Iverson out for rest of season

PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia 76ers have said goodbye to A.I.

Allen Iverson's second stint with the team he once led to the NBA Finals ended Tuesday when the Sixers announced he would not return for the rest of the season.

Iverson has mostly been absent from the team for a month, returning to Atlanta to be with his family as they deal with an undisclosed illness of his 4-year-old daughter, Messiah.

Iverson, who returned as a free agent to the 76ers in December, has not played since Feb. 20.

"After discussing the situation with Allen, we have come to the conclusion that he will not return to the Sixers for the remainder of the season, as he no longer wishes to be a distraction to the organization and teammates that he loves very deeply," team president Ed Stefanski said. "It has been very difficult for Allen and the team to maintain any consistency as he tries to balance his career with his personal life."

The former NBA MVP and four-time scoring champion averaged 13.8 points in 28 games this season. He started the season with Memphis but only played three games before he announced a short-lived retirement.

The 34-year-old Iverson made a tearful return to Philadelphia eager to prove he wasn't finished after disastrous stints in Detroit and Memphis.

He returned to a sold-out crowd dotted with No. 3 jerseys, but he only showed flashes of his former playmaking self when he ruled the NBA as one of the best guards around. He scored at least 20 points six times -- including a 23-point effort in a game against the Lakers that turned into a throwback one-on-one duel vs. Kobe Bryant.

"Before it was like, give him the ball, everybody spread out and let him do his thing," Sixers center Samuel Dalembert said. "Now, he's like, you have to run this, you have to get him involved. He was still learning the offense. There were a couple of games where it was a struggle offensively, but other games he got the feel for it. You got the flash of A.I."

Iverson said at a Feb. 15 practice that it was emotionally draining to leave his family to play basketball.

"It was tough to leave her and my wife and kids," Iverson said. "But I do have a commitment and an obligation to be with my team and to do my job. But it is rough. I think this is the only thing I do in life where for a couple hours during the game I don't think about nothing but [basketball]."

Iverson was hobbled by an arthritic left knee and constantly needed it drained. He usually walked gingerly around the locker room after games. His dwindling production didn't bother his fans -- Iverson was voted an Eastern Conference All-Starter, though he did not play, skipping it to be with his daughter.

Dalembert, who played with Iverson in both stints, said A.I. was not the same player who once terrorized the opposition. But Dalembert also noticed a more reserved, humbled Iverson who just wanted to fit in instead of dominating the ball or making splashy headlines with controversial or selfish actions.

"He was focused, he was being a leader," Dalembert said Monday night. "It was a completely different Iverson. The role we needed him to play, he was doing it. He understood what he needed to do for the team and he came in and did it."

The Sixers have been awful with or without Iverson. They are 22-37 after a 126-105 loss Monday night to Orlando. They were on a nine-game losing streak when Iverson made his debut on Dec. 7.

Now, the global superstar who popularized "talking about practice," might be talking about retirement. This time for good.