HOOP SCOOP column: Documentary on former hoop star Neumann’s life provides a cautionary tale | The Japan Times

Hoop aficionados from Harlem to Hokkaido can appreciate the details of a good global basketball odyssey. Heck, any human with a pulse can. Well, folks, Joh

Source: Documentary on former hoop star Neumann’s life provides a cautionary tale | The Japan Times

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Skeeter Swift’s dying words: gratitude for a former ABA teammate’s unconditional support

By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (July 4, 2017)
Fourth in a series

The voice is haunting.

It’s an emotional call for gratitude.

It accentuates the brotherly bond between Harley “Skeeter” Swift and Bob Netolicky, former teammates with the Dallas Chaparrals and San Antonio Spurs during the 1972-73 and 1973-74 ABA seasons.

But it’s more than that, really.

It’s about the enduring legacy of the kinship shared by the tight fraternity of many former ABA players who competed during the avante-garde circuit’s memorable run (1967-1976).

The voice pulls at your heart’s strings.

Listen to Swift’s words in a voice mail to Netolicky only days before his death at age 70 on April 20.

Hey roomie, this is Skeeter. I got back from the hospital yesterday. I had to have knee replacement. I’m telling you it sure wore me out. And it’s not a macho thing but you’ve got to stay on top of the exercise and exercises.

“But anyway, I was just calling you and if you’ve a chance, give me a call. If not, I’ll just try to call you later. I hope you’re doing OK. You know, (my wife) Demetria and I, we were just talking last night and we could never (his voice cracks up with emotion) repay you for all that you’ve done for us. And I’ll just wait to hear from you. Bye-bye.

A bit of perspective and general background helps at this point.

Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star effectively summed up Swift’s post-ABA plight in a poignant column in May. Here’s a key passage: “Years ago Swift had turned to Netolicky to help track down his ABA pension. His pension was small but for whatever reason, perhaps an oversight, he’d never received a penny. Netolicky connected Swift with the San Antonio-based pension administrator, who sent Swift a check for back payments. These were hard years for Swift. He had lymphoma. And a stroke. Alzheimer’s. Three hip-replacement surgeries. One knee replaced, with another needing replacement when Skeeter Swift died…”

Like many of his ABA peers, Swift, a shooting guard out of George Washington High School in Alexandria, Virginia and East Tennessee State University, didn’t receive a steady, reasonable pension from the NBA in his latter years despite an agreement promised by the NBA in 1976, when the Indiana Pacers, New York Nets, San Antonio Spurs and Denver Nuggets were absorbed by the NBA and the ABA folded. The agreement said in part that ABA players who had three years or more of service in the league were eligible for the pension.

Swift was the 31st overall pick in the 1969 NBA Draft, selected by the Milwaukee Bucks. Instead, his pro career began with the ABA’s New Orleans Buccaneers, and he went on to also play for the Memphis Pros, Pittsburgh Condors, Chaparrals and Spurs. He averaged 11.6 points per game during his ABA years and retired in 1974. He was a 2010 inductee into the  Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. Years earlier, Swift had coached at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia and, according to published reports, compiled a 61-1 record at the prep hoop powerhouse. (Carmelo Anthony, Rod Strickland and Jerry Stackhouse are among the school’s basketball alumni.)

Listen to Swift once more.

I hope you’re doing OK. You know, Demetria and I, we were just talking last night and we could never (his voice cracks up with emotion) repay you for all that you’ve done for us.

It’s a call to action.

The National Basketball Players Association, led by newly re-elected president Chris Paul, ought to be the first to recognize this. Its (mostly) millionaire members have the ability to exert persistent pressure on owners and commissioner Adam Silver to change the Collective Bargaining Agreement to set aside some additional funds for former ABA players.

There are billions of dollars going to contemporary players for contracts, including Stephen Curry’s new five-year, $201 million deal with the Golden State Warriors. Billions more are guaranteed to the league’s owners for TV rights.

The league isn’t hurting; it’s thriving beyond anyone’s wildest expectations.

But the quality of life of former ABA players — men who helped pave the way for the NBA’s adoption of the fast-paced, run-and-gun, 3-point shooting style that thrived in the influential ABA — has not kept pace with ex-NBA players’, including pre-1965 NBA players who received a large pension increase in 2007. As reported on ESPN.com, “according to an NBA news release, the pre-1965 players will now receive $3,600 a per year of service, compared to the $2,400 per year of service they received under the previous pension program.”

