Happy return

The Baltimore Sun

In sports, often we're OK with buying in to stereotypes.

I don't mean nasty, black-hearted stereotypes that pigeonhole whole ethnic groups, but rather those wide-world-of-fun-and-games stereotypes.

You know what I'm talking about. Duke basketball. Alex Rodriguez. The Oakland Raiders.

Steadfastly clinging to a narrow perspective about players and teams keeps sports familiar to us, which means comfortable. And sometimes, we're reluctant to give up certain strong beliefs because to do otherwise would require us to admit we might have been wrong.

Last night, two familiar forces of the sports world were on a collision course when Denver was in Philadelphia for an NBA game - Nuggets guard Allen Iverson and Philadelphia's sports fans.

There were 50 photographers and reporters waiting for the Denver bus and Iverson's arrival for his first game in Philadelphia since he was traded to the Nuggets in December 2006.

And talk about stereotypes. The hard-charging but occasionally thoughtless superstar ("How the hell can I make my teammates better by practicing?") and the most vitriolic fan base this side of the Atlantic (Santa Claus-snowballs, jeering injured players).

Crash. Stereotypes shattered.

Here are Iverson's pre-game comments from a Philadelphia newspaper account:

"I'm 32 years old now, simple as that. That's the only answer I can give you. I don't make the mistakes, do some of the things I was accustomed to doing anymore. I don't want to be that person that I used to be. ... I would never want to throw away the experience I had in Philadelphia. I don't regret anything, but I'm just not that same person."

During player introductions, fans at the Wachovia Center gave Iverson a standing ovation that lasted more than a minute and nearly brought him to tears.

Iverson scored 32 points but missed a jump shot at the end that could have tied it. The 76ers won, 115-113.

A curious thing about the Iverson trade is that it was obviously intended - from the Denver side - to push the Nuggets over the top in the very tough Western Conference. Conversely, the deal meant that Philadelphia was resigned to a protracted rebuilding.

But this season, despite being 40-28, the Nuggets are still 2 1/2 games away from the playoff cutoff in the West, and at 34-34, Philadelphia is five games on the plus side of the playoff demarcation line in the East.

And that's what really makes sports fun. You just never know - which is the flip side of stereotypes.

Note -- Yesterday in this space, I chronicled some of the No. 16 seeds in NCAA tournament history that nearly knocked off a No. 1 seed, something Mount St. Mary's will try to pull off against North Carolina tonight. I left out Towson State scaring No. 1 Oklahoma in 1990 before losing, 77-68. Towson trailed 60-58 with less than seven minutes left in the game and closed within four at 66-62. Kurk Lee scored 30 for the Tigers. Thanks to reader Bob Dickerson for the reminder.bill.ordine@baltsun.com

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