DENVER -- He's a different person now. Not even close to the one he was before he got here. For the four-fifths of the world who wanted Allen Iverson to change, your wish finally has come true. Because the AI you see now, the one who is battling to get the Nuggets past the Spurs and (hopefully, eventually) into the NBA Finals, is the one who never expected to have his life turn out the way it has.
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It's apparent that Allen Iverson is happy to be in Denver -- even after
a Game 3 loss against the Spurs.
As the film started to roll, the Iverson who no one has seen since his days as a child began to emerge, began to tell the story that never really has been told. And through all of the reminiscing of his life coming up in the "sewer" (as he said John Thompson called it), from his football days in Newport News, Va., to his battles with a certain security guard during his four-month stint in jail to getting to know songwriter Bruce Hornsby when he was young, the smile on his face indicated how he is not who he once was.
His life story is one thing. What his life has become is another.
It's amazing the impact a trade can have on a player. Especially when that trade sends the player to a place he's been to but never experienced. Allen Iverson's life before he came to Denver was confined to concrete. All he knew was 'hood and hardship, the ghetto and ghetto fabulousness. East Coast livin' to the utmost. He rep'd it like no other.
Now out West, a serenity inside of him has taken over. He's still the same AI, but even as he sits in the NY fitted, he is no longer in an NY state of mind.
Even though the Nuggets lost Saturday's game and are down 2-1 in their first-round series against San Antonio, it has no effect on how Iverson feels now. He's in the playoffs. He's on a team that has a legit chance to advance. He's playing for the first time in his professional career without the pressure of carrying an entire franchise on his 165-pound frame.
For the first time as an adult, Allen Iverson is at peace. Like the difference between Alex Rodriguez last year and now.
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Iverson still knows how to turn the corner when the situation calls for it.
In his own words he asks me, "How could you not love being here?" Inhaling the altitude, absorbing his new release on life.
"Are you happy?" I ask him.
He just looked at me and responded -- with that smile you can see from his eyes, "Can't you tell?"
"This trade changed him," Iverson's personal manager, Gary Moore, said just before the Nuggets were introduced to the largest home crowd in franchise history. "He finally got to see the other side of life. He sees how life really can be."
The weather, the school systems (for his kids), the mountains (even though he hasn't gone there yet), the peacefulness, the cleanness, the attitude of the people, the reduced stress, the embrace he's gotten since his plane landed here in that January snowstorm.
As someone once said, "Even Stevie Wonder sounds different out here when you hear him on the radio."
I make the comment that this is all good, but once Chuck (Allen's nickname) retires from here, he's going to move back to Philly to live as a king. Gary shot the comment down like Baron Davis did Dallas on Sunday night.
"Never," Gary said. "When he's done, Allen is staying out West. We love this. I can guarantee you that he is never moving back East to live."
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Iverson, a Virginia native, paid tribute to the victims of the Virginia Tech shooting with this patch.
Iverson seems to be falling into that same beautiful hole.
Because now it seems as if the AI the world has never seen is about to be on display for as long as he's in a Nuggets uniform. Nothing, it seems, can erase the feeling of utopia he now has inside. Not a San Antonio radio station skit that portrayed him as a weed-smoking thug or J.R. Smith's Fred Brown-like turnover that cost Denver the game or the fact that the NBA made Iverson (and Carmelo Anthony, who played at Virginia's Oak Hill Academy as a high school senior) remove their Virginia Tech tribute patches from their arm sleeves.
In the 40 minutes he sat and talked for the doc, the aura of Iverson could be felt by all who were in the room. Even when the conversation took serious turns, the smile never left his face, never left from inside of him. It's amazing how even though in the end he "requested" to be moved from Philadelphia, how it took a trade that he never really wanted to happen to get to this new place in his life. A place that, especially if he ever wins a championship, he may never leave. A place I think he's been trying to find since the first day he ever bounced a basketball.
Like they say: Be careful what you wish for in life, God just might make you happy. Even if you happen to be Allen Iverson.