A former ABA player with a minimum three years of service is still only eligible to receive $180 month in pension from the NBA.

Netolicky confirmed the financial figures this week.

“The current NBA pension for players playing after 1965 is, if you retire at age 62 you receive approximately $1,800 per month per year of service,” Netolicky wrote in an email. “A six-year player receives approximately $10,800 per month or $129,000 per year. The same six-year ABA player pension is only $360 per month or $4,320 per year. As part of the merger agreement we were promised the same pension as the NBA.
In the new collective bargaining agreement they are going to raise the NBA pension even higher.

“All we are asking is to receive at least what the old pre-65 players are getting.”

Common decency and fairness are the two pillars of the former ABA players’ proposal to the NBA.

As summarized in an April petition from the Retired ABA Players to the NBA and NPBA, the historic facts were stated as follows: “In the 1976 Stipulation and Settlement Agreement, the Spurs, Nets, Nuggets and Pacers promised to provide former ABA players the same pension rights and privileges equivalent to that provided to NBA players.

“As understood from the terms of the Settlement Agreement, the former ABA players would receive the benefits of a Pension Fund that would be equivalent to the NBA Pension Fund in all regards.”

That’s never been the case across the board — and explained in greater details in parts 1-3 of this article series below.

Which brings us back to Swift’s haunting voice.

Hey roomie, this is Skeeter. I got back from the hospital yesterday. I had to have knee replacement. I’m telling you it sure wore me out. And it’s not a macho thing but you’ve got to stay on top of the exercise and exercises.

“But anyway, I was just calling you and if you’ve a chance, give me a call. If not, I’ll just try to call you later. I hope you’re doing OK. You know, (my wife) Demetria and I, we were just talking last night and we could never (his voice cracks up with emotion) repay you for all that you’ve done for us. And I’ll just wait to hear from you. Bye-bye.

The NBA has an opportunity to improve the quality of life for the surviving members of a special fraternity: 149 ABA players at last count.

A modest increase of a few hundred bucks a month per person could go a long way to making this happen.

Recommended reading: http://www.expressnews.com/sports/columnists/roy-bragg/article/NBA-needs-to-do-the-right-thing-for-ABA-players-11257178.php

***
Related stories
Part 1: https://edodevenreporting.wordpress.com/2017/05/27/allen-berrebbis-moral-crusade-against-the-nba-2/

Part 2: https://edodevenreporting.wordpress.com/2017/06/16/former-aba-players-fighting-for-fairness-dignity/

Part 3: https://edodevenreporting.wordpress.com/2017/06/19/broken-promises-nba-never-fulfilled-settlement-agreement-with-aba/

 

A serious discussion about comedy with Peter Mehlman

Seinfeld table read

Blast from the past: The cast and crew of “Seinfeld” prepares for an episode during the 1990s.

By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (July 3, 2017) — Before landing the job of a lifetime as a writer and producer (eventually executive producer) for “Seinfeld,” Peter Mehlman bounced around several jobs where his journalism skills paid the bills.

He worked as a sportswriter for The Washington Post after graduating from the University of Maryland. He wrote and produced for Howard Cosell’s “SportsBeat” TV program from 1982-84. He penned articles for Esquire and GQ and The New York Times magazine, among other publications.

Mehlman’s move to Los Angeles in 1989 paved the way for his eventual role as a key contributor to the remarkable success of Seinfeld, which aired from 1989-98. (Indeed, fellow New Yorkers Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, the show’s co-creators came to recognize that the witty Mehlman could and would make valuable contributions to the show.)

In recent years, the New York native, now in his early 60s, created an online interview show called “Peter Mehlman’s Narrow World of Sports,” filling the roles of host, writer and producer. Mehlman is also a longtime Huffington Post contributor. A recent blog item: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-mehlman/250-million-undateable-people_b_9862748.html

In a recent interview, Mehlman explained what it was like working on the set of Seinfeld and why the job was such a joyful experience, described the “pure alchemy” between Seinfeld, David and the show’s other writers, revealed why he’s a big fan of Steven Wright’s contributions to comedy (plus Richard Pryor, Howard Stern and Johnny Carson, and others) and what it was like becoming a stand-up comic for the first time at age 58.

