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Allen providing answers in Phillie 

Mark Woods

It's play off time in the NBA. 16 teams emerged this week from the curtailed regular season to commence battle for the Championship title in June. And this time, all routes do not run through the Chicago Bulls, their spectacular fall from grace from first to damn near worst a sorry sight.

By contrast for the Philadelphia 76ers, the future is looking bright. Last champions in 1983 thanks to the majestic artistry of Julius "Dr. J" Erving, the Sixers have known only barren times this decade as season after season, their ambitions of success have failed to last past the first week in April.

Not this time though. For the first time since 1991, the men from the city of Brotherly Love have found the key to  unlocking their dreams. Allen Iverson is the flashiest kid on the block, his startling foot speed and shooting ability sparking the Sixers to fresh hopes of ultimate victory. An ability to provide a response to all the questions put to him has earnt him a simple and fitting sobriquet - "The Answer."

Not only has the 23 year old returned his once mighty franchise to respectability but he has inherited the leading scorer title that of late has been the sole and exclusive property of Michael Jordan. Averaging a league best 26.8 points per game this season, the young man responded to the accusation of being more self-generated hype than substance. 

As the number one collegiate draft pick of 1997, Iverson entered the league with bags of raw potential but only lately has he let his talents rather than his mouth do the talking. Prior to his first encounter with Jordan and the then rampant Bulls, Iverson grabbed the headlines by challenging the maestro's superiority, predicting that it would be the rookie rather than the veteran would emerge with the upper hand. As was his wont, Jordan elected to demonstrate his awesome powers, leaving Iverson to rue his ill-advised boasts. 

At the age of 17, Iverson was in jail ,a teenage hoodlum imprisoned for a fight in a  bowling alley. Six years hence,  Iverson concedes that with the greater maturity in his game and his personal life has arrived an ability to ignore his many detractors and get on with his job.  

"I've worked so hard," said Iverson.  "All my dreams are coming true. It's only my third year, but I think the problem with me coming in was that people looked at my talents and they didn't want to let me grow as a basketball player and as a person. I think over time, maybe people will start to understand me and some of the critics will back off."

"I think that there is going to be a billion people there that respect my game and love my game and appreciate my game, and a billion people who dislike it. I understand that, so that's what keeps me moving forward."

'Twas never so apparent than in the Sixers' first round play off series against the higher seeded Orlando Magic, the 6'0 guard impressing as his team took a 2-1 series lead entering last Friday's night's contest in Philadelphia. 

However, he has not yet totally eradicated his brashful tendencies. Prior to the second game in Orlando, he taunted fellow superstar Penny Hardaway to "bring it on" after the Magic had fallen victim to his 30 point showing in the opening gambit. Penny dropped in 30 points of his own versus his rival's lacklustre 13 in retort . However in the remaining two games, it was the Philadelphia's master of swing who put the Magic into the hat and conjured up their play-off exit.

"I was so excited that even when I was just standing there I wanted to be moving. Even during the timeouts, I just couldn't stand still," said Iverson afterward, his additional theft of 10 steals in the third contest securing a new NBA record.

The magic of Iverson comes from his speed and uncanny ability to make shots from sometimes absurdly awkward positions. The free-running role afforded him within Philadelphia coach Larry Brown's system has paid major dividends, his unconventional style somehow fitting with a game that is as explosive as it is effective.

"I don't think you guys have any concept of the impact this kid has on a game," said the vanquished Orlando coach Chuck Daly. "This was the 'Allen Iverson Show.' What he does for the Sixers, I don't even think they realize."

With a Best of Seven series against Larry Bird's Indiana Pacers looming,  only time will tell whether The Answer is the real deal or merely trash talk. 

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