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, “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:

Related stories
Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:


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:

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.


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.



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?


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?


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?


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.

Follow Peter Mehlman on Twitter: @PeterMehlman




Remembering Frank Kush

By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (June 25, 2017) — In the days since former Arizona State football coach Frank Kush’s death at age 88, a few memories return to the backroads of my mind.

He was a larger-than-life legend on ASU’s Tempe campus, even more so in the Sun Devils athletic department.

Everyone knew who he was. Or would quickly learn by mentioning his name.

Decades after he last coached a game for ASU in 1979, Kush’s records remain remarkable, including 19 winning seasons in 21-plus seasons at the helm.

Kush took over for the departed Dan Devine, who went on to coach Missouri, the Green Bay Backers and Notre Dame after leaving ASU in 1957.

A few times in the mid-to-late 1990s, when a large throng of reporters exited the Sun Devil Stadium press box and took the elevator down to field level, Kush was among the notebook- and tape recorder-carrying group. I recall seeing a few look at Kush with awe, as if to say, “Wow, that’s Frank Kush.”

He must’ve gotten this look a million times.

Kush engaged in small talk with the media without the apperance of an ounce of pomposity, and went on his way.

I didn’t converse with Kush dozens of times. We only met a handful of times.

However, I remember interviewing him two times while I worked for the ASU State Press, the student newspaper.

On the first occasion, I wrote a story about the athletic department retiring quarterback Danny White’s No. 11 jersey before the special event. Speaking on the telephone while taking a break from his job as executive administrator of the Arizona Boys Ranch, Kush provided serious, to-the-point answers. No wasted words. Not a lot of flowery adjectives. He simply offered anecdotes and sharp-as-a-tack recollections of White’s arrival on the Tempe campus and details of games that were still quite clear in his mind decades later.

Kush also couldn’t hide his admiration for White as a comeptitor, leader and accomplished winner. Those were traits that also served Kush well throughout his coaching tenure with the Sun Devils.

On another occcasion in the lates ’90s, I crossed paths with Kush at a weeknight fundraiser for former ASU offensive lineman Joe Cajic, who was battling leukemia. (Related story:

Kush joined several former Sun Devils players in giving moral support to Cajic during a very difficult chapter in his life. He also signed autographs, posed for photos with fans and conversed with the media throughout the night. Over the course of a few hours, including during his brief exchange with me as Pat Tillman looked on from a few feet away, Kush repeated the message that giving back to the community is part of the responsibility of being a football player or coach.

And he was right.

Broken promises: NBA never fulfilled settlement agreement with ABA


Artis Gilmore was the No. 1 pick in the 1976 ABA Dispersal Draft, leaving the Kentucky Colonels to play for the Chicago Bulls. WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (June 19, 2017)
Third in a series

When the NBA and ABA finalized merger proceedings in the summer of 1976, four teams (the San Antonio Spurs, New York Nets, Denver Nuggets and Indiana Pacers) were swallowed up by the NBA.

The ABA as an entity was finished. History. The other remaining teams, the Kentucky Colonels and Spirits of St. Louis, folded.

On the other hand, its legacy — and the impact of ex-ABA players that enriched the NBA — was just getting started.

Consider: During the 1977 NBA Finals, half of the 10 starters for the Portland Trail Blazers and Philadelphia 76ers had previously suited up for ABA teams.

An April document (Signed Petition For Benefits) submitted to the NBA and National Basketball Players Association by the Retired ABA Players presents numerous important facts about the value the absorbed ABA teams brought to the NBA.

“Of the 84 players in the ABA at the time of the merger, 63 played in the NBA during the 1976-77 season,” the petition stated. “Overall, at least 97 players played in both the ABA and NBA. Also, in the first season after the merger, four of the top ten scorers were former ABA players. Further, former ABA player Don Buse of the Indiana Pacers led the league in steals and assists. The Nuggets, a team that never won an ABA championship, finished with the NBA’s second-best record in the first season after the merger. The Spurs, a team that never got past the first round of the ABA playoffs, won division titles in five of their first six seasons in the NBA. In all, the Spurs, Nets, Nuggets and Pacers have won five NBA championships and appeared in the NBA Finals four other times. Countless former ABA players have competed for NBA teams in the NBA Finals.”

