PHILADELPHIA -- No matter where Allen Iverson goes or how many defenders he baffles, the critics are always in close pursuit. They say he's cocky, selfish, too enamored of old friends from a troubled past.
Ready or not, Iverson signed a $70.9 million contract extension with the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday that gave him much more than a raise. Flashing a smile to team president Pat Croce, this enigmatic 23-year-old took on the pressure of becoming one of the top young stars in the NBA's post-Jordan era.
"I want to win the most championships," Iverson said. "And I want to be the best player."
The job began as soon as Iverson finished signing his name. Iverson will get the maximum for a player entering his third season in the league, Croce said. He will get $9 million next season with annual raises of $1.1 million that add up to $14.6 million in the final year of the contract.
"I didn't want to wait until the end of the year and then decide whether to play for a contender," Iverson said. "I never wanted to take the easy way out. I've been here through the bad times, I want to be here through the good. I pretty much knew what time it was."
It is the largest contract ever guaranteed by the Sixers, hurtling Iverson past the likes of Julius Erving, Wilt Chamberlain, and Charles Barkley.
"There were no snags on our part," Croce said. "I know Allen, and I know he's a winner. I know he's a good guy. That smile can break you down like his crossover."
Iverson's chance to strike it super-rich with a $100 million contract -- like those signed by Kevin Garnett, Antonio McDyess and Shawn Kemp -- was wiped out by the lockout. According to the NBA's new collective bargaining agreement, a player with up to six years experience can receive as much as 25 percent of his team's salary cap, beginning at a maximum of $9 million.
His 1998-99 salary of $3.5 million is prorated for a 50-game schedule, reducing it to $2.2 million -- a loss of more than $1.3 million due to the lockout.
"I just wanted to make enough money to take care of my family," Iverson said. "The money that's out there for me right now is enough for me to do so. If the Sixers were going to give me $100 million, I would be a fool not to take it. I have a family and I want to know how my future's going to look financially. But it's not all about money all the time."
Iverson is feared for his speed and crossover dribble, yet criticized for ongoing legal problems and judged on his appearance and choice of friends. Along with incredible skill and competitiveness, he brings a street-kid look to the court with his braids, jewelry and tattoos running up and down each arm. Barkley once called him Allen "Me, Myself and Iverson."
Two weeks ago, legal problems haunted Iverson again. Mercedes-Benz Credit Corp. sued Iverson for more than $28,500 in unpaid lease payments on three late-model cars. The suit also asks for the return of the cars and for the total buyout amount, about $300,000, on the 24-month lease vehicles.
"I didn't know until the article came out," Iverson said. "It was something that my accountant was supposed to handle."
Though Croce was willing to let his championship hopes rest with Iverson, he still worries about him.
"He's young, and I know he's giving of himself and of his riches to his friends and family to a fault," Croce said. "So I always worry about him, because he's not someone who will say no."
If Iverson had waited until July 1, he could have negotiated with any team for a seven-year contract worth more than $86 million. But he said he wants to stay in Philadelphia, despite his past grievances with coach Larry Brown.
"I just had to mature," Iverson said. "I realized that he was a great coach when I looked at his resume. It was important for me to put my pride aside and listen to what was said to me as a positive.
"I was just young, I had to do a lot of growing up."