Ann Iverson could tell that her son, Allen, was looking forward to Sunday. He shut the motors down on Saturday. That was how she could tell.
"That boy, he's g-o, go, all the time," Ann said on Sunday afternoon. "You know how he is on the court, running around? That's how he is the rest of the time, too. On Saturday, though, he didn't go anywhere. He ate his meal in his hotel room, took his vitamins. He had his hairstylist come to the room. He didn't go anywhere."
On the road Allen, the Philadelphia 76ers' superstar guard, usually calls the front desk for a VCR, looking to put his head in a movie. This time he put his head in basketball.
"All he watched was sports," Ann said. " ESPN, CNN, NBC, TNT, wherever there was sports. He watched the highlights of those Saturday games a million times. He never does that before a game."
His 12:30 p.m. date on Sunday with the Orlando Magic at the O-rena was his playoff coming-out party, at the end of his third NBA season. Last Thursday he had become, at 6 feet, the shortest player to lead the league in scoring. This was an accomplishment, to be sure, but the playoffs...ah, they're another matter.
"What's bigger than butterflies?" Iverson said on Sunday. "A buzzard? I had a buzzard in my stomach. I slept a little, but I kept waking up. I was up at 5:30 in the morning, ready to go."
He thought the butterflies—the buzzard—would go away after the tip-off, as they usually do, but the nervousness stayed for two minutes, three minutes, four. He clanked a 20-foot jumper. He made a pass that was intercepted. His man, Darrell Armstrong, shook free for a pair of three-pointers. He lost the ball. Was this how the playoffs were going to be? Nerve-racking? Different?
With 6:51 left in the first period, he took a pass from center Matt Geiger and hit a 17-footer. Never mind. Basketball is basketball.
"It was the Allen Iverson Show, as usual," Magic coach Chuck Daly said after Iverson's 30 points and seven assists had led the sixth-seeded Sixers to a 104-90 win over the third-seeded Magic. "It doesn't matter what you do to him, who you have guard him, he's going to get his 25 points or more."
The smallest man on the floor was his usual, dominating self. Orlando tried four men on him—Armstrong, Nick Anderson, Penny Hardaway and Matt Harpring—and none of them could keep up with his pell-mell pace. Even when he was hurried into bad shots because big men jumped out to double-team him, the hole the big men left was filled by Philadelphia rebounders, who piled up a 57-36 advantage on the boards. Even his bad shots (he was 12 of 29 shooting) weren't really bad.