Indeed, those teams have helped expand the NBA’s global reach and increase its popularity.

“Essentially, these players were left to perish by a league and a system that did not value them, and which viewed them as fungible commodities — not human beings,” the petition stated. “To this day, former ABA players are still seeking benefits — decades after the ABA ceased to exist.”

Pause and reflect on the above paragraph for a few moments.

Then consider this: “Many of the former ABA players alive today are in poor health, poor financial condition, or both. The NBA has never taken care of them, despite numerous inquiries and proposals,” the petition stated.

“Contrast the ABA players’ situation to that of those who played in the NBA before 1965,” the petition stated. “About 10 years ago, the NBA gratuitously paid pre-1965 NBA players pensions equal to $300 per year of service, per month, along with a lump-sum retroactive payments. According to a Chicago Tribune story about the arrangement, the ‘relatively paltry amounts for the older retired players had become an embarrassing issue for the NBA given that current players average more than $4 million in salary per season and how little the league set aside for the pioneers.’ ”

Now, let’s take a step back and revisit the court proceedings in July 1976, which set the stage, in fact, for this issue to be brought to the public’s attention and the court of public opinion in 2017.

“The Settlement Agreement provided numerous individuals that played professional basketball in the ABA, including a pension fund equivalent to that provided to NBA players,” the petition reads. “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. The United States District Court sitting in the Southern District of New York (Manhattan) approved the Settlement Agreement, and in doing so, provided that the Settlement Agreement ensured ‘pension rights’ and privileges for ABA players equivalent to that provided NBA players.’ The Settlement Agreement required the pension payable from the Pension Fund for the ABA Players to include the same benefits and privileges that were provided to NBA players, pursuant to the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement.

“The NBA’s CBA was to govern the ABA Pension Fund. The purpose of using the NBA’s CBA was to provide equality between the ABA players and NBA players. The purpose of the Settlement Agreement was to resolve an antitrust lawsuit brought on behalf of the  ABA Players Association, against the NBA, NBA teams, Spurs, Nets, Nuggets, Pacers, and the ABA. Consequently, the promises made as part of the Settlement Agreement, specifically the promise of equality, compelled the ABAPA to settle its antitrust lawsuit.

“The Settlement Agreement allowed the Spurs, Nets, Nuggets, and Pacers to join the NBA, and the NBA and its member teams  to reap numerous and substantial benefits from the ABA, including the talents of the many ABA players in the NBA after the ‘merger’ between the leagues.”

What else was included in the settlement?

“The Spurs, Nets, Nuggets, and Pacers also directly paid the NBA a $3.2 million entry fee as a condition of the settlement,” the petition reads. “The ABA players were not integrated, they were discarded. Their promised pension integration never occurred, they received no payments, and in fact, promised payments in player contracts were never made. The ‘merger’ was anything but a ‘merger’ for the vast majority of ABA players. It amounted to an unceremonious pink slip without a pat on the backside.”

Keeping The Nostalgia Alive, an online radio program, introduced the issue this way in a written summary before a recent program: “The ABA players from the past have been left behind by the NBA! The ABA (American Basketball Association) turned the NBA into the success it is today. $60 per year of service for pension, so if you played three years, that’s $180 per month for your pension! I don’t know about you but that doesn’t cover very much! The NBA gets $2,000 (per month) per year of service! This is wrong. … As of today, May 15th, the NBA responded that they were not interested in helping these players. there are 149 ABA players left who are in bad health and poor financial situations! The NBA has dropped the ball!

“You have to remember that the guys that played back in those days, when they got out of basketball they didn’t have $300,000 a year jobs waiting for them,” former ABA power forward/center Bob Netolicky said on the program. “And most of the guys were making twenty, thirty, forty thousand dollars a year back then when they played, they played three or four years.

