Basketball: Big 3
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Allen Iverson didn’t play at the Big3, and Philly fans booed

Fans came to see AI play. Instead they got Fat Joe. Here’s a running diary.

danlevy_0328s

What do you do when you go to see Allen Iverson make his return to Philly and 10 minutes before the first of four very long 3-on-3 games he announces on Instagram that he’s not playing? Cry? Crack jokes on Twitter? Boo?

There was all of that Sunday night.

This is a totally incomplete running diary of The Big3 experience at Wells Fargo Center. It started fine. It ended with fans walking out early.

Pregame

The media workroom was a bar. That seems about right.

Two minutes after walking into the DraftKings lounge just off the floor of the Well Fargo Center and looking for a spot to work — and a power outlet somewhere — who walked in? None other than Allen Iverson, who stopped to say hello to some old Philly media types before quickly exiting the room. It turns out, A.I. must have been looking for someone to record that Instagram video for him. He said he’d coach, but if we know Philly, the people in attendance were not going to be thrilled about this news.

Mayor Iverson

A.I. may not have been on the court, but he was the king of the concourse, signing autographs and taking pictures with fans. The line was so long there were hundreds of disappointed fans when he had to leave. I still don’t think any of those people knew at the time he wasn’t going to play. It could have gotten ugly.

Man, @theofficialai3 could run for Philly mayor and win in a landslide.

A post shared by Dan Levy (@danlevythinks) on

Biggest cheer

This isn’t even close.

The ovation for Iverson and Erving was enormous. The bottom bowl of WFC was mostly full, and it was in full throat when the two Sixers legends were introduced. It got loud when they spoke too.

Before the final game, the biggest cheer of the night was when a woman came out of the stands to hit a four-point shot for $200. Then a dude was offered $500 because it was his birthday threw up an airball.

Every time the hype man tried to give money away for a 4-point shot, nobody could find a ball. Like the ball was just gone and it took 20 to 30 seconds for him to find one. Every. Single. Time. It had to be a gag. Or it’s a 3v3 basketball tour with old NBA players where they’re giving away cash to fans and it’s not run very well. Definitely one of those things.

Biggest jeer

It was never announced in the arena that Iverson wouldn’t play. Even with his pre-game comments he didn’t mention he wouldn’t be on the court and Dr. J all but said he was playing. Fans were chanting “We want A.I.” the entire game, and at one point it looked as if Iverson was starting to cry on the sidelines.

When fans started to realize Iverson wasn’t going to get in the game, many started to boo. Then they started to leave. By halftime of the final game, the place was half cleared out, with thousands of Philly fans leaving disappointed.

Really, there’s nothing anyone could do when the whole league is based on keeping guys in their 30s and 40s healthy. That said, they could have announced at some point during the night that Iverson wasn’t playing. Post his IG video on the big screen or have him come out earlier in the night to talk to the crowd. Sure, that might have thinned out the fans, but it would have saved them from the embarrassment of being booed.

This is, after all, Philly.

Second place: Without question, the announcement of Stephen A. Smith in the house.

Third place: After telling the media that Iverson and Ice Cube would come out to talk after the final game, a Big3 media staffer said the group was not going to address the media. I guess A.I. doesn’t need any more, ahem, practice in front of a microphone.

The group didn’t have Dr. J talk to the media either, so he stood behind a curtain five feet from where two of his players sat to answer questions about Philly and Iverson. I think we made eye contact at one point as I looked across to see if he was still there. It was a special moment for both of us, surely.

The Big3 has done a lot right, but tonight was a PR disaster. Fans left angry, the media left irate and instead of handling the Iverson no-show on the court well by controlling the message, the Big3 looked incredibly small-time. An odd decision for an organization that needs publicity to thrive.

Biggest cheer that could have been a jeer

Larry Hughes. Philly sports fans get a bad rep for booing people (see above) but they cheered Hughes, who was one of the worst draft picks in Sixers, nay Philadelphia sports, history. (Note: Hughes wasn’t the worst player ever drafted by the Sixers. But with Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce taking right after him, he was unquestionably one of the worst picks.)

Celebs at the WFC

There were some celebrities in the WFC Sunday night. In addition to Ice Cube, the owner of the league, was LL Cool J and Fat Joe.

Fat Joe

Fat Joe

Dan Levy

Former NFL star for the Eagles and Vikings Cris Carter was here too, but that’s probably because he’s about to get a show on FS1 and the network is broadcasting these games all season. JR Smith of the Cleveland Cavaliers and former Villanova Wildcat Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors were also in attendance. The three of them would beat any of these teams, and Carter wasn’t even a basketball player. Hell, Ice Cube, Fat Joe and LL Cool J could probably beat half these teams.

Also in attendance was boxing legend Bernard Hopkins, sitting next to Howard Eskin in the front row. The working press had to sit in the rafters. But, hey, free pretzels.

Play. Up. Philly.

The first game had the Power facing off against the Ghost Ballers. There was, shall-we-say a smattering of fans, like any opening act would get at a concert when the headliner won’t play for another three or four hours. Only, there was a local angle the public address announcer totally neglected to mention.

If there’s one thing people from Philly love, it’s people from Philly. But when former prep star Cuttino Mobley was introduced, they forgot to tell the crowd he was from Philly. That’s problematic for a number of reasons, most notably nobody gives a rip about any of these teams, so the crowd was totally dead the entire first game. (It didn’t help that the basketball was so bad.)

At one point the in-house Big3 hype man yelled, “where my Power fans at, Philly?” Nobody cheered, because the Power is a four-week old team full of old NBA players who never played in Philly. It’s FINE if people came to see some family-fun basketball. It’s entirely another to assume the Power has a cheering section.

Oh, right, basketball.

Rashad McCants is clearly the best player of the group of 40 and I wrote this line with still two games to play. He seems to be using this summer tour as a springboard back into the NBA. Or maybe a shoe deal.

But, seriously, the basketball barely matters here. They call fouls, but don’t count personal fouls, so players can basically do whatever they want. And on the final shot of Game 2, Al Harrington stepped out of bounds three times — THREE TIMES — before passing to McCants for the winning bucket. Nobody seemed to notice or care.

There was a 60 minute running clock for the first few games, but that seemed to be shut off for game three. Maybe it was Stockholm Syndrome, but the basketball seemed to get a little better as the night went on.

The players are playing hard for sure, and Jermaine O’Neal told reporters (he actually talked to us) that this league is about to get an influx of some household names next summer. Let’s continue the Kobe Bryant rumors now. One thing’s for sure, though. After this debacle with Iverson, the Big3 might think about skipping Philly next season. It’s hard to believe anyone would pay to come back here again.