Iverson aiming to prove critics wrong

Updated: September 10, 2009, 6:05 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Allen Iverson has something to prove.

Though the 10-time All-Star and former league MVP has scored more than 23,000 points in his NBA career, he wasn't a highly sought-after free agent.

The 34-year-old guard heard all the talk that he's lost a step, that last year's dip in offensive production indicated he's on the downside of his career, maybe even ready for retirement.

[+] EnlargeAllen Iverson
Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty ImagesAllen Iverson got a hero's welcome, with a standing ovation and Grizzlies fans chanting his name.

Iverson wants to prove those critics wrong, and he'll get his chance in Memphis.

NBA front-office sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein that Iverson signed a one-year deal worth $3.1 million, slightly below the $3.5 million previously reported.

But the deal contains unspecified incentives, which could explain why the Grizzlies renounced their rights earlier Thursday to Spanish guard Juan Carlos Navarro. Surrendering their rights to Navarro created an extra $900,000 in salary-cap space to potentially cover Iverson's incentives if he reaches them.

The Grizzlies are coming off a 24-58 season that tied for fifth-worst in the NBA.

"This year for me is so personal," Iverson said at his introductory news conference.

"It's basically going to be my rookie season again. It hurts, but I turn the TV on, I read the paper, I listen to some of the things people say about me having the season that I had last year and me losing a step, things like that. They're trying to put me in a rocking chair already."

The team and Iverson's agent, Leon Rose, declined to discuss specifics, though Rose said the deal is laden with team-oriented incentives. None is tied to Iverson's individual statistics. A base salary reported at about $3.5 million was increased after the Grizzlies withdrew a qualifying offer to guard Juan Carlos Navarro, freeing up more money for the signing.

The 13-year veteran was welcomed with a standing ovation in an atmosphere that felt like a pep rally, with fans standing in the lobby of the FedExForum.

Iverson, dressed in a white shirt and wearing a Grizzlies ball cap, saluted the hundreds of fans who yelled out, "We Love You, Allen," and chanted "AI, AI, AI."

Cheerleaders, the team mascot and even the drum corps were there. One fan presented Iverson a book during the news conference. The Convention and Visitors Bureau gave him a Beale Street Blue Gibson guitar.

At times, the whoops and support of Iverson's answers were reminiscent of a revival.

The Grizzlies are hoping for more than a revival. They want to go well beyond just making the playoffs; they want to boost interest in a franchise struggling to sell seats in Memphis.

General manager Chris Wallace called Iverson one of the NBA's all-time great guards and said the signing is a great day for the team, Grizzlies' fans and the city of Memphis. The team had been courting Iverson since July, a process that sped up with dinner Monday night in Atlanta with the guard, Wallace, team owner Michael Heisley and coach Lionel Hollins.

"This guy has many years of basketball left in him ... and he is eager. He expressed it to us to get going with the task of helping our team reach a whole other level of success," Wallace said.

Iverson is the biggest name ever stretched across the back of a Grizzlies jersey. The franchise has only one All-Star in its history -- Pau Gasol in 2006.

The 6-foot Iverson has been rookie of the year, the 2001 league MVP and a four-time scoring champ with a career average of 27.1. Philadelphia made him the top pick in the 1996 NBA draft, and he spent the bulk of his career with the 76ers before being traded to Denver in 2006 and then to Detroit last November.

Whether Iverson's presence translates into more wins for the Grizzlies is unknown, but the excitement Thursday could indicate his potential impact at the box office. The team store already had jerseys with Iverson's No. 3 hanging on the wall ready for sale.

Iverson ranks second among active players in career scoring, behind Shaquille O'Neal, and is 16th all-time with 23,983 points in 886 games.

Iverson will open the season against his most recent team. The Detroit Pistons visit Memphis on Oct. 28.

New York, Charlotte, Miami and the Clippers also inquired about Iverson, but Memphis appeared to be the only one to make a solid offer.

Questions still remain about where Iverson fits in the Grizzlies' plans after talking most of the summer about the need for scoring help off the bench. Iverson said in April he would rather retire than come off the bench and complained about his minutes while with the Pistons.

Iverson said Thursday he wants to compete and be a coach on the floor.

O.J. Mayo, who finished second to Chicago's Derrick Rose in rookie of the year voting last season, starts at shooting guard. Memphis seems committed to Mike Conley at the point. There's little doubt Iverson's scoring talents should help a team which averaged only 93.9 points a game last season, next to last in the league.

"I'm excited," Conley said after watching the news conference with his teammates. "It's a guy I always watched growing up, and having him as a teammate is going to be a great opportunity for me."

The Associated Press and ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein contributed to this report.

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