A llen Iverson and Jerome Allen shared an NBA court once, on Jan. 19, 1997.
Allen was a second-year bench player for the Pacers, while Iverson, more memorably, was in the process of taking the NBA by storm in his rookie season.
On that night, Allen provided much-needed energy off the bench, posting five points in 22 minutes of play.
Meanwhile, Iverson went off. Despite shooting just 9-for-24 from the field, the Answer lit up the box score, posting 37 points, his sixth-highest scoring total from that rookie year.
Because of Iverson’s performance, it almost didn’t matter that, thanks to Reggie Miller’s excellence, the Pacers were still able to defeat the Sixers, 111-107.
Allen’s NBA career ended that season in Denver, after the Pacers swapped him for Darvin Ham late in the year, while Iverson took all of Philadelphia on a passion-filled, “Practice?”-laden roller-coaster ride over his 12-year career.
But last Saturday, just miles away from one another, both men entered their respective sanctuaries once again. While Iverson’s home was always in South Philadelphia, Allen was most revered during his time as an Ivy League superstar at the Palestra.
And in both cases, a chapter in their lives ended.
For Iverson, the Sixers celebrated his retirement, raising his jersey to the rafters and forever cementing his place in Philadelphia sports lore.
When Iverson stepped to the podium, the first thing he said was, “I feel like I’m dreaming.”
Allen had similar words four years ago, when he was officially hired as Penn’s new head coach. “It feels like I’m living a dream,” he said at his introductory press conference.
In Iverson’s case, Saturday night was a celebration of the past.
For Allen, it was simply a reminder of how dark the future looks.
Iverson’s image has endured, surviving off-the-court problems and allowing fans to still stand and applaud him years after he donned a Sixers jersey for the last time. He is still living his dream.
Allen, however, has quickly watched the dream of which he spoke when he was hired fade to a harsh reality. While Iverson still feels at home amongst the Philadelphia faithful, the Palestra faithful are quickly racking up just as many negative memories for Allen as coach as it did positive memories during his time as a player. His teams are just 33-36 at the Cathedral of College Basketball.
While Fran Dunphy had a 160-52 home record as Penn’s coach, Allen’s style of home cooking is more akin to Dunphy’s successor, Glen Miller . But even Miller posted an above .500 mark at the Palestra, going 24-23 in home games during his tenure.
Saturday was Senior Night at the Palestra, the last home game for the five seniors Allen inherited when he took over for Miller. Before the game, he said goodbye to one of the best people off the court for Penn basketball in Dau Jok , strong leaders like Fran Dougherty and Miles Jackson-Cartwright and important role players in Cam Gunter and Steve Rennard .
But once the game tipped off, the crowd slowly shifted from energetic to apathetic. Yet again, Allen’s team came up short, this time unable to provide a deserving group of seniors the chance to leave the Palestra with a win.
“We’ve been through a lot together,” Allen said. “I obviously wish we could have won more games, but as human beings, they have great character and they never take a day off. I respect them for giving us what they could.”
On the court, people respond to effort. That is why Philadelphia has not since fallen for an athlete in the same way as it did for Iverson. He cared about winning just as much as the craziest Sixers fan in the stands on any given night. If you watched him play for just a minute in crunch time, it was impossible not to be drawn to him.
People loved Allen for the same reasons as a player. But when he became a coach, he lost his ability to show the effort that he gives. As a coach, all that matters is wins and losses.
And on the last Ivy home weekend for 11 months, Allen came up short yet again.
Iverson is still living the dream because he let his play speak for itself.
When Allen took over as Penn’s coach, he gave up that ability.
And so, when he says following another winless Ivy home weekend, “There aren’t any easy wins in this league,” the words fall hollow, because the numbers have already told the story.
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