Allen Iverson stood at midcourt, dressed in black coat, black fedora and glasses and holding his young daughter in his arms, as both stared into the rafters.
Philadelphia 76ers play-by-play man Marc Zumoff bellowed into the microphone.
"I'm here to tell you that tonight, the number 3 is going where it should be going," he said. "Up there!"
The sold-out crowd roared as a banner featuring Iverson's iconic No. 3 was raised, taking its place alongside those honoring the greatest players in Philadelphia 76ers history during a special retirement ceremony at halftime of the Sixers' 122-103 loss to the Washington Wizards on Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
Iverson is the eighth player in Sixers franchise history to have his number retired, joining Charles Barkley, Wilt Chamberlain, Maurice Cheeks, Billy Cunningham, Julius Erving, Hal Greer and Bobby Jones. NBA commissioner Adam Silver, Sixers owner Josh Harris and Iverson spoke during the ceremony, as Erving, Moses Malone and a number of basketball dignitaries showed up to pay tribute.
"It's kind of like, it's basically bittersweet," Iverson said. "It feels good, you know, but some part of my heart hurts because I realize and understand that it's over. … When I come into the arena, I'm stepping out onto the basketball court with street clothes on. And I know I'll never be in a uniform again."
Iverson, 38, earned 11 consecutive All-Star selections and the 2001 NBA MVP award during his 14-year NBA career, which peaked when the 6-foot, 165-pound guard led Philadelphia to the 2001 NBA Finals, where it lost in five games to the Los Angeles Lakers.
"He took a team that wasn't supposed to make it to the championship to the championship," said Sixers power forward Thaddeus Young, who was teammates with Iverson during the 2009-10 season. "I don't see anybody that can be compared to him."
Iverson was a seven-time All-NBA selection, a four-time NBA scoring champion, a three-time steals leader, a two-time All-Star Game MVP and the 1997 Rookie of the Year.
"I would say for Allen, and this is now putting on my fan hat, he defined the player who so-called left everything on the court," NBA commissioner Adam Silver said. "And I remember even in the early days of Yao Ming in China, everybody was always surprised when we said, 'No, Yao Ming didn't sell the most jerseys in China. Allen Iverson did. And I think it's because people could relate to him in a way they couldn't necessarily relate to the big men in the league.
"I also think Allen began a trend in this league," Silvers aid. "If you look at some of the very successful smaller guards right now, I think Chris Paul comes to mind, Damian Lillard comes to mind, I think Allen Iverson was a player that those young men looked up to when they were coming along, and he inspired them to become the great NBA players they are."
Iverson is also notorious for his fiery demeanor and various off-the-court troubles, including with his family, his finances and a famed rant questioning the importance of practice.
"He just was a larger than life personality, and you come in and you have to game-plan and scout him and he's just beyond a fierce competitor," Sixers coach Brett Brown said, recalling his days as an assistant with the San Antonio Spurs. "I don't know how people – I don't think you teach that. I think you're born with that. And he was born with that. …
"He's a waterbug that can dance with the ball, that would engage a crowd, had a street swagger to back it up," Brown said. "… He did it his way, and did it really well."