PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Allen Iverson cupped his hand to his left ear and asked to hear his favorite tune one more time.
With that command, 20,000 roaring Philadelphia 76ers fans gave AI the standing ovation he earned by stamping himself as one of the franchise’s all-time greats.
Iverson, emotional as he thanked former teammates and friends, had his No. 3 retired at halftime of Saturday’s game against Washington.
“They all wanted me to talk about how much y’all loved me,” Iverson said, “but trust me, the feeling was mutual.”
Iverson officially retired in October after last playing in 2010. He won four scoring titles for the Sixers and was the 2001 MVP when he led them to the NBA Finals. He never won a championship, the lone omission in a career that is destined for the Hall of Fame.
The Sixers may as well have turned the arena into an AI museum. Four banners greeted fans at the main concourse entrance, and photos of him were plastered all around the arena. The merchandise stands sold Iverson jerseys for $130, and lower level tickets were going for as much for $1,280 on Stubhub about an hour before the 7:30 p.m. tipoff.
The fans loved him, and he blew them kisses after the No. 3 was raised to show how much he loved them back.
“I am Philly,” Iverson said. “It’s always going to be that way.”
Iverson’s return injected a rare dose of excitement into a franchise playing some of the worst basketball in the league. The Sixers, in full-blown rebuilding mode, had lost 12 straight entering Saturday’s game.
The losing didn’t matter much Saturday, just the memories.
The Sixers wore special “Iverson Forever” patches on their jerseys and Iverson’s 3 on their pregame warmup shirts.
“It’s a great example of how this city responds to somebody that they clearly think the world of and brought such exciting times to the city of Philadelphia,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said.
The Sixers’ retirement gift was a boat named in honor of his nickname, “The Answer.”
“It feels good,” Iverson said after the ceremony, “but some part of my heart hurts because I know it’s over.”