Originally created 10/25/98

Sixers' Iverson is anxious to get on with image work



BALTIMORE -- The only crossing-over Allen Iverson was doing on this night was from a room shaking with hip-hop music into a quiet enclave for a talk with reporters.

His arms, covered with tattoos, seemed thicker and sturdier. The Philadelphia 76ers guard says he's been working out. But for what?

Iverson, eager to prove he deserves a place among the elite guards in NBA history, has nowhere to display his crossover dribble because of the NBA lockout. And he's getting restless.

"We want to play," Iverson said. "I just think whatever's going to be done, it needs to be done. Simple as that."

The problem is, solving the NBA's labor impasse is about as simple as stopping Iverson in the open court. Interests of millionaires, billionaires and the so-called working-class journeymen of the league have clashed.

From his vantage point as a marquee player, breathtaking attraction and magnet for controversy, Iverson weighed in.

"Other guys are not in the situation I'm in," said Iverson, taking a break from announcing his new shoe endorsement at the ESPN Zone sports bar. "You know, I have a big shoe deal, and some guys don't. I don't really know how long I can go without playing.

"I feel like I can go a year, a whole season. I know other guys wouldn't be able to. And that might make other guys give in. What can I say to them? Those guys have families. I would tell them do what they think is best for them."

The 23-year-old Iverson could be in line for a $100 million contract with the Sixers, but only if the union gets to keep the salary-cap exception for teams signing their own free agents.

With at least the first two weeks of the regular season canceled, the lockout already has cost Iverson nearly $700,000. He is one of 224 players with guaranteed contracts who will not be paid during the lockout following arbitrator John Feerick's decision last week.

"I would want everything that the organization feels I deserve, and I feel I deserve," Iverson said. "I have a family to take care of, and I don't know what's going to happen with my career. I feel like I don't have a dollar to waste, because I want to make sure my family is taken care of if something ever happens to me. Whether that's right or wrong, that's reality."

Here, Iverson eerily touches on the reality that he has been a troubled youth since the nation first got to know him.

Prison time for a bowling-alley brawl at 18, an arrest on marijuana and gun charges after his rookie season, his refusal to disavow friendships with the rough characters from his youth -- all of it has stained Iverson's image.

Some elder statesmen in the league worry about him. Others loathe him, naming him as everything from unindicted co-conspirator to mastermind of today's "Me Generation." Charles Barkley once called him Allen "Me-Myself-And-I-verson."

"I just don't understand where the selfish part comes in," Iverson said. "I mean, how am I selfish? Because I'm starving for success? Because I'm hungry for success? Because I want to be great? Because I want to be mentioned in the same sentence with Isiah Thomas, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson?"

As quickly as Iverson jabs one way, switches hands and darts the other, he invokes one of the contradictions that haunts him. He decries his image problem, but refuses to change it.

He remains loyal to childhood friends, even the two who embarrassed him by getting arrested on drug charges while driving his car last summer in Norfolk, Va.

He is unfairly judged by his appearance, yet holds fast to his silver chains, diamond earrings the size of dimes and braided hair. It now traces a maze about his scalp, a change from the straight-back rows he first wore at the 1997 All-Star weekend in Cleveland for a breakthrough performance in the Rookie Game.

"I think it's going to continue for the rest of my life," Iverson said. "It's always going to be billions of people out there that hate me, but it's going to be another billion that love me. I'm not going to be able to satisfy everybody.

"I'll continue to make mistakes in my life. Hopefully, it will never be with the law again, but I'll make mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes."

One thing never changes about Iverson. With all that talent and speed and a basketball dancing from his fingertips, he makes everyone check the replay because eyes alone aren't fast enough to follow him in real life.

Iverson is still trying to get a grip on that, himself.

"I'm trying to get my life in perspective," he said, "and walk a straight line for the rest of my career and the rest of my life."