LeBron James' lifetime contract brings Allen Iverson's ill-fated deal into focus

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LeBron James' new lifetime deal with Nike signed this week has taken a man already at the pinnacle of his sport and placed him one rung further up the ladder towards a lasting legacy.

Now rubbing shoulders with fellow 'lifetime' contract holders such as David Beckham (Soccer, Adidas) and Michael Jordan (NBA and lifetime in everything but name), LeBron's path towards even greater off-court success looks, at first glance, to be a straight-forward one.

Not a guarantee

However, whilst James, the consummate businessman that he is, may have struck gold, deals of this nature have backfired in the past. A case in point, Allen 'The Answer' Iverson.


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Back in November 2001, Iverson, finely balanced on a tightrope between NBA renegade and marketing man's dream, was handed a 'lifetime endorsement and marketing contract' by Reebok.

The sporting apparel brand's then chairman and chief executive officer, Paul Fireman, said at the time:

"We don't consider our relationship to end when his career does...We believe we can continue to bring forth products and engage consumers on Allen's behalf and ours for years after his career is over."

Six months removed from an NBA MVP award and heroic effort in that year's Finals series, the unapologetic guard was at the top of the game and the Reebok deal pointed to big things down the road.

Fast forward 14 years, however, and that carefully laid out plan, one that looked to make both Reebok and Iverson a lot of money, appears to have become one of the many casualties of Iverson's off-court issues.

Yes, Iverson's signature 'Answer' and 'Question' sneakers sold well through much of the '00s, but, with his personal problems well-documented and having been out of the league since 2010, the partnership doesn't exactly scream success right now.

Ill-judged decision

And, according to a recent biography on the star, it could all be about to get a lot worse for Iverson thanks to one decision he made back in 2010.

Although Iverson collects $800,000 per year (a figure some believe is keeping him above water), his Reebok deal was structured in such a way that, in 2030 at the age of fifty-five, the former Sixers star is supposed to collect a huge $32 million chunk.

Unfortunately for Iverson, a combination of his wayward ways - drinking and gambling have been vices down the years - and a post-nuptial with his then-wife Tawanna could see him waive the money goodbye.

In his book, Not a Game: The Incredible Rise and Unthinkable Fall of Allen Iverson, author Kent Babb claims Iverson, in a postnuptial designed to help save his marriage, agreed to live by a strict set of guidelines - guidelines which, if broken, would see the full $32 sum transferred to Tawanna.

Terms apparently included:

- Can not cheat or have children outside of marriage.
- No physical or verbal abuse.
- Must attend marriage counseling.
- Must speak to therapist about drinking and gambling problems.
- Can never gamble again.
- Must be home by midnight.
- Must discuss any purchases over $5K.

As may be obvious by the fact that the pair's divorce became final back in 2013, Iverson failed to live be his own code of conduct. After so many years living outside the rulebook in the NBA (and beyond) this is perhaps unsurprising.

Babb does note that Tawanna has tentatively promised to award half the figure to Iverson come 2030 in an act of good faith. Still, having a question mark hang over $16 million when you had $32 guaranteed is no one's version of success.

Not as once imagined

Accusations of alcoholism and violence have dogged Iverson for many years and his actions undoubtedly had an adverse effect on parts of his NBA career and his life away from the court.

The Hampton, Virginia native never played by anyone else's rule. That attitude helped him reach the pinnacle of the game and, at times, made him one of the most fun players to watch in NBA history.

Unfortunately, it also looks like it put pay to what many athletes can only dream of; a lifetime of security that a 'lifetime' contract should afford.

For a man who James probably looked up to as he plotted his path to the NBA, that lifetime deal hasn't turned out to be quite as rosy as once imagined.

LeBron James
Cleveland Cavaliers
Central Division
Eastern Conference
Philadelphia 76ers
Atlantic Division
Detroit Pistons

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