***
When you were 10 years old, what did you consider your dream job? How about when starting your senior year of high school?

Heart surgeon. I was a very eager-to-please 10-year-old. By senior year of high school, I thought the best possible job in the world was being Walt Frazier, the oppressively cool guard for the New York Knicks.

 

Stand up B&W

Peter Mehlman began doing standup comedy at age 58.

Who’s the funniest athlete you’ve interviewed and then written about?

I can’t think of anyone funny whom I’ve also written about. Writing profiles about athletes was never my thing. But Blake Griffin of the LA Clippers is the funniest athlete ever. The interview with him was incredible.

He’s practically a comic genius … and he’s very serious about comedy.

 

What’s your favorite episode of Seinfeld? Your favorite scene (perhaps from a different episode)?

I always like “The Deal*” in which Jerry and Elaine try to figure out how they can have sex and maintain their friendship. The first scene of that episode is the best comedy dialogue I’ve ever seen on TV. Larry David at the height of his powers.

*www.seinfeldscripts.com/TheDeal.htm

Do you read a lot of serious essays and novels, contrasting with the image of a quintessential funny man?

I read nothing but serious essays and novels. Novels by John Updike and essays by Joan Didion have made for some of the most blissful moments in my life.

 

IMG_2273

Peter Mehlman

How would you describe the creative synergy between you and Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David during Seinfeld’s heyday? Was there, in your view, a famous argument that took place over a certain episode or minute detail of a scene?

 

I can’t recall a single serious argument about the show’s content. There were disagreements and discussions but it never got heated, no one was ever offended. Seinfeld was, in addition to everything else, a very joyous place to work. The synergy between me (and every other writer) and Larry and Jerry was pure alchemy. We never focused on that kind of thing but each had his own sensibility. Larry was darker than Jerry and, on occasion, I was called in to give my opinion on their differences. I tended toward Larry’s point of view because (a) his viewpoint had already taken us to the mountain top and (b) when the show went to dangerous places, it gave me a bit of a thrill.

What was a typical TV production meeting like on the set of Seinfeld in the mid-1990s? Were Jerry and Larry both control freaks? Did one of them usually have greater control over the script and joke revisions at the 11th hour?

Larry had control over everything. Seinfeld was very different than all other sitcoms. There was no writers’ room and we didn’t have a lot of meetings and the ones we had were pretty quick. The word “joke” barely came up because we didn’t write jokes, we wrote funny dialogue. If you were stuck for a joke, you were in trouble… it meant that the scene was not organically funny. All the typical late nights and groping around for jokes in a room full of junk food-infested writers you hear about from other sitcoms, didn’t happen on Seinfeld. And by the way, if Larry liked a funny line that didn’t get laughs from the crew the whole week, he was undeterred. His confidence in what he believed to be funny was absolutely fireproof.

As a writer, you cemented your place in TV history from now till the end of time with expressions like “yada, yada, yada,” “shrinkage” and “double dip,” with those and other phrases entering the American pop cultural icon. That said, how influential do you think comedians are in shaping the way language is asked? (I ask this question while reflecting on George Carlin in the 1970s, for instance.)

Comedians have their place in the history of language but not an oversized place. If anything, comedians’ impact on the culture is slightly overrated. Personally, I think Steven Wright is the guy who’s put more absolutely brilliant lines out there than any other comic yet very few people would mention him if asked the same question. As someone who started out in journalism, I don’t feel the same level of reverence for comedians than most comedy writers, so I’m kind of freed up to say that George Carlin never made much of an impression on me. His “Seven words…” bit is all I remember and to me, it’s a big “So What?”

Comics like Richard Pryor, Sarah Silverman or Garry Shandling have had a much bigger impact on me. Woody Allen has contributed more brilliant lines than anyone but that’s more in the context of writing than from being a comedian. All that said, putting the term “double dip” out there is nice — but a thousand times less impactful than, say, “Can’t we all just get along?” by Rodney King or “Better angels” by Abraham Lincoln or “Follow the money” by William Goldman in “All The President’s Men.”

What’s your reaction to this statement: Seinfeld’s online show “Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee” is one of the five best things on the Internet in the 2010s?

