Wait a minute. So the Philadelphia 76ers, losers of 13 of their last 14 games and owners of the East's second-worst record, are coming to the Garden on Friday night — and Allen Iverson, the only reason this team is even remotely worth watching, is missing in action with … arthritis?
It's fitting, really. Iverson's joints have been through as much trauma as his career. It makes perfect sense that he hobbles into Boston, 34 years old and eons past his prime, unable even to come off the bench for a few minutes and dazzle us. This is what Iverson has become.
A decade ago, we knew him as the NBA's next big thing. He was the game's most fiery competitor since Michael Jordan, the most explosive little guy since Isiah Thomas, the most gifted athlete since … who knows when. Iverson was a one-man show, a spectacle to behold, a reason to show up to the arena. Iverson alone was a reason to watch basketball.
He's changed now. He's no longer an incredible physical specimen, a sight to behold on the basketball court — he's a study in human psychology. Seeing him walk into the gym inspires questions — questions about Iverson as a player, as a competitor, as a person. He just makes you ask "why?"
Why is he so determined to come back and prove himself? What about Iverson hasn't been proven already? What are we, the fans, going to learn from this Iverson-Philadelphia reunion tour that we didn't already know?
It's not about championships. The Sixers are in the midst of an epic losing streak, one that Iverson has done nothing to rectify. They'll be lucky to win 20 games this season, much less contend for a playoff berth in the East, much less bring Iverson anywhere close to winning that elusive first championship ring of his career. Forget about it.
It's not about numbers, either. How could it be? Since his return to Philly two weeks ago, the man has played five games, logged about 170 minutes and scored 78 points. That's hardly even a blip on the radar for a legend like Iverson.
So what is this about, really? It's about ego. It's about The Answer lacing up the shoes, taking the court and playing, just to prove he can. Just to stick it to everyone who thought he was done. Just to prove them all wrong. Iverson has a vendetta against the basketball world.
But it's hard to silence the haters if you don't see the floor. And now the reunion tour bus, due to an arthritic left knee and a left shoulder contusion, is taking a pit stop.
The guy we're about to see walk into the TD Garden is a mere mortal. He's an aging former star, wishing he could make us all remember the glory days, but a little confused about how to do it.
Seeing the Celtics and Sixers is supposed to make us all appreciate basketball history. It's a pair of historic franchises with a storied rivalry, and the men on the floor are future Hall of Famers. Kevin Garnett. Ray Allen. Paul Pierce. Iverson. Maybe, once all is said and done, a few more.
But rather than reminisce about the past, basketball fans will spend Friday night confused about the present. AI has seen his career take a strange turn, and no one really knows where it's going.
At the moment, he's headed nowhere but the one place he hates most of all: the bench.