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Iverson here as visitor

Would-be Celtic happy in Denver

Email|Print| Text size + By Marc J. Spears
Globe Staff / November 7, 2007

More than 1,000 members of Reebok's staff were on hand as Nuggets guard Allen Iverson was presented with bronzed sneakers Sept. 19 in the lobby of the company's Canton headquarters in honor of selling the most shoes of any of its athletes. The eight-time NBA All-Star took questions from Reebok employees, including one on whether he could ever see himself in a Celtics uniform. The 2001 NBA MVP responded by saying he had strong respect for the team's history but hoped to finish his career in Denver.

As for the Celtics, they definitely thought about what it would be like to have Iverson in uniform as they were constantly mentioned in trade rumors involving him before he was dealt from the 76ers to the Nuggets last year. Had Iverson been dealt to Boston, the current star trio of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen would have never come to be.

Tonight, Iverson and the Nuggets play the Celtics at TD Banknorth Garden.

"It was a good thing for me, you know, just for the fact that another team wanted me," said Iverson. "It's an honor to have another team want you. And then to have a chance to play for a great franchise like that, a winning franchise with the type of fans that they have with so much love for the sport . . .

"I thought it would've been a great opportunity for me. But, you know, that's the way it went down."

The Celtics reportedly talked trade with Philadelphia about Iverson prior to the 2006 draft, and rumors swirled that entire offseason. Iverson reportedly demanded a trade last Dec. 8 and was subsequently told by the Sixers that he would not play in or attend any further games.

One rumor had the Celtics sending Theo Ratliff, Delonte West, Sebastian Telfair, and budding star Al Jefferson to Philadelphia for Iverson. But several others teams also had interest in Iverson, and the last time the longtime Atlantic Division rivals were involved in a trade was Aug. 3, 2001, when the Sixers dealt Roshown McLeod and a first-round pick to Boston for Jerome Moiso.

When asked about making trades within the division, Celtics executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge said, "It's hard, especially when you're talking about significant players."

On Dec. 19, the Iverson-to-Boston talk officially died as the 76ers sent Iverson and forward Ivan McFarlin to the Nuggets for Andre Miller, Joe Smith, and two first-round picks.

So how close did Iverson come to being a Celtic?

"I don't comment on stuff like that or stuff that could've been and would've been," Ainge said. "I've always been a fan of A.I. and respect his intensity and passion to the game."

Ray Allen, however, was willing to ponder how the Celtics could be different today if an Iverson trade was made.

"Who knows if I would have been in this situation?" Allen said. "That's the NBA, though. Open up the books and look at all the franchises and the things that almost went down. It takes two to tango."

While Iverson didn't come to Boston, he believes the franchise has a "great opportunity" to be special with Pierce, Garnett, and Allen.

"The chemistry has to be there, obviously," Iverson said. "You have to play on both ends of the floor. I think Kevin is going to help them on both sides of the court. Ray is a great shooter. Paul can do it all. So, they got an opportunity."

The Iverson deal was widely considered the biggest in Nuggets history. For a while, his No. 3 Nuggets jerseys were sold out even before they were put on shelves in Denver. Nuggets tickets - at home and on the road - suddenly became hard to get. There was talk of Iverson and Carmelo Anthony becoming the top-scoring duo in the NBA and the team making a run at the Finals.

But the Nuggets lost in the first round of the playoffs to the eventual champion Spurs, and Iverson had his worst playoff performance in seven appearances, averaging 22.1 points on 36.8 percent shooting.

"For me, personally, not playing well, it was the worst playoff series that I've had in my career," Iverson said. "It just doesn't sit well with me. Going to this team, I thought my chances were good to win the championship."

With a Nuggets training camp under his belt, a healthy Kenyon Martin on board, and a deep and talented roster than includes Anthony and NBA Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Camby, Iverson believes he has a good shot at making a run for an elusive title.

"I think I have a chance," said Iverson, who led the Sixers to the 2001 NBA Finals. "I thought I had a chance in Philadelphia. But I think my chances are better [now] with a greater roster."

Marc J. Spears can be reached at mspears@globe.com.

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