Coming Home: Allen Iverson eager to please Philly fans in BIG3 game

Coming Home: Allen Iverson eager to please Philly fans in BIG3 game

Allen Iverson plans to run on that familiar court one more time, cup his ear the way he used to in his prime and implore his adoring fans to make more noise.

AI is back home, Philly.

"It's exciting," Iverson told The Associated Press. "I just want to give them a couple flashbacks of the time I had here. I love them. The only relationship like the relationship I have with Philadelphia fans is (Michael Jordan) in Chicago. It's everlasting. They supported me all throughout my career, through all my ups and downs and that's why I love coming back here. They're the No. 1 fans in the world."

Iverson returns to the floor at the Wells Fargo Center on Sunday night when the Big3 comes to town. The main event features two Philadelphia legends. Iverson's 3's Company team faces Julius Erving's Tri-State team in the fourth game. Dr. J won't be playing, though.

Iverson hasn't done much of that, either. The former NBA MVP is a player-coach but he has spent more time coaching in the first three weeks. The 42-year-old has six points on 3-for-13 shooting.

"I'm going to do what's best to get us the win," Iverson said, explaining that he can't guard bigger opponents in the post.

That's just fine with Ice Cube.

"You gotta commend AI," the rapper-actor told AP. "He's trying to win. If he was on the ego tip, he wouldn't sub himself out, even though he's getting posted up. That's the cool thing about it. You see guys' real competitive juices going."

No matter how little he plays, Iverson is an integral part of Ice Cube's league of former NBA players.

"We don't launch without AI," Cube said. "We had names, we had players. But we didn't have box office, we didn't have that marquee name that you need to make a splash in a league like this. What's great with him and Dr. J and playing in Philly, you have Dr. J who helped cement the ABA, and you have Allen Iverson establishing the Big3. Years from now, we can look back and say this wouldn't have happened without AI taking a chance on us."

Iverson, who was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame last year, is enjoying the ride.

"Seeing guys give it their all and watching how the fans embrace it, guys putting on a show for them, that's what it's all about," he said. "These games haven't been watered down. They've been competitive. I like the direction it's heading. I'm happy to be a part of it. Years to come, I can brag to guys about being one of the first guys to play in the Big3 because it's going to soar, man. It's going to get bigger and bigger every year."

Three weeks into Season 1, Ice Cube is already thinking ahead.

"I can definitely see the future of this league where guys step straight from an NBA court onto a Big3 court," he said. "I think the competition is gonna get stiff. I'm pretty sure there's some big names out there waiting to play the game and have fun. Everybody is having a ball -- players, fans, the league."

Charlie Manuel still fan favorite in different role with Phillies

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Charlie Manuel still fan favorite in different role with Phillies

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Wherever he goes, Charlie Manuel feels the love.

The folksy former manager is a folk hero among Phillies fans. It took the City of Brotherly Love a while to embrace Manuel and his down-home charm, but they grew to appreciate him.

Manuel won more games than any manager in club history and delivered the franchise's second World Series title in 2008. He was fired in 2013, but still works for the team and has spent most of spring training in his old uniform serving as a special instructor.

From the minute he walks onto the field, fans constantly seek his attention for pictures and autographs. The 72-year-old Manuel always does his best to oblige.

"It's tremendous. I can't even tell you how I feel," Manuel said. "Sometimes I didn't know how to act. Elderly women, young women, men, they want to come over and give me a hug. It happens here, whenever I'm back in Pennsylvania. It even happened to me when I was in Las Vegas. They want talk to me like they know me and I think that's one of the greatest things about it. When somebody walks up to you and they feel like they can just have a conversation with you and talk freely, I think that's great."

Manuel wasn't the people's choice when the Phillies hired him to replace Larry Bowa in 2005. At the time, fans wanted Jim Leyland. Many media members criticized the hiring and some took personal shots at Manuel, unfairly mocking him for his thick, Appalachian drawl.

But Manuel turned the doubters into believers. He led the Phillies on the best run in franchise history from 2007-11, guiding the team to five straight division titles and two NL pennants. Manuel was 780-636 in eight-plus seasons. His successor, Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, didn't last long. Sandberg quit last June after going 119-159 in parts of three seasons.

Former Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. shed tears the day he fired Manuel and immediately offered him a job in the organization. Manuel took time off before returning as a senior adviser.

Though he lives in Florida, Manuel says he spends more time now traveling than he did as a manager. He scouts amateur, minor league and major league players. He visits the team's minor league affiliates and talks to coaches and instructors. He also stops in Philadelphia to check on the big league club at times.

"I like being around the young players, watching their talent, seeing their tools," Manuel said. "I'll do whatever I can to help them and hopefully we get back to where we were."

Manuel is a hitting guru who made his mark in the majors as the hitting coach for the Cleveland Indians in the 1990s. He previously turned down offers to become a hitting coach to stay in his current role with the Phillies.