“So there’s a lot of guys that are really hurting. We found guys that were literally dead broke, living with their parents, living in nursing homes, and it’s just a darn shame that these guys who were pioneers of the game today; I mean, the NBA turned around and there’s a new book out by a guy named Adam Criblez, and (in “Tall Tales and Short Shorts: Dr. J, Pistol Pete, and the Birth of the Modern NBA” — — he basically states in there that it’s a very misnomer that Bird, Magic and Jordan changed the game. That’s not right. The NBA, the modern NBA, began when the merger with the NBA came and they adopted all of those rules, the fast run, the 3-pointer. How exciting would San Francisco (Golden State Warriors) be to watch if there wasn’t a 3-point shot? Think about that.”

Listen to the full interview with Netolicky, an All-American at Drake, and Larry Cannon, an All-American at La Salle, here:

“I’m being treated like a second-class basketball player,” said Cannon, the No. 5 pick in the 1969 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls who began his pro career that year with the ABA’s Miami Floridians, on the podcast.

“NBA players that mirrored my career are getting 30 times more money than I am in terms of pension money,” added Cannon, now 70 years old. “And the fact is, the money that we are talking about is change, it’s so small. I could use the money like anybody else, but I don’t care about the money. I want the respect. I want that league (the ABA) to be legitimized and providing the pension is the only thing that’s truly going to legitimize that league, and what its done and the players that were involved. That’s what will do it. The NBA needs to recognize that.”

He added:  “…What we are asking will never happen again. There’s never going to be any more petitions for pensions because we’re the last of the pioneers and we’re being ignored, and this is the problem. This is what we want. We want a public debate. We want people to understand our position and we want to get their opinion: Do they think the NBA should be giving us some consideration? Or do they think that we should just step aside? And that’s what we’re asking, for the public to take the issue up and talk about it, think about it.”

The petition hammers home the point, too, about this grave injustice.

“Very simply, the promises made to the ABA players to finalize the ‘merger’ have been broken time and again,” it stated. “ABA players were told they would be treated the same as NBA players; they weren’t. ABA players were told that their pension fund would be equal to the NBA pension fund; it wasn’t.

“In the meantime, ABA players have had to scratch and claw for their benefits, as they live their golden years. Some ABA players have only recently been able to obtain long-sought pension benefits. Others have not been so lucky.”

The petition lists the names of 36 former ABA players who have died in recent years:

Marvin Barnes (2014)
Zelmo Beatty (2013)
Caldwell Jones (2014)
Maurice Lucas (2010)
Ed Manning (2011)
Chico Vaughn (2013)
John Barnhill (2013)
Mike Barrett (2011)
Bob Bedell (2015)
Wes Bialosuknia (2013)
Mel Daniels (2015)
Dwaine Dillard (2008)
Roy Ebron (2014)
Larry Finch (2011)
Billy Harris (2010)
Jim Hayes (2009)
Simmie Hill (2013)
Warren Jabali (2012)
Merv Jackson (2012)
Edgar Lacey (2011)
Jonnie Lynn (2014)
Mike Malloy (2009)
Eltron McGriff (2011)
Dewitt Menyard (2009)
Leland Mitchell (2013)
Marlbert Pradd (2014)
Red Robbins (2009)
Reggie Royals (2009)
Erv Staggs (2012)
Red Stroud (2008)
George Sutor (2011)
Lavern Tart (2010)
Bob Warren (2014)
Al Williams (2007)
Lonnie Wright (2012)
Moses Malone (2015)

Of these 36 men, only Beatty, Vaughn, Barnhill, Bedell, Daniels, Lynn and Mitchell lived to be 70.

As of May, there were only 149 former ABA players who had played three or more years in the league who are still alive. (Harley “Skeeter” Swift died in April and George Irvine passed away in May.)

