They played each game like it was their last. Little did they realize, it soon would be.
Iverson flying to the basket, scooping in another acrobatic finger-roll between the giants, and slamming into the hardwood floor sections of the First Union Center.
Utley, running out another routine ground ball as if he were stealing home.
These are the memories we all share when we think of two of Philadelphia's most beloved sports stars. Alas, all we have now are memories.
Allen Iverson was fearless and mercurial. His speed, quickness and jumping ability provided him with unprecedented penetrating ability. No one 6 feet tall or under had ever possessed this ability to get to the rim.
As AI matured and continued to succeed, teams would try to take advantage of his small stature and bang him around at every opportunity.
During the 2001 NBA Playoffs, Iverson had been through a war, his body looking like a road map of pain and suffering.
Iverson, unlike Utley, never seemed to take care of himself or his athletic gifts. He was routinely chided by management and coaching for not committing to a weight-training program, which may have protected him better. He was also known to have a hard-partying lifestyle.
From the moment he smacked a walk-off homer off of a still-effective John Smoltz, Chase Utley was a star in Philly. His intensity and his ability to stand in until the last moment while turning two endeared him to his adopted blue-collar city.
But did he really need to lead the league in Hit-By-Pitches from 2007-2009? Isn't that something we'd rather Pete Orr do?
The Phillies paid prime cash for their once-soon-to-be Hall of Fame second baseman (7rs/$85m) and they and their fans would've rathered him rip extra base hits than be a human pitching target.
While players like Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar evolved and restructured their talents (Jordan added a devastating turnaround jumper, Abdul-Jabbar perfected the SkyHook), Iverson never really evolved. His signature move was the crossover and he never developed another.
His second best 3P% season was his rookie year (.341 compared to career high .345 in 2007-8). Once he lost the ability to get around people and into the lane, he became a below-average NBA player. By insisting on attacking the lane and not changing his approach, the game passed AI by.
Chase Utley always seemed to be the hardest worker on the Phillies. From the hustle he showed running out ground balls to his insistence on breaking up every last double play, Utley wore himself down too fast. Instead of understanding his role on a team that needed him there everyday, he stubbornly stood in the way of fastball after fastball.
But "that's the only way he knows how to play," I hear sometimes. Bullshit. The city and the team need Utley in the field every day more than we care about him running out a ground ball.
I know better than anyone, that past tendencies can be forcibly changed. I quit smoking after being obsessed with the habit for 8 years. But I changed. I stopped.
For a long time I thought, "I'm young, this doesn't matter. I can keep this up and one day, in the future, I'll change."
I'm sure Utley and Iverson thought the same thing, only now its too late.