Philly Gives Its Heroes a Final Salute

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With 40.3 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, the First Union Center erupted with cheers even though the Philadelphia 76ers were trailing by seven points and the Lakers were about to clinch their second consecutive NBA title.

The reason?

Allen Iverson.

Fans cheered "M.V.P." and gave their hero one final ovation for a great season. Iverson, who scored 37 points Friday and averaged 35.6 points in the NBA Finals, just stood by the 76er sideline and soaked it in.

"Wasn't that fabulous?" Philadelphia team president Pat Croce said. "That's what he deserves. That's what he expects and that's what we do to show respect for Allen Iverson. Everyone was on their feet clapping, cheering and chanting 'M.V.P.' He's the man who is 6-foot tall with shoulders 6-foot wide to carry this team to the NBA Finals."

Once the game ended, Iverson--who set NBA Finals records in a five-game series in most points, field goals made and attempted--hugged many of his teammates and even a few Lakers. But he didn't wait around for questions from reporters. By the time the Lakers received their Larry O'Brien Trophy from Commissioner David Stern, Iverson, who suffered a rib injury in the first half on Friday, was already with his family and out of the building.

"He thought he cracked some ribs [and he kept playing]," Philadelphia Coach Larry Brown said about Iverson. "That's what that kid's all about. He had a phenomenal year. And I think being in this environment on this stage, people really recognize what an unbelievable competitor he is and what a great player. And I'm happy for him. I think he deserves that.

"Like I said, we would have never been in this position had it not been for his unbelievable play throughout the whole year."

Over the final moments of Game 5, it was truly a lovefest for the fans of Philadelphia and their team. NBA officials had some concern about how they would respond seeing their team lose the championship at home, but they shouldn't have worried. The crowd cheered the 76ers for their effort as if they had won the title.

"Aside from booing some obvious people, they're special," Brown said about the 76er fans. "I think they feel the same way I do about my team. They recognize when guys try and lay it on the line. I think they're very knowledgeable. They helped us get here. I don't think I've ever seen a team get any more support than, you know, we received. When you consider where we've come, it's been pretty amazing."

Throughout their playoff run, the 76ers received a ton of attention for their resiliency. They played through one injury after another and kept on fighting. When one player would go down, another would step in and this attitude carried them right to the Finals.

"You have to take satisfaction in what we've accomplished," said Aaron McKie, whose shooting slump continued in Game 5 when he finished with seven points on three-of-seven shooting.

"We've done a lot of good things this year. We can't let losing in the NBA Finals get us down. We have to take all the positives this season and work with that."

Because when the season started, the 76ers were mainly looked at as Iverson and a bunch of players. But Philadelphia showed the type of toughness that will make the 76ers a tough team for years to come.

"We overcame a lot of things this season," forward Tyrone Hill said. "From the trades and talk in the media saying we're not going to do this and do that and we don't have enough firepower to win our division. Stuff like that is what you build on. That's where you get your attitude from. That's where you get your character from because you're still trying to prove around the league that it doesn't matter who you have on your team, as long as you have 12 guys who are going in the same direction, you can do it."

But for now, the 76ers will get a chance to heal and get ready for the challenge to do it all again.

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