Indianapolis Star columnist Gregg Doyel wrote about the plight of former ABA players in May, noting fairness was at the root of their fight. Their reasonable request? To be given the same pension plan that exists for pre-1965 NBA players — that is, to be given $300 monthly for every year of service.

Doyel explained it in simple terms: “In other words, a six-year NBA veteran from the 1950s receives a pension of $1,800 a month,” he wrote. “A six-year player from the ABA still gets $360 a month.”

Indeed, a huge difference. The former ABA player’s pension is still $60 a month for each year of service.

If the pension were adjusted and increased to $300 a month, as the petition asks for, Netolicky’s estimation is that this would cost the NBA $1.7 million a year, Doyel wrote.

In other words, a drop in the bucket.

“It would cost them, the NBA,” Netolicky told the podcast, “if they just funded it out of their pocket …. it would cost them, oh, maybe for 151 guys …. it would cost them less than a max player that some of these players are going to make next year in four games. I mean, think about that. Four games would take care of 151 guys.”

For the 2016-17 season, the average NBA player salary was $4.58 million. 

“I think you’ve got a lot of politics involved in the league and I think somebody’s got to quit all this political crap and do what is right. Everybody’s sitting there, looking over their shoulder thinking, Oh, should I do this? Should I do that?  That’s totally wrong,” Netolicky said on Keeping The Nostalgia Alive.

“I think if the NBA did this, it would be one of the most positive PR moves they’ve ever made in the last 10-20 years.”

Related reading
Part 1:
Part 2:



Former ABA players fighting for fairness, dignity


ABA legend Connie Hawkins  WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (June 16, 2017)
Second in a series

The April petition sent by the Retired ABA Players to the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association contains powerful statements, bold truths and facts that have been conveniently ignored by the overwhelming majority of the mainstream media.

Now is an appropriate time to continue reporting and analyzing this issue.

Here is an important expanded snippet from the introduction: “The sad truth is that the ABA players were largely forgotten. Their pension plan was never integrated. The NBA has done anything but take care of these ABA legacy players. The NBA simply pillaged the best rules, playing style, and players and left the others without jobs and ultimately their dignity. To make matters worse, the NBA gratuitously took care of the pre-1965 players, but left the other pioneers of the game uncompensated and disenfranchised. This cherry picking of reparations is not in the spirit of the league and what it claims to stand for. In the era of big bucks and showtime, the forefathers who were promised much but given little should not be left forgotten and largely in poverty. We respectfully ask for a remedy. We ask for a showing of humanity, of community and of equity that the NBA so boasts as core principles of its billion dollar league enterprise.”

Why was this petition submitted in 2017, decades after the final ABA game?

Well, issues remain unresolved for the ABA’s legends and its countless pioneers of the modern game.

“The whole thing is unreal,” legendary basketball journalist Peter Vecsey said. “For years, the ABA players hadn’t realized they were due money per merger agreement. The Spurs were in charge of distribution, but kept it hidden until (former ABA big man Robert) Netolicky hired a Chicago firm to look into it. So many players died without getting a penny.”

Like many of his contemporaries, Joe Caldwell’s career bridged the NBA and the ABA. The former Arizona State Sun Devils standout was a two-time NBA All-Star and a two-time ABA All-Star during his pro career (1964-75). He suited up for the Detroit Pistons and St. Louis/Atlanta Haws, then moved on to the ABA with the Carolina Cougars and Spirits of St. Louis.

“I have been fighting for my pension for 48 years,” Caldwell, now 75, a member of the U.S. gold medal-winning squad at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, told me.

As the petition correctly noted, the ABA, established in 1967, was a catalyst for the game’s growth and evolution and future global fame and popularity.

Consider: There were 10 NBA teams in 1967; that season, the ABA began with 11, clearing the path for more players — more than double — to showcase their skills in U.S. pro ball.

What’s more, the petition pointed out this: “The ABA’s existence resulted in increased salaries for players in both leagues as the ABA and NBA competed with each other to sign players.”

