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When They're 64 Will we still need them--and will we still feed them--when our heroes are over the hill?

Allen Iverson last week signed a lifetime contract with Reebok,
which will still be paying the 76ers guard when his only
dribbling is into a bib, he's "breaking ankles" stepping out of
the tub and he's no longer def but is, alas, deaf. Likewise,
Mike Krzyzewski signed in November to coach Duke for the rest of
his working life--through age 65, when he'll spend less time
preparing for Wake than he does preparing for wakes.

Good for them. Every coach and athlete ought to have the
limitless riches and unending attention that a lifetime contract
assures. Why shouldn't, say, Bucks forward Anthony Mason still
be venerated--and remunerated--well into his 80s, when all his
hos wear support hose?

If our favorite sports personalities are to continue leading, to
the lip of the grave, the opulent lifestyles to which they're
accustomed, they'll require an annual, lottery-sized payout for
life. Because they'll need all that money they blow in strip
joints for hip joints.

Thank goodness, then, that Iverson will forever advertise his
signature shoe (the orthopedic Answer?) and be paid handsomely
for doing so. Decades from now--when the sometime rapper is
using the Clapper, when his head is bare but his feet are
corn-rowed, when the only pump he requires has nothing to do
with his Reeboks--AI's life will be every bit as large as his
prostate. And more power to him.

But let's go further and lock up for the long haul all those
athletes who will require an eight-figure salary in their 80s.
With Evander Holyfield's expenses--including maintenance on his
160-room mansion--he'll need a yearly $30 million paycheck just
to make his monthly nut. Surely he deserves to be happy in his
golden years: puttering down some Florida freeway in a
Lamborghini Diablo, left turn signal winking all the way, a
long-faded bumper sticker boasting PROUD FATHER OF NINE HONOR

Someone should pay pro wrestler Steve Austin until he really is
stone cold. The Rock, too, deserves a rich endorsement deal in
his dotage. (I can smell what the Rock is cookin': Gerber's
strained peas.) Surely the Yankees should sign Jason Giambi to a
lifetime deal, for the free-agent slugger will be every bit as
marketable in his late 70s as he is now, at 30. (He already
looks, in his wraparound shades, as if he had cataract surgery.)

The point is, we mustn't neglect our senior citizens. So how
about it, Trail Blazers? Will you still pay Rasheed Wallace when
he's hosting teas instead of collecting T's? And whaddya say,
Texas Tech: When he stops coaching diaper dandies--and starts
keeping diapers handy--will you still love Bob Knight?

Right now, for Shaquille O'Neal, it's all about the Benjamins.
However, one day in the distant future, when he needs Benjamins
and vitamins, he will long for the security of a lifetime
contract. Will the Lakers be there for him? Likewise, for
Terrell Owens, life is all long balls and booty calls--for now.
What happens, though, in 2050, when his most treasured piece of
ice is a $400,000, diamond-studded, platinum MedicAlert
bracelet? Will the 49ers still support him? Sure, life looks
rosy at the moment for Monday Night Football announcer Dennis
Miller. But let's talk to him in three decades, when Miller
cares less about his deadpan delivery than about his bedpan
delivery. Will you take care of him then, ABC?

Here's hoping that the lifetime contract becomes what it ought
to be: a basic right of every professional athlete. Soon, too.
By the time Antoine Walker's on a walker, Martin Gramatica has
crippling sciatica and A-Rod needs a rod inserted in his
spine--it will be too late.