My reaction is … I have no idea what the other four are because I don’t watch much internet content. Jerry’s show is interesting to me in how you get to see comics being funny, or trying to be funny, without their material. Sometimes it’s fantastic and reassuring, other times it’s disillusioning and cringeworthy. I see the show as less comedy and more suspense … “Who is really funny?”

Do you devote X number of hours per day to writing? If so, how many? Where do you like to write? Do you prefer to do so at home, in a public setting? On a laptop or tablet? On a notepad?

At home, on a desktop with no particular hours of operation.

How far and wide have you traveled doing stand-up comedy? Were was your first show? Your biggest show? Your most-recent show?

In order to perform stand-up comedy, I have traveled all the way to Burbank. It might be nice to try it out of town but let’s face it, when you do stand-up for the first time at the age of 58, you’re doing it for the fun/challenge, not as a career. My first time was the Westside Comedy Theater in Santa Monica. My biggest show was following Dane Cook on a Saturday night at The Improv in Hollywood. It was fantastic.

***

What’s your earliest recollection of finding something funny? What was it?

My parents got tickets to Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts which were later on TV and sponsored by Bell Telephone. After a long symphony, Lenny (as we called him) said, “We’re going to take a break now for a long distance call.” Somehow I got the joke. It was thrilling because it came from an adult. A super famous, genius adult.

Do you consider yourself naturally funny? Do you think that humor is best expressed with the written word?

I never really thought about being naturally funny but being funny was always important to me. Humor in the written word is completely different. It’s all about grammar and usage, as opposed to voice delivery and facial expression. Written word humor is hard and, ultimately, the most intelligent form.

Who was the funniest person you knew before your 10th birthday? What made him or her so funny? Same question … but between ages 10-20. Why?

Curly Howard of the Three Stooges. He just made funny sounds and faces. Of course, he was already dead by the time I saw him…

Between 10-20 — a wildly changing time span — I started out loving Don Adams on “Get Smart.” It was and is one of my favorite shows ever. The repetition was especially funny; you knew certain lines were coming and that made the show even funnier. I guess I was loving Mel Brooks but I didn’t really read the credits. Between 16-20 it was all Woody Allen and then Richard Pryor. I listened to their albums and knew every line. They were funny in radically different ways. Woody was so creative, his movies and stand-up were wild and unpredictable. I stole lines and tried to use them on girls. Pryor was a whole different planet for me. I went to a high school that was almost half black but wasn’t exposed to the deepest thoughts of black people. Pryor was so funny and powerful and eloquent and profane simultaneously. It was mind-blowing.

For you, who was the first comedian you considered a role model or hero?

Woody Allen, the reasons above. He not only made great, funny, deep movies but he did amazing stand-up AND wrote for The New Yorker. “Getting Even” and “Without Feathers” were monster examples of great writing and humor. And I used to chat with Woody at Knick games at Madison Square Garden when I was around 13. So I felt like I knew him.

If there were an all-time starting nine of superstar comedians to steal a baseball term, who’d crack the starting lineup? Who’d be your No. 1 pick?

Pryor, Woody, Steven Wright, Sarah Silverman, Garry Shandling, Gilbert Gottfried, Rodney Dangerfield, Don Rickles and just to give a nod to the present, Jarrod Carmichael. Picking a number one between those first six is too tough.

What’s the best joke you heard or read in the 20th century?

I don’t really know. I’m not a joke guy.

What’s the best joke of the 21st century?

Ditto

What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever said?

No idea. I’m so not into picking superlatives out of my own life.

What’s the funniest line you’ve ever written?

Ditto.

What was the most impressive aspect of David Letterman’s long run on late-night TV?

That he seemed so cheerful every night as opposed to what he was like in reality.

Who do you consider the most underrated comedian of all time? Why?

Gilbert Gottfried. His delivery overwhelms his content for a lot of people but his material is amazing. In a way, Sarah Silverman is similar: the genius and courageousness of her material is, for some people, lost in what’s misperceived as raunchiness.

What’s the funniest movie you’ve ever seen?

Airplane!

Based on their creative synergy and gift for delivering “a show about nothing” each week, is it an apt description to label Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David the Lennon and McCartney of TV sitcoms?

More like the Lennon and McCartney of Seinfeld. The show was beyond the genre of sitcom.

Looking back on the remarkable success and popularity of “Seinfeld” and the cultural footprints it left and contributions to the English language as well with memorable phrases, how satisfying is it personally that you were a key part of the show’s writing and production?

