A.l.'s quick ejection seemed extreme

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:35 AM ET

Okay, so the Philadelphia 76ers are playing host to an NBA pre-season game against the Raptors in London, Ont., and everything is going smoothly. The court isn't wet or greasy. The baskets aren't falling down. The fans are being marginally entertained, notwithstanding the dubious decision to hold a hog-calling contest during a timeout.

OVER-SENSITIVE OFFICIAL

And then, in the middle of the second quarter, Allen Iverson of the Sixers gets thrown out by an over-sensitive official.

So much for a calm afternoon in the heartland of Ontario.

Iverson played 11 minutes in the first quarter yesterday and offered the odd, uh, critique of the officiating crew. But the straw that broke the camel's back wasn't much of a straw.

Iverson had subbed out and was seated along the baseline. "Head," Iverson would bellow when he believed one of his teammates had been fouled. "Hand."

Official Courtney Kirkland quickly grew tired of Iverson's chiding. When Iverson yelled, "Blow your whistle, man," Alexander wheeled and gave Iverson a technical foul.

Iverson, somewhat stunned, blurted, "Blow your whistle, god-dammit!" So Kirkland banished Iverson to the showers.

Iverson then coloured the air blue, saying things that usually get you thrown out, provided you haven't been thrown out already. But who could blame A.I. for being irked?

"I guess (Kirkland) had a short fuse," Iverson said after the Sixers' 108-103 victory. "After I got the first one, I deserved the second one. But I don't think I deserved the first one."

Philly coach Jim O'Brien thought Iverson got hosed.

"It's early for the officials, too," O'Brien said. "But they should have more respect than they gave him.

"(Iverson's) lack of minutes probably was a blessing in disguise since I only was going to play him seven more minutes than he played. But that should not have happened."

The conspiracy theorists wondered if perhaps Iverson had some keen interest in an NFL game yesterday afternoon. Regardless, it was a quasi-embarrassing development for Comcast, the company that owns the Sixers and also runs the John Labatt Centre in London. The Comcast connection was the game's raison d'etre.

Regardless, to toss Iverson seemed extreme, especially after 7,619 fans -- about 2,000 shy of a sellout -- paid as much as $85 per seat, mainly for the chance to get a rare glimpse of Iverson and the Raptors' Vince Carter.

Playing pre-season games in neutral sites always is a dicey proposition. The Raptors in particular have a history of disaster when they're running the show. Remember how the game in St. John's, Nfld., had to be cancelled last year because of condensation on the court, and how the players were ushered out in clandestine fashion, just in case those knife-wielding, gun-toting Newfoundlanders started to riot?

The Raptors didn't mind playing in London, though, since they technically were the visiting team, and road crowds rarely are so friendly. In fact, we safely can guarantee the Raptors won't be so warmly greeted on the road again this season, unless they play an impromptu game in France and Jerome Moiso's family shows up.

"When I saw the exhibition schedule back when I got the job, I said, 'What the heck?' " Raptors general manager Rob Babcock said. "But it's like an extra home game. It's great."

It was a tad weird in some ways. The Star-Spangled Banner was performed first, followed by O Canada. But when the players were introduced, the Raptors went first, followed by the Sixers. Generally, though, things went smoothly.

GOOD EXPERIENCE

"This is a big deal for us," said Dave Harris, the director of marketing for the John Labatt Centre. "These things always are good experiences for the fans, but we want the players to have a good experience, too. We want them to say, 'I went to London and I didn't blow a wheel on the court. The floor was fine, everything was fine.' "

Hopefully the locker rooms were fine, too, since that's where Iverson spent most of his day.


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