Broken promises: NBA never fulfilled settlement agreement with ABA

Artis_Gilmore_1977.jpeg

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 1996 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” — https://www.amazon.com/Tall-Tales-Short-Shorts-Popular/dp/144227767X/ref=sr_1_1/144-3823869-6005168?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1497864544&sr=1-1) — 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:
https://www.mixcloud.com/keepingthenostalgiaaliveshow/college-all-americans-and-aba-champions-cannon-and-netolicky-discuss-the-aba-pension-crisis/

“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: 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/

 

 

Former ABA players fighting for fairness, dignity

Connie_Hawkins_ABA_MVP

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.

Businessinsider.com 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: http://www.sportingintelligence.com/2016/11/13/cavaliers-no1-in-world-sports-pay-man-utd-highest-in-football-131101/

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_and_Roland_Taylor

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.

https://edodevenreporting.wordpress.com/2017/05/27/allen-berrebbis-moral-crusade-against-the-nba-2/

 

 

Allen Berrebbi’s moral crusade against the NBA

IMG_1339

Allen Berrebbi

By ED ODEVEN
TOKYO (May 26, 2017)
First in a series

Editor’s note: Over the next few months, this website will features various articles about the NBA’s disgraceful treatment of former ABA players. The series-opening article features my interview with Allen Berrebbi, a Tampa-based tech entrepreneur, who wants to see his campaign go viral. Upcoming installments will include  exclusive interviews with former ABA players, among others.

You may not know this — or care — but former ABA players, many of whom have been desperate and destitute, are being screwed by the NBA. So says Allen Berrebbi.

Fearless and passionate about raising awareness about the issue and building a social movement, Berrebbi is taking the initiative to confront the NBA.

That’s his self-defined mission.

“The history of the NBA’s greed when it comes to paying and doing the right thing is long and sordid,” he tweeted.

In another Twitter missive, he wrote this: “Sign petition to tell Adam Silver and NBA to do the right thing. Please share.”

Here’s his petition:

https://www.change.org/p/adam-silver-and-the-nba-justice-for-the-retired-aba-players-many-of-who-are-dying-penniless?recruiter=653007752&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=share_twitter_responsive

Here’s Berrebbi’s explanation for his involvement in this issue:

“This issue has been bothering me for quite some time. The recognition and trademarks’ issues have been front and center for me for several years however the pension issue became known to me about 3-4 years ago, when I became friends with several players. I recognized the power of social media to raise awareness and would have liked to have planned a little better, but when I came to acquire a copy of the ‘kiss-off’ letter from the NBA, and after begging the players to cause their own storm, I had enough and started my campaign. I wanted this to hopefully come out during the playoffs, which is why it was rushed.

“Too many players are afraid of upsetting the NBA and the same with some wonderful people doing charity work on the players’ behalf. I could care less about pissing anyone off so here I am. These players are the founding fathers of the modern game, heck the Golden State Warriors owe them their very success, and they do nothing to not only pay them what is due, but acknowledge their place in history.

“NBA Cares is a joke, only caring about PR. Take some snapshots with some kids so you look good and sell more merchandise. Terrific. Or take a stance on politics to make you look like you care, again for popularity sake, but actually tell the NBA to take a little money out of everyone’s pocket to help the players who gave you all these opportunities and they are silent.

“For example, (NBA Players Association executive director) Michelle Roberts talked a big game, BEFORE. After they came up with a new CBA, she’s been just as quiet and ineffective as every other head of the players union. No one wants to upset the cart and their money train. Cowards, all of them.”

By reading the Retired ABA Players signed petition for benefits, which was sent to the NBA and NBPA early last month, one clearly sees that the NBA has done a great injustice to former ABA players for … decades. (This will be explained in greater clarity in upcoming articles, with background on the daily struggles of former ABA players, personalized stories and ample facts to explain how what’s addressed in the petition needs to enter the court of public opinion ASAP.)

Here’s the Retired ABA Players petition:

Petition without Tables 1-22 (1)

My interview with Berrebbi continues.

***

What is your tie-in to the ABA? Were you a big fan during its years of competition?

Started as a fan, grew up loving the ABA and my old Nets as kid, often going to Nassau Coliseum to watch the Doctor (Julius Erving) operate, as well as my other fave, Super John Williamson. Big basketball fan, but as a lover of underdog, always preferred the ABA.

Did you meet many of the players over the years after the ABA ended and become personally interested in their plight (now) because of your relationships with them?

