- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 23, 2006

DENVER — With just two hours to go before his first game with his new team, Allen Iverson, who had just arrived in Colorado from Philadelphia, interrupted his trip to the training room. He put off a rushed physical that he was already late for so he could thank DerMarr Johnson, the player who for his first 12 games of the season wore No. 3 for the Denver Nuggets.

Johnson gave the 3 up so Iverson could continue to wear the number he made famous for the first 10 seasons of his career.

“I’d rather him have it than I,” said Johnson, a reserve forward who now will wear No. 8. “I was thinking about having to give it up as soon as they started talking about [the trade from the 76ers].”

Often players buy numbers from teammates. But not in this case.

“That man doesn’t have to give me nothing for that,” said Johnson, a District native. “He’s earned whatever he wants.”

In Denver, which was blanketed by more than 20 inches of snow, members of the Nuggets organization and fan base are looking at Iverson as an early Christmas present. The four-time scoring champion and seven-time All Star was traded here earlier in the week in exchange for point guard Andre Miller, forward Joe Smith and two first-round picks in next summer’s draft.

In Iverson, Denver inherits an icon. More responsible than any other player for the hip-hop image that the NBA has embraced, Iverson might be the closest thing in the league to a rock star.

Last night Iverson came off the bench with 3:25 left in the first quarter. He was greeted by a standing ovation that lasted for a little more than a minute as he replaced diminutive Earl Boykins. By halftime Iverson had seven points and three assists. He finished with 22 points and 10 assists in 39 minutes, but the shorthanded Nuggets lost to the Kings 101-96.

As he left the floor following an interview with ESPN, he was cheered loudly again, and blew a kiss to his new adoring fans as he exited to the press room.

Demand for his jersey already is high here. However, a snowstorm that shut down the city forced a plane with more than 2,000 Iverson Nuggets jerseys to be re-routed from a Reebok factory back east to Kentucky.

“Hopefully we’ll get them tomorrow, but it looks like they’ll probably get here by Tuesday,” a retail spokesperson said before the game. “We got flooded with Internet requests for them and call-ins. The phone has been ringing off the hook ever since the trade.”

Phil Mitchell, 40, an emergency room physician in Littleton, Colo., attended the game last night with his 6-year-old daughter Caley who, decked out in Carmelo Anthony’s white and powder-blue No. 15 jersey, eagerly awaited the emergence of the new superstar in town.

Naysayers already contend that Anthony and Iverson — who rank first and second in the league with 31.6 and 31.2 points a game, respectively — cannot coexist. But none of that negativity hovered in Pepsi Center.

“I think this is the difference that this team needed,” Mitchell said. “There aren’t that many superstars in the league, real superstars who are guys of this caliber. Carmelo is one and now they’re bringing in an established guy like Iverson. I think it immediately turns this team into a championship-caliber team. The Nuggets have two powerhouse players.”

Mitchell, a native of South Jersey, grew up a Philadelphia 76ers fan.

“I gave up on them right after they traded Charles Barkley,” he said. “I was finished with them after that.”

Unfortunately for the Nuggets, they won’t get a chance to see just how potent Anthony and Iverson will be until Anthony has served a 15-game suspension for his role in a brawl between the Nuggets and the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 16. The Nuggets’ third-leading scorer, J.R. Smith, receive a 10-game suspension for his role in the melee.

At 108.8 points a game, the Nuggets are the second-highest scoring team in the league. The Phoenix Suns averaged 110.8 a game heading into last night’s contest with the Washington Wizards.

Johnson believes that it will take some time to get everyone on the same page. But he doesn’t expect that to be a huge problem.

“Not the way we get up and down the court. [Coach George Karl] lets us play,” said Johnson, a fifth-year veteran. “We play up and down and that’s the way A.I. likes to play. Nobody thinks this won’t work. Just a fool.”

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