Wednesday, May 16, 2001

Pardon me while I stand up at the computer and give a big, fat cheer for Allen Iverson.

Not because he was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player yesterday after all, who else was there? Besides, we all know how well, how gloriously he can function with a basketball in his hand.

No, Iverson deserves a big, fat cheer for surmounting a whole bunch of problems and perceptions to become the shortest player (6 feet, give or take a cornrow or two) to become MVP.

Let’s see …

There was that bowling alley brawl in Hampton, Va., at which Iverson has insisted he was a bystander, that led to his conviction, jail time and eventual pardon by Gov. Douglas Wilder.

There was his “what the hell’s a Hoya” departure after two years from Georgetown, where his talents were such that coach John Thompson scrapped his pivot-oriented offense and, in effect, told Iverson to do whatever he wanted.

There was all that animosity between Iverson and 76ers coach Larry Brown, who reportedly tried hard last summer to trade him.

There were the ‘rows and tattoos, which turned off many older people.

There were his “friends,” members of a traveling entourage that surrounded Iverson and seemed capable of inflicting damage on anyone who ventured too close to his person.

There was the rap CD with lyrics termed “coarse, offensive and anti-social” by NBA commissioner David Stern.

Yes, Iverson had a lot of negatives to overcome. Today, though with the Sixers just two wins away from the Eastern Conference finals it’s hard to view him in anything but positive terms.

On his WTEM-AM gabfest yesterday, the usually taciturn Thompson confessed that “I screamed” when he learned late Monday night of the MVP vote. Iverson, a guest on the show, was totally in character his new, nicer character, that is.

“This is a tribute to my high school coach, you and Coach Brown everybody who helped me develop my game,” said Allen, sounding about as confrontational as Cal Ripken. “I think the MVP award that was voted me by the players meant a little more, but this means a lot, too, because I’ve been through so much [difficulty] with the media.”

Somewhere along the way from training camp to the postseason, Iverson realized that Brown, himself a star guard at North Carolina several decades ago, was not the devil incarnate. In a long Sports Illustrated piece recently, writer Gary Smith suggested that the skinny black kid from rural Virginia and the skinny Jewish kid from Noo Yawk had a great deal in common. Certainly, that’s true in their desire to win a desire so strong that it overcame any differences between them in background, age and race.

Both men deserve credit for realizing that. To state it in the most pragmatic terms, they needed each other if the 76ers were to become noted for anything more significant than the aging-hippie persona of team president Pat Croce.

As far as the MVP Award is concerned, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal and Chris Webber can go sit in a corner. All of them had perfectly dandy seasons, but if we are to take the term “most valuable” literally not just as a synonym for “best” it was impossible to vote for anyone else.

Last season with Iverson contributing 28.4 points between hassles with Brown, the Sixers finished an OK 49-33 and bowed out in the Eastern Conference semifinals. This season, with Iverson contributing 31.1 points and a newly unselfish attitude, they improved to 56-26.

I don’t have anything against the Toronto Raptors, other than their ridiculous nickname, but I’d like to see the Sixers finish them off tonight and Friday, win the Eastern finals against the Hornets or Bucks and play the Lakers in the NBA Finals. It would be fascinating to learn whether Iverson could trump L.A.’s sometimes antagonistic aces, Shaq and Kobe Bryant, and return the title to Philly for the first time since the articulate Moses Malone nearly delivered on his “fo’, fo’ and fo’ ” prediction in 1983.

Certainly the Lakers have more talent than the Sixers, especially with forward George Lynch all done following surgery to repair his broken left foot, but I wouldn’t bet against Iverson and his gang and that phrase has a pleasant connotation now.

For too long, we’ve all had our fill of superduper athletes who think their talent excuses them from following normal rules and regulations on and off the field of battle. If Iverson was a little too full of himself in years gone by, it’s nice to see him turn into an ultimate team man whom we can and should admire.

Like I say, Allen Iverson deserves a big, fat cheer. Or putting it in more contemporary language, “Go, baby!”

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