In the Christian Bible Jesus tells the parable of the "Prodigal Son" (Luke 15:11-32). In the story a father has two sons, the younger who demands his father's inheritance while he is still living. He goes off to a distant country and wastes his resources on riotous living and eventually has to work as a "swineherd" (clearly a low point as swine are unclean in Judaism.)
The son comes to his senses and returns home to throw himself at his father's mercy. His father welcomes him with open arms and allows him to express his repentance. Then the father kills a fatted calf to celebrate his return. His older son resents the special treatment and complains for the lack of reward for his own faithfulness. The father responds: "My son, you are always with me and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found."
This is a classic story of love, redemption and forgiveness. Allen Iverson's recent signing with his former basketball team, the Philadelphia 76ers in many ways parallels this parable. Only in this case the father is represented by the Sixers' fans of whom AI recently said: "They love me and I love them."
After ten seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers, two with Denver and one with Detroit and Memphis, Allen Iverson had decided to call it quits. It seems he could not adjust to the role of bench player. It was not a very glorious ending for a ten-time All-Star and two-time MVP who has the fifth highest scoring average of all time. As a Sixer he led the team to the NBA Finals in 2001.
Even with all of these accolades, controversy constantly surrounded AI off the court. He was criticized for missing or being late to practices and his so-called "posse" of friends that stuck with him from high school were constantly getting him into trouble.
Iverson's speech at his recent press conference was part joyous, part repentant and all raw emotion. I was moved to tears hearing Allen's heart felt expression of gratitude at the second chance he has been given. Even his harshest critics had to admit that his tears were genuine (even Howard Eskin.)
Allen seemed truly humbled by how his reputation had made him undesirable to the rest of the league and his assessment of his past was contrite: "With the mistakes I've made in my life, I've created a picture of me that's not me. I did a lot of things when I was young that I'm not proud of. But I think those things helped me to be the man that I am now."
Iverson's fans have always forgiven him. They know that he gives 150% when he is on the court. Who knows if this will help the 76ers get to the playoffs or how long AI will stay. But for now there is a buzz in the city and an excitement for basketball that has been missing for a long time. Ticket sales have soared for Monday night's game. Everyone is anticipating the return of the Prodigal Son.