According to the Association for Professional Basketball Research, the minimum rookie salary for the 1968-69 season was $10,000 and the minimum pensioned veteran’s salary was $12,500.

Let’s fast forward to the recently completed 2016-17 season, when the average NBA salary was $4.58 million. summed up the NBA’s thriving economy this way: “Of the 360 active-roster players during the 2016-17 season, half will make at least $3.75 million, more than $1.0 ahead of any other sports league.”

Additionally, the vast wealth that the NBA and its 30 teams share is effectively understood when it’s viewed from a broad perspective in comparison to other major pro sports. See this:

But let’s take a step back. What did the ABA prove in the 1960s and ’70s?

“The ABA’s caliber of play was more than competitive with the NBA, as the ABA proved itself superior to the NBA in exhibition matches between the leagues’ teams,” the petition correctly noted.

In exhibition matches in 1973, ABA teams went 15-10 against NBA foes. A year later, the ABA clubs went 16-7. In 1975, ABA squads triumphed in 31 of 48 games.

The simple math produced these results: 62 wins and 34 losses in those 96 games for ABA teams.


Harold Fox of the NBA’s Buffalo Braves (left) and Roland “Fatty” Taylor of the ABA’s Virginia Squires square off in a 1972 exhibition game. WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

It demonstrated the extensive talent, skills and pride of ABA players and coaches, and it proved that their style of play was, well, winning basketball against the old-guard NBA.

“The ABA was all about style,” the petition stated. “With its red, white, and blue ball, the ABA popularized a much more free-flowing and exciting style of play than the NBA was featuring in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The ABA featured the three-point shot when the NBA did not, and the ABA teams played at a faster pace with an increased emphasis on playing above the rim. The pre-merger ABA resembled the modern NBA much more than the pre-merger NBA did. The ABA also popularized All-Star Weekend, including the slam dunk contest and three-point shootout.”

Editor’s note: Below is Part I in this ongoing series, with several exclusive interviews to be showcased in future installments.



College football feature flashback: Montana’s loss, NAU’s gain

This feature on two Montana-born linebackers appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on Oct. 27, 2004.

Montana’s loss, NAU’s gain

By Ed Odeven

People said they were too small and too slow to play Division I football. Boy, were they wrong.

Northern Arizona seniors Vince Henman and John Perrigo have had a great impact on the Lumberjack defense — this season more than ever. An impact, one could equate, to the grand distance from their hometown of Laurel, Mont., to Flagstaff: 1,045 miles.

Injuries have reduced NAU’s depth and experience on defense. Henman and Perrigo are the lone returning senior starters save for safety Jeremy Thornburg. Even so, the Laurel natives have produced snap after snap, game after game.

Both seniors had exceptional outings last Saturday against the Portland State Vikings, a must-win game for the Jacks in their quest to remain a factor in the Big Sky Conference race. Henman finished with game highs of 12 tackles and three sacks and was graded out at 96 percent for the contest, while Perrigo had six tackles and two sacks. The duo combined for 4 1/2 tackles for a loss.

“You’ll find bigger bodies, you’ll find all the measurables that are faster and stronger, but I don’t know if are going to be able to find kids that are tougher than these two,” NAU coach Jerome Souers said.

But more than anything, both of them have an uncanny knowledge about what the other guy will do, how he’ll play. That comes from being buddies since elementary school, teammates since junior high.

“I think that that’s an example of synergy,” Lumberjack linebackers coach Greg Lees said of their playing style. “One plus one equals three. That’s John Perrigo and Vince Henman. That’s not two guys, that’s three guys.”

Well, those three guys, err, two, won’t need any fiery speeches to motivate them for NAU’s next two foes: Montana State and Montana.

“This is it for us,” Perrigo said. “It’s always nice to play the Montana schools. It’s a little extra added emotion.”

Especially after what occurred last season in Bozeman. The Jacks fell 21-17 to MSU, a game in which the Bobcats scored 14 points in the final 67 seconds.