It’s satisfying and pleasing and I’m grateful it happened. But I’m just grateful for my other jobs. Being published in The Washington Post and New York Times was equally wonderful… I just didn’t get paid as much. In a way, the lasting catchphrases is the best part of it all… you don’t often get to have an impact on the cultural landscape of this huge, unwieldy nation.

Has that satisfaction increased over the years?

No. I was aware of it when it was happening and I’m still aware of it.

Just suppose the show was relaunched in 2017 with the four main characters. Is there a story line for the first show that you have in mind?

It would be fun if Kramer met Maya Lin and convinced her to re-design his bathroom.

Who are some influential individuals — let’s say 5-6 people — who have shaped the way you write and inject humor into your writings? (Please elaborate on each one’s role as an influential figure for you.)

John Updike, Philip Roth, Lorrie Moore, Ian McEwan, Fran Liebowitz, Woody Allen… all of them for the same reasons: they use the English language perfectly at their funniest moments. They weave humor in their writing with a seamlessness that’s always surprising and therefore doubly impactful.

How did working at The Washington Post under both George Solomon and legendary executive editor Ben Bradlee help guide you on the path to success as a writer? As prominent journalism professionals, what impression did each of them make?

They infused young writers with the two most important traits: commitment to truth and fearlessness.

And how did writing for Howard Cosell’s “SportsBeat” TV program further establish your career? What was the most important thing you’d say you accomplished during those 2 1/2 years you worked with Cosell?

He forced you to question everything and develop a highly functioning bullshit detector. Growing up a sports fan, I had to unlearn every belief I had about teams, athletes, executives, agents, everything. Sports is a massively corrupt world and it’s important to keep people from mindlessly watching games without seeing the hypocrisy staring us in the face.

On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your ability to do Cosell impersonations?

8.5. Not as good as a few other people on the SportsBeat staff, better than Billy Crystal.

Finish this sentence to give it a comic tone: Donald Trump and George Costanza walk into a bar and …

Nothing happens. Most of what we learned to anticipate never happens.

***
What immediately comes to mind — a handful of adjectives and/or phrases — for each of the following?

Peter Sellers – Unhinged, brilliant and incredibly poignant in “Being There.”
Richard Pryor – Tortured genius, beyond powerful… I can quote entire albums of his stuff. Meeting him was a religious experience.
Denis Leary – Aggressive, smart. I’ve gotten to know him and really like him. It’s kind of funny that he’s a real urban Boston guy and yet, through his truck commercial voice-overs, he’s become one of the big voices of Redneck America.
George Burns – Understated, kind. Major longevity.
Chris Rock – Insanely self-confident, prowling, prolific — great taste in heroes (Woody Allen)
Johnny Carson – mysterious, dangerous, unpredictable, dark, secretive, better at his job than anyone ever was or will be.
Stephen Colbert – Better as his fictional character on the Colbert Report than himself on Late Night.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus – Greatest line-readings ever. Classy. Grounded. Unpretentious. Enunciates words to perfection… no American speaks more beautifully than JLD.
Bob Newhart – Low key. Halting. Stylistically as unique as anyone ever.
Joan Rivers – Made you laugh despite not wanting to. Jam packed with human frailty. Brave. An aura of desperation.
Howard Stern – Makes me laugh on a more consistent basis than anyone in the world. Tuning into Howard is a lifeline. Fearless. The greatest thing about him is, for all his low-brow humor and incorrigibility, you know that he’s a really good guy with his heart in the right place on everything.
Joe Pesci – Great in “My Cousin Vinny.” Otherwise, he’s exhausting. The fact that he’s an avid golfer seems weird.
Robin Williams – Mixed feelings. Epically wonderful in “Good Will Hunting” and kind of ruined “Garp” (one of my favorite novels ever.) Probably a brilliant comic but I’m not big on improvisational, unwritten stand-up.
Lenny Bruce – In this time of cancerous political correctness, he should be resurrected as a way of showing the world how you can say anything and have it be OK if it’s funny or true. Not even sure he was especially funny but it doesn’t matter, he had something important to say. Also: At 16, seeing one still photo of him on the cover of his biography (by Dick Schaap) made me think stand-up would be a cool job.

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Follow Peter Mehlman on Twitter: @PeterMehlman