of current Sixers’ staffers on hand to support Iverson. The group consisted of several of the team’s owners, C.E.O. Scott O’Neil, President of Basketball Operations Bryan Colangelo, and head coach Brett Brown.

“It was absolutely amazing,” said co-Managing Owner David Blitzer, giving his take on Iverson’s address moments after Friday’s inductions concluded. “It’s raw, it’s real, and it’s the A.I. that we’ve all come to love over a very long period of time. I thought he did a fantastic job.”

As he was shown on the large video screens flanking both sides of the Symphony Hall stage Friday, Iverson, before he was even formally introduced, got a full-throated ovation from fans in attendance. He would receive several more prior to finishing his remarks.

“The crowd loved it,” Blitzer said. “The place completely rocked when A.I. was up on the stage. He was in great form. It’s a really special time for the Sixers, and for Allen and his family.”

Certainly authentic, definitely sincere, and, at times, emotional, Iverson rattled off the names of family, friends, mentors, players - even musicians - whom he credited for his basketball success.

“Allen’s speech, he thanked a lot of people,” said O’Neil. “It was very Allen Iverson. It was from the heart, it was passionate, it was a connection with the fans. It was a Philly crowd here, clearly, and he responds to it, and loves it.”

O’Neil felt Friday served as a launching pad of sorts for an organization aiming to make strides this season in respect to wins and losses.

“I think it’s a fantastic springboard, in that our players are really young,” O’Neil said. “They may not be as aware of the great history and tradition of this franchise, when you talk about Wilt [Chamberlain], Hal Greer, talk about Doc [Julius Erving], Moses [Malone], Mo Cheeks, [Charles] Barkley, A.I. era, and now we’re waiting for this new era to come.

“This team, I think they’re going to get a sense that a couple of constellations of young stars that we have on this roster are going to emerge and be that next superstar that’s made Philadelphia such a big basketball city.”

Sonny Hill, the long-time Philadelphia basketball fixture, travelled to Springfield to witness a culminating moment in Iverson’s career. Hill took the 2001 NBA MVP and 11-time All-Star under his wing after Iverson was drafted by the Sixers. He called Iverson’s speech Friday “extraordinary.”

“I thought he was dressed appropriately, and then some,” said Hill, approving of Iverson’s black suit, black button down collared shirt, and black tie ensemble. “I think that when the public sees him in that style, they have a different feeling about him. I think there’s an opportunity for them to see there’s a growth in who he is. I thought the maturity filtered through, in the fact that he wanted to pay respects to so many people that were a part of his life.”

Another prominent Iverson proponent believes there is more in store for the 41-year old father of five on the heels of Friday’s milestone achievement.

“I think this is just the beginning of Allen Iverson,” said Pat Croce, the team president from Iverson’s early years. “People think this is the apex, the top of the mountain. No way. He’s got a full life to live, and I’d just like to see him live it to the fullest.”

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