NBA

Final Answer: Iverson back with 76ers

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PHILADELPHIA (AP)

Allen Iverson's first stint with the Philadelphia 76ers ended with the team yanking his nameplate off his locker and editing him out of video highlights before he was even traded.

The Sixers might want to find him a new locker and cue up some clips. Philly fans, pull out that No. 3 jersey from the closet. A.I. is a Sixer again.

In a move that appeared farfetched after their acrimonious split in 2006, the 76ers reunited with the briefly retired Iverson on Wednesday in a move designed to spike sagging attendance and fill in for the injured Lou Williams.

Coach Eddie Jordan said Iverson likely will start and stay the entire season.

"I told him I would like for him to start, and that's where it sort of ended," Jordan said. "And he was really like a kid at Christmas."

The 34-year-old Iverson will make his debut Monday night at home against Denver - one of three teams he's called home since leaving Philly. The 10-time All-Star-turned-journeyman is determined to prove he still has something to offer in that No. 3 jersey. His new boss is betting Iverson can help the staggering Sixers make a push in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

"He's like a rock star," team president Ed Stefanski said.

And he's back for his encore.

He antagonized his coaches and opponents his first time around. Perhaps humbled, he signed after being reduced to a bench player in Detroit and Memphis and forced to accept the veteran's minimum salary to return to his NBA roots.

"If there's going to be a chance for him to do it and make it work, there's no doubt in my mind Philadelphia is the best spot for him to try and do it," Stefanski said.

Stefanski took a low risk financially to sign Iverson, but possibly derailed the long-term improvement of a slumping team tying to build around a core of young players. Rookie Jrue Holiday, who started at point guard for Williams, heads to the bench, and Jordan's Princeton offense could hit the scrap heap.

The Iverson-to-Philly talks were underway once Williams was lost for eight weeks with a broken jaw. Stefanski said he never would have considered a second act for Iverson had it not been for the injury.

Iverson's reps asked Stefanski about a possible comeback last week. Iverson, his agent and business manager met with Stefanski and Jordan on Monday to jump-start contract talks.

Iverson was offered a one-year, non-guaranteed contract Tuesday, according to a person who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the talks were private. He accepted the deal early Wednesday.

The Sixers would owe just under $650,000 if they guarantee his contract for the remainder of the season on Jan. 10.

"The whole situation wasn't about the contract and the money," Iverson's agent, Leon Rose, told The Associated Press. "It was about the opportunity and the chance to come to Philadelphia."

The Sixers (5-13) had lost seven straight entering Wednesday night's game at Oklahoma City. The losing and lack of a marquee name have them buried in 29th in the NBA in attendance.

Sixers VP of business operations Lara Price declined to say how many tickets were purchased for Monday's homecoming, but said: "We have seen a big jump in ticket sales as a result of today's announcement."

Sixers management insisted Iverson's signing was strictly a basketball move and not to necessarily boost the gate.

It had the city buzzing. Fans flooded sports radio stations to talk Iverson, TV stations cut in with live updates, and Internet message board posters were roused with his addition.

Jordan, speaking at Wednesday morning's shootaround, was thrilled to have Iverson.

"Without really seeing him on the floor, I would like to compare him to Brett Favre, a guy who people think is too old to play and he's almost having an MVP year," Jordan said. "That's off the top of my head. When I woke up this morning, I said, 'Maybe he can be that.' It's not a big maybe. I think he can be that."

Except for a brief flirtation with the New York Knicks, no other organization was seriously interested in signing Iverson.

Iverson, nicknamed "The Answer," regularly played 40 minutes when he was NBA MVP in 2001 and led the Sixers to the finals. Philadelphia hasn't won a playoff series since 2003.

In 10 seasons with the Sixers, Iverson posted the highest scoring average in team history (28.1), was second on the points list (19,583) and holds the record for 3-pointers (877). He was a seven-time All-Star, won four scoring titles and two All-Star game MVPs.

Iverson's last game with Philadelphia was Dec. 6, 2006, in Chicago. He refused to play the fourth quarter, had a severe falling out with former coach Maurice Cheeks and was banished from the team. Chairman Ed Snider and former GM Billy King sent Iverson home while they worked on trading their superstar.

He was eventually sent to Denver as part of the Andre Miller deal, and bounced to Detroit before landing in Memphis.

Snider has publicly welcomed him back.

"When he left our organization I did say, 'We're gonna trade him,' but that was only after he requested to be traded," Snider said in a statement. "This is an opportunity for him to shine here in Philadelphia, where it all started, with the most positive outcome."

The 6-foot Iverson played three games this season with Memphis before taking a leave of absence to attend to personal matters. He was waived after the two sides agreed to part ways.

Iverson will get a look at another former team after playing Denver. The Sixers play at home Dec. 9 against Detroit.

Sixers leading scorer Andre Iguodala, a former Iverson teammate, said he gave management the OK to make the move.

"That was pretty easy," he said. "I think all the guys on our team, whether they've played with him or not, realize what he can do. He can play."

Iverson was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1996 draft, but his 10 turbulent seasons in Philadelphia were marred by rants about practice, run-ins with former coach Larry Brown, arrests and a failed rap career.

In one infamous blowup at the end of the 2002 season, he repeated the word "practice" nearly 20 times during a rambling monologue.

"We had, at times, a rocky road with Allen Iverson, but we also had a fantastic run with Allen," Peter Luukko, COO of Comcast-Spectacor, which owns the 76ers and Flyers, told The AP. "The expectations with Allen have changed dramatically. We're not looking for Allen to individually lead this team the way he has in the past."

Iverson has a career average of 27 points in 889 games over 14 seasons, and is tied for the fifth-highest scoring average in NBA history. He ranks third among active players.

"It's a great challenge, and I think it's a motivational aspect to it, too," Jordan said. "Guys are going to be jacked up. He's a winner, he's an assassin on the floor and that sort of thing is contagious."

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Tagged: 76ers

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