Yes. I have reached out over the years and been involved in some things that brought me into contact with many of them. I was briefly involved in the current “league” calling themselves the ABA; due to my thinking they were connected in some way (they’re not). I also got to become friends with many of the ABA Pacers when they invited me to be at the Roger Brown day in Indiana, through my reaching out to filmmaker Ted Green, who did a wonderful documentary http://tedgreenfilms.com/Film4.html on Roger.

Having drinks with the Pacers, I learned a lot of things. Some great and funny stories, but many heartbreaking things on what has become of some of these players who brought me such joy as a kid. I also reached out to the Dropping Dimes charity and offered to help in any way. Let me be very clear, however. While I have friends within the ABA players and care a great deal about the wonderful work the Dropping Dimes charity is doing and admire their board members a great deal, I am doing this completely 100 percent on my own.

In fact, I’ve received resistance about my actions as both the players and the charity want to continue to work with the NBA in a peaceful manner and don’t want to stir up trouble. Well to me, they’ve been nice far too long. I’ve begged them to do this for years and been stymied. But after catching the recent kiss-off letter from the NBA, I had enough and said I would do it with or without any help. I have made it very clear I am doing this strictly as an outraged super-fan.

How are you strategizing the tweets to publicize the campaign? Is it simply trying to keep repeating the same message often?

This came about very recently so it is not as well strategized as it would be if I had months to plan. But when yet another player (Skeeter Swift) died with no justice, plus the NBA’s kiss-off letter, I couldn’t wait anymore. Right now I’m hoping to repeat the message to the point of others taking the message and going viral with it.

NBA-Kiss-Off-letter

The kiss-off letter

How did you outline what you want the petition to become? Was there a lot of scribbling on paper and multiple drafts? Or a pretty straight-forward message to get people talking and thinking about the NBA’s stance on this issue? Is it moral outrage?

Yes, moral outrage for sure. And I’ve known in my heart what I want for the players from day one. First and foremost, they should be paid like any other player of that era. It was a MERGER and everyone knows what that means. And they were promised to be treated that way. Shame on the NBA for taking advantage of poor players, many of them uneducated in the ways of business, for their gain. However, speaking to the players confidentially, they would settle for even pre-1965 money, and cost of living increases. $300 lousy bucks per month, per year of eligibility.

The second thing I want, probably a lot more than the players themselves, is the trademarks of the ABA, outside of the four teams in the NBA now, to be given to the players so they can at the very least, hold on to their legacy without outsiders diminishing the brand and therefore the memory and history. For example, the more time passes, the more people will think the current ABA is what the REAL ABA was, which is an outrage. The original ABA was on par, talent-wise, with the NBA. They invented the modern game; they should have control of their likeness. So them and their children can bask in and enjoy their accomplishments.

How would you sum up your views on the multi-billion-dollar industry stiffing these pioneers?

Greed and perhaps racially biased. For sure there is an inbred ABA bias, inherent hatred against the upstart ABA for what they did to the game and forcing the merger. It is the ONLY explanation for why they would allow the marks to be used willy-nilly now.

Let me ask you this, if I was to use the NBA marks or one of their teams or even one of their players without permission or in a negative fashion, how soon would the office come down on me with a cease and desist? And they bragged recently about how they did the right thing with the pre-1965 players, who by sheer coincidence are predominantly white, and yet the more modern players from the ABA, who by sheer coincidence predominantly African American, are ignored and dying without justice. Smells bad to me and anyone who knows me knows I usually hate when people use the race card quickly but here, I don’t know what else to think. Maybe it is greed alone, but the bottom line is players are suffering. PERIOD. To satisfy the players, it would cost so little.

The NBA just signed a $24 BILLION contract, are you telling me they can’t afford to have each team contribute ONE TIME, a million dollars, to a fund in which the interest alone can fund the pension? And to give them the marks to a league they have no use for that was operational 40 years ago? BS.

You must be a busy guy with the jobs listed on your Twitter profile. So how much time are you currently planning/trying to spend for this crusade, for this petition?

It’s become a big part of my non-work time. No specific plan on how much time, just squeezing it in as much as possible.

And what is your target, signatures for the petition? How many names do you want to collect to throw it back at Adam Silver and basically put him in a corner that he has only one way to get out of? Do you have a targeted timetable for this campaign? To complete it this summer? This year?

My goal is one thing and one thing only. To show the world what the NBA has done to these players for no good reason other than greed and perhaps bias, and maybe let the NBA realize that in this internet age, you can’t get away with anything anymore, especially keeping secrets of your bad behavior. And hopefully they will realize this is plain bad business and bad PR and they can look like heroes very cheaply. NBA Cares? Prove it. That’s my goal.

