PHILADELPHIA -- It is quite the phenomenon, the willful self-deception in which our local sports franchises seem to specialize.
During the summer, the Eagles signed Michael Vick, and, magically, an organization full of people who would have sneered if the Dallas Cowboys had lowered themselves in such a way universally embraced the power of redemption and second chances for convicted dog killers.
There was instant approval and enthusiasm for the signing, even though it ran contrary to everything the franchise stood for just one day earlier.
Three years ago, the 76ers and the suits at Comcast-Spectacor spit Allen Iverson out like a piece of gum that had turned from sugary-sweet to flavorless to bitter beyond tolerance.
After a decade of enabling and covering for their superstar, the folks who worked in the Wachovia Center offices freely shared their horror stories, giddily relieved that the reign of terror was over.
Now Iverson is back, and Sixers president Ed Stefanski says he'll be a good influence and, furthermore, will play defense.
"He's going to have to buckle down, too, because we all have to play defense," Stefanski said in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. "It's not just about scoring."
Oh, my. Such charming naivete.
Stefanski kept using the phrase "basketball decision." With Lou Williams out for somewhere around 30 games, Stefanski said, the Sixers simply had gotten the best available free-agent guard to take his place.
No one can argue that anyone more talented or accomplished than Iverson was available. But there's no way to make what is purely a "basketball decision" on Allen Iverson. Not in Philadelphia, there isn't. There's just way too much history.
In a sense, that's what makes this very bad basketball decision -- another in a long series for this franchise -- grotesquely compelling.
When he was traded away three years ago, Iverson became merely the latest in a long line of great athletes who left Philadelphia on unfortunate terms.
From Wilt Chamberlain and Dick Allen in the 1960s, to Reggie White and Randall Cunningham and Charles Barkley in the '90s, to Scott Rolen and Eric Lindros and Curt Schilling in the '00s -- this city leads every league in squandered superstars.
Iverson now becomes the first of the bunch to return since Allen came back to the Phillies in the mid-1970s, at age 33, after an exile that took him to three other teams. It sounds similar, but the world has changed an awful lot since 1975. Google it if you don't believe me.
We haven't seen anything quite like this. The Vick signing was similarly stunning, but Vick didn't have a history in Philadelphia. White, Cunningham, Barkley, Rolen, Lindros, and Schilling all played on well beyond their time here, but returned only as visiting players.
The fans who are enthusiastic about Iverson's return may find themselves disappointed. They tend to cite Iverson's best years, especially his MVP season of 2000-01, when he led the Sixers to the NBA Finals.
Stefanski said: "This is not 2001 and it's Allen Iverson and other players out there, and Allen is the man and he's going to get up a lot of shots and the rest of the team is going to play great defense, and that's how they were built."
No, this is much more like 2006, when the Sixers reached the tipping point with Iverson. Attendance was down about 20 percent from 2002-03. The team had lost 12 of 14 games. There was still bad feeling because Iverson and Chris Webber had blown off Fan Appreciation Night at the end of the previous season.
In a chat session on philly.com on Wednesday, Inquirer beat writer Kate Fagan speculated that the starting lineup Monday could be Iverson, Willie Green, Andre Iguodala, Samuel Dalembert, and Thaddeus Young.
Except for Young, that very lineup was available to start, and lose, exactly three years ago Thursday.
What does that tell us? The Sixers are now hoping for precisely the attendance and starting lineup they deemed unsatisfactory enough to prompt them to spit Iverson out in 2006.
In signing Vick, the Eagles believed they were getting a changed man eager to rehab his image. While he hasn't exactly been a contributor on the field, he hasn't caused any problems in the locker room, either.
Stefanski voiced similar hopes about Iverson.
"If it's going to be a chance for him to do it and make it work," Stefanski said, "then there's no doubt in my mind Philadelphia is the best place for him to do it."
"This kid has a legacy here in Philadelphia," he said. "Arguably, he's one of the top players ever to play in the city. ... He wants it badly to show that he is an NBA basketball player, especially coming back to Philly."
Gambling on Iverson to change -- what could possibly go wrong?