"I'm a giant. You all midgets."
—Allen (Jewelz) Iverson, 40 Bars
Atop the front desk of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine's student activity center, there is a sign-in list that for the past couple of weeks has contained some of the most remarkable hen scratchings in the City of Brotherly Love since Ben Franklin's plume graced documents of liberty. Take this astonishing morsel straight from last Thursday's PCOM ledger:
11/2/00... Allen Iverson...9:37 a.m.
Note the barely decipherable signature. Note the concise style. Note the time. Less than 11 hours after he had scored 24 points and mildly sprained his right knee in the Philadelphia 76ers' physical 104-90 home victory over the Toronto Raptors, shooting guard Allen Iverson pulled his burgundy Bentley up to the college—practice site for the Sixers—23 minutes early. Twenty-three! Sadly for posterity's sake, verifiers from the Guinness book were not on hand at the time.
If it appears that Christmas has come to Philadelphia early this year; if it looks as though everyone at the First Union Center has a goofy smile on his face; if it seems as if the 76ers, 4-0 at week's end, are already halfway to the Eastern Conference title—let's give credit where credit is due. Iverson, heretofore Roget's suggested synonym for irresponsible, immature and headache, has begun to grow up. Yeah, yeah, he's a work in progress. Yeah, yeah, a relapse or six are probably inevitable. Still, nobody can deny that Iverson (a.k.a. the Answer), the indisputable king of basketball's me-me-me generation, is trying to shed the reputation he built last season, when he missed or arrived late to some 50 practices, bickered with coach Larry Brown, lost the respect of several teammates and adhered strictly to the Roseanne Barr Fitness Regimen of minimal exercise and daily Taco Bell runs.
In August, before training camp even opened, he asked Brown to appoint him co-captain, along with last season's captain, point guard Eric Snow. After scrutinizing Iverson's attitude and punctuality during camp, Brown did just that. "I finally looked in the mirror," says the 6-foot Iverson. "This is my fifth year, and I haven't won a championship. I had to stop acting like a kid and start doing some extra work. There were a lot of small things Coach Brown wanted me to do that I didn't do and should've never had a problem doing. Now I'm doing 'em."
Like weight training. Every member of the Sixers is required to lift three or four times per week. Iverson loves the weight room about as much as he loves Wilson Phillips. John Croce, the team's physical conditioning coach, fined him $2,500 several times last season for regularly skipping sessions. Since the start of training camp Iverson has a perfect attendance mark. "Allen reported at 155 pounds," says Croce. "We set one goal—that he be up to 170 for the first game of the regular season. He was 172. Allen gets in and out of here as fast as he can, but at least he's in and out. And every so often he'll walk by and flex. It's a start."
So is Iverson's newfound interest in his teammates. In an exhibition game against the Utah Jazz on Oct. 22, rookie guard Craig (Speedy) Claxton tore his left ACL. Two minutes after Claxton—who was drafted in part to replace Iverson should the Answer be traded—was carried into the locker room, Iverson left the bench to check on his prot�g�. On Oct. 31, after Philly's 101-72 season-opening bombardment of the Knicks in New York, Jumaine Jones, the Sixers' second-year forward, began shouting at Knicks point guard Chris Childs. Iverson, hardly one of the league's coolest heads, wrapped his arm around Jones's waist. "C'mon, man, don't concern yourself with that," he said. "Let's just take the win and go home."
"Anyone who says Allen doesn't care about the guys hasn't watched our team very much," says Philadelphia guard Aaron McKie. "He'll always stand up for us."
Of all the things that scream new Iverson! the one that has Brown drooling and the Sixers rolling (their record includes back-to-back road wins over the Orlando Magic and the Miami Heat) is his embrace of the—gasp!—pass. In his first four games, the Answer has averaged 5.0 assists, compared to 2.8 last season. Against the Knicks, Iverson's eight assists included several dandies. Early in the fourth quarter he slashed past Childs toward the basket, where he was met by 6'11" Marcus Camby and 6'9" Kurt Thomas. Without looking up, Iverson fired a laser to forward Toni Kukoc, who buried the wide-open shot. "Allen's learning that great players have the ball in their hands at the end of the game and that sometimes they give it up," says Brown. " Michael Jordan passed to John Paxson. He passed to Steve Kerr. Michael knew he could've done it himself, but he also knew guys were open. Finally, Allen sees it too."