“That was a hard game,” Perrigo said. “We’ve got to have some payback for that one.”

Payback is a driving force for what’ll happen in the next two weeks. Leadership and productivity, however, are the key ingredients for the Montana pals’ success.

“There’s just a presence about him,” NAU defensive line coach Bill Smith said of Perrigo. “He’s not a big rah-rah guy, but it’s still by example and the players really look to him to set the pace.”

Henman’s signature traits on the football field are strength and maturity.

“You can’t block him,” Souers said. “He doesn’t make mental mistakes.”

Long before they ever thought about what it’d be like to experience the rivalry with the Montana schools from afar, Henman and Perrigo had etched their names into the annals of sports history in the Treasure State. In 1999, they helped lead Laurel to the Class A state title, a 21-10 triumph over Hamilton. Perrigo was the defensive MVP of the championship game.

Henman rushed for a Montana prep record 4,669 yards, including 1,889 as a senior. He was a three-time all-state and all-conference selection at fullback and a two-time state champion wrestler. Yet the Henman name was not at the top of recruiting lists for the Montana schools.

Coming out of high school, Perrigo and Henman both wanted to play for either MSU or Montana, but neither received full-ride scholarship offers.

That’s when they took different paths: Perrigo to Flagstaff in 2000, Henman to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado.

Perrigo’s brother-in-law, Josh Branen, happened to be a graduate assistant coach at NAU at the time. So he sent game film to the Lumberjacks. Then Souers’ staff contacted Perrigo, and he’s been a Lumberjack ever since.

“I thought this was my best opportunity to show what I had,” Perrigo said, adding that offers from NAIA schools were the best ones he received before coming to Flagstaff.

“It’s been great. I have no regrets,” Perrigo said of his days at NAU. “It’s something that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

Perrigo earned All-Big Sky honorable mention honors as a junior in 2003, starting every game for the second straight year and finishing with 7 1/2 sacks.

“I’ll tell you what, people missed the boat on him,” Smith said. “We were fortunate that he came our way. You’re looking at a guy that is one heck of a football player.”

Henman, meanwhile, spent two years at Air Force and played on the junior varsity football squad.

“I wasn’t ready for the military in my life at the time,” Henman admitted. “I think if you are going to be in the academy you’ve got to be all for the military and want to be in it and make it your life. At that time in my life, I wanted to play football and kind of enjoy college.

“I was better than I think they thought I was,” he said. “I kind of let Johnny know that I was going to transfer out.”

Which is precisely what happened. Henman arrived in Flagstaff as a walk-on in 2002.

“I don’t care where you come from, you’ve got to earn it,” Souers said, referring to scholarships.

Indeed, they’ve both earned them — and then some.

It could be first-and-10, on a game-opening drive, or fourth-and-goal from the 1, with 10 seconds to go. Either play, and all those in between, you know what you’ll get from Henman and Perrigo.

“We play with a lot of heart, good ol’ Montana boys. It’s what you gotta do,” Henman said. “You’re not necessarily the biggest, fastest and strongest, but we play with everything we’ve got.”

Indeed, they’ve come a long way since their days as energetic lads growing up in small-town Laurel.

“We didn’t have Pop Warner (teams). We had flag football,” Perrigo recalled.

“The first tackle football was in seventh grade,” Henman remembered.

Now, more than a thousand miles from home, Henman and Perrigo have strengthened the unbreakable bond that is their friendship. What does the future hold for them? They don’t know yet.

Perrigo plans to become a physical education teacher. Henman wants to become a private pilot and own a hunting/fishing lodge in Alaska.

In the meantime, they can reflect on their good times on and off the gridiron.

“It’s a great time. Me and Vince have been buddies since elementary school,” Perrigo said. “It’s just nice to have him around. We hang out all the time, go fishing, camping. Our girlfriends are really good friends and our families (too). There’s nothing more than I can ask for.”

Except for victories over Montana State and Montana the next two weeks.