Friday, October 06, 2006

Iverson and the Sixers lose in Spain

The Sixers lost in Spain, but it's interesting to see how popular Iverson can be. Winterthur FC Barcelona was the home squad. Juan Carlos Navarro is the fans' hero. Last night, Allen Iverson was, as he remains in virtually every 76ers setting, the fans' darling.

Children in Iverson jerseys, most unable to speak English, wait outside the 76ers' practice facility, praying for a glimpse. Kids and adults lined the path leading to the security entrance of Palau Sant Jordi last night, all but begging for autographs. Evidence of Allen Iverson's massive popularity was all over the sold-out arena.

In fact, the people didn't get as much Iverson as they had hoped for (13 points, 3-for-12 shooting, six assists), but they saw their hometown team victory, 104-99, becoming the first team to defeat an NBA team on European soil.

"I think Allen is becoming sort of a youth lifestyle icon," commissioner David Stern admitted in a pregame news conference. "Kids like celebrities who are sort of perceived as loyal to themselves but not conforming to [standards] set by others.

"Allen has inherited that mantle, a genuine person on the one hand and an amazing competitor who throws his body into the match in terms of his physical intensity and his effort. That makes him popular in China, makes him popular in Europe and makes him popular in the United States".

Iverson is a major face of Reebook. More recently, he's become one of the faces of vitaminwater; he's even endorsing DAP body spray. Stern was more than ready to invoke a commercial slogan, mentioning the Reebok slogan, "I am what I am." In America, that's Iverson in many of the commercials and posters. In Europe, that's soccer star Thierry Henry.

It's good to mention that Stern said Iverson "personifies it, and that makes him very popular [on posters] in subway stations."

Stern claims that he knew this was coming "years ago when people whose judgments and values I respect said to me 'I didn't really think I should like Allen Iverson, but watching him on the court and the effort that he puts out makes it impossible for me not to be a fan of his and to admire him.' That, to me, was a seal."

Still, Stern has vivid memories of Iverson's formative years in the NBA, and of the times the commissioner had to summon the 6-foot guard to the league offices or make a disciplinary decision. Stern hasn't forgotten the moments when controversy seemed to be everywhere.

"I've just had to be a little bit of a tugboat, focusing on a little bit of change of direction off the court," Stern expressed, allowing himself a smile. "In some ways, I think we were running a little interference for him rather than disciplining him." he finished.