"I like to spend a lot of time with every hitter," he said. "I'm a firm believer when a coach has a job that he has to be able to be allowed to do their job."

Manuel is one of several guest instructors who joined the Phillies in spring training. Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt and ex-slugger Greg Luzinski are among the others.

"We have to be on the same page as the hitting coach (Steve Henderson) and he should know everything I say to the hitter," Manuel said. "We have to be mindful not to overload the hitter and give different philosophies."

Manuel hasn't ruled out managing if a team called. He could be the perfect fit for a club on the verge. Manuel proved in Philadelphia he knew how to get the most out of his players.

"I miss the field and being around the players," Manuel said. "It has to be the right situation where the front office and the general manager know who I am and what I'm about. I know people look at like I'm too old for managing. I know I can do it."

Manuel says he enjoys fishing, golfing and working on classic cars, but if he happens to be home and a baseball game is on television, he's watching it.

"The other day I stayed until 5:30 in the morning watching the Angels play the Reds in Arizona," Manuel said.

That's typical of a baseball lifer.

Gillick: Phillies not reaching, haven't had fair offer for Hamels

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Gillick: Phillies not reaching, haven't had fair offer for Hamels

Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon and Ryan Howard could shake up the pennant race this October.

If they change uniforms.

The ace, the closer and the slugger are making a team on pace for another last-place finish one to watch for all the wrong reasons. Each player has been available for a while, but they're still on the Philadelphia Phillies because general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. hasn't found the right deal for various reasons.

"We're not trying to make the perfect deal. In any deal we make, to put it bluntly, both sides have to be winners," team president Pat Gillick told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "People think you make a deal to take advantage of someone else. No, that isn't the case because you want to go back and have repeat business with that person. When you're making a deal, you want to make a fair deal. He's not looking to make a deal that's going to bring the house down."

Hamels, a three-time All-Star and the 2008 World Series MVP, should bring the Phillies the best return. The 31-year-old lefty has three years and $73.5 million left on his contract, $87.5 million if his 2019 option kicks in. He's a proven big-game pitcher who dominated in the postseason. Hamels is 3-3 with a 3.53 ERA in eight starts and has a limited no-trade clause.

Boston, St. Louis and Toronto are often mentioned in trade rumors for Hamels. The Red Sox have the worst staff ERA in the AL. The Cardinals lost Adam Wainwright for the season. The Blue Jays never replaced Marcus Stroman. Other teams including the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs and White Sox could be interested.

The Phillies certainly want top prospects in return for Hamels, but perhaps it won't take as many high-level players as reports have indicated.

"We haven't got an offer that's commensurate with his ability," Gillick said of Hamels. "In some places it's been portrayed that we're looking for an overreach and the reason Ruben hasn't made a trade is because we're overreaching. I don't think that's the case at all. We're very open to any proposal and, at this point, we don't think we've got a proposal that we feel is (right).

"Right now, Hamels and Papelbon are performing at the same skill level they have over the past four, five years. It's a little different situation with other players who aren't performing the way they'd like to be performing."

Papelbon has been excellent, converting all seven of his save chances with a 1.26 ERA after 39 saves in 43 tries in 2014.

On Wednesday night, he surpassed Jose Mesa to become the franchise's all-time saves leader with 113. He also is Boston's franchise leader with 219.

Papelbon already has made it clear he wants to play for a contender. The 34-year-old righty could help Miami, Toronto, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, the Cubs and Dodgers, among others. He's making $13 million this season, and his option for $13 million next year becomes guaranteed with 48 games finished.

Howard would've been traded long ago if the Phillies found any takers. His contract — $25 million this season with $35 million more owed for 2016 and a buyout — and decline in production make the 2006 NL MVP difficult to move. Howard is batting .211 with six homers and 15 RBIs. Despite his low average, he's on pace for 28 homers and could help an AL team that needs power and wants to use him as a DH.

Chase Utley, another past-his-prime former star, is even tougher to trade. Utley is hitting just .123 and has no-trade rights. The six-time All-Star second baseman has three vesting years remaining on his contract. If he has 500 plate appearances this season, he's guaranteed $15 million in 2016. The same scenario exists for the 2017 and 2018 seasons.

"We've been in dialogue about a lot of things," Amaro said about trade conversations. "That really hasn't stopped since the offseason."

The Phillies won five straight NL East titles, two pennants and one World Series from 2007-11, but have steadily declined each year. Amaro waited too long to start rebuilding. He traded outfielders Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence on July 31, 2012, but kept Hamels and Cliff Lee because the Phillies were hoping for one more run. Instead, they went 73-89 in 2013 and `14.

Now they're stuck with Lee and his hefty contract because he's injured. It's risky to keep Hamels past the trade deadline.

"You're always taking more chances with pitchers because they're more injury-prone than position players," Gillick said. "If Ruben had an offer that he thought was a fair offer that we felt was fair for the Phillies and fair for the other team, he would do it, but that proposal hasn't come forward."