***

Follow Allen Berrebbi on Twitter: @krbmedia

Recommended reading

http://www.indystar.com/story/sports/2015/08/21/life-struggle-charlie-jordan-wants-new-suit/32159455/

https://droppingdimes.org/2016/07/slam-magazine-aba-players-get-back-feet/

Allen Berrebbi’s moral crusade against the NBA

IMG_1339

Allen Berrebbi

By ED ODEVEN
TOKYO (May 26, 2017)
First in a series

Editor’s note: Over the next few weeks, this website will features various articles about the NBA’s disgraceful treatment of former ABA players. The series-opening article features my interview with Allen Berrebbi, a Tampa-based tech entrepreneur, who wants to see his campaign go viral. Upcoming installments will include  exclusive interviews with former ABA players, among others.

Fearless and passionate about raising awareness about the issue and building a social movement, Allen Berrebbi is taking the initiative to confront the NBA.

“The history of the NBA’s greed when it comes to paying and doing the right thing is long and sordid,” he tweeted.

In another Twitter missive, he wrote this: “Sign petition to tell Adam Silver and NBA to do the right thing. Please share.”

Here’s his petition:

https://www.change.org/p/adam-silver-and-the-nba-justice-for-the-retired-aba-players-many-of-who-are-dying-penniless?recruiter=653007752&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=share_twitter_responsive

Here’s Berrebbi’s explanation for his involvement in this issue.

“This issue has been bothering me for quite some time. The recognition and trademarks’ issues have been front and center for me for several years however the pension issue became known to me about 3-4 years ago, when I became friends with several players. I recognized the power of social media to raise awareness and would have liked to have planned a little better, but when I came to acquire a copy of the ‘kiss-off’ letter from the NBA, and after begging the players to cause their own storm, I had enough and started my campaign. I wanted this to hopefully come out during the playoffs, which is why it was rushed.

“Too many players are afraid of upsetting the NBA and the same with some wonderful people doing charity work on the players’ behalf. I could care less about pissing anyone off so here I am. These players are the founding fathers of the modern game, heck the Golden State Warriors owe them their very success, and they do nothing to not only pay them what is due, but acknowledge their place in history.

“NBA Cares is a joke, only caring about PR. Take some snapshots with some kids so you look good and sell more merchandise. Terrific. Or take a stance on politics to make you look like you care, again for popularity sake, but actually tell the NBA to take a little money out of everyone’s pocket to help the players who gave you all these opportunities and they are silent.

“For example, (NBA Players Association executive director) Michelle Roberts talked a big game, BEFORE. After they came up with a new CBA, she’s been just as quiet and ineffective as every other head of the players union. No one wants to upset the cart and their money train. Cowards, all of them.”

By reading the Retired ABA Players signed petition for benefits, which was sent to the NBA and NBPA early last month, one clearly sees that the NBA has done a great injustice to former ABA players for … decades. (This will be explained in greater clarity in upcoming articles, with background on the daily struggles of former ABA players, personalized stories and ample facts to explain how what’s addressed in the petition needs to enter the court of public opinion ASAP.)

Here’s the Retired ABA Players petition:

Petition without Tables 1-22 (1)

My interview with Berrebbi continues.

***

What is your tie-in to the ABA? Were you a big fan during its years of competition?

Started as a fan, grew up loving the ABA and my old Nets as kid, often going to Nassau Coliseum to watch the Doctor (Julius Erving) operate, as well as my other fave, Super John Williamson. Big basketball fan, but as a lover of underdog, always preferred the ABA.

Did you meet many of the players over the years after the ABA ended and become personally interested in their plight (now) because of your relationships with them?

Yes. I have reached out over the years and been involved in some things that brought me into contact with many of them. I was briefly involved in the current “league” calling themselves the ABA; due to my thinking they were connected in some way (they’re not). I also got to become friends with many of the ABA Pacers when they invited me to be at the Roger Brown day in Indiana, through my reaching out to filmmaker Ted Green, who did a wonderful documentary http://tedgreenfilms.com/Film4.html on Roger.

Having drinks with the Pacers, I learned a lot of things. Some great and funny stories, but many heartbreaking things on what has become of some of these players who brought me such joy as a kid. I also reached out to the Dropping Dimes charity and offered to help in any way. Let me be very clear, however. While I have friends within the ABA players and care a great deal about the wonderful work the Dropping Dimes charity is doing and admire their board members a great deal, I am doing this completely 100 percent on my own.

In fact, I’ve received resistance about my actions as both the players and the charity want to continue to work with the NBA in a peaceful manner and don’t want to stir up trouble. Well to me, they’ve been nice far too long. I’ve begged them to do this for years and been stymied. But after catching the recent kiss-off letter from the NBA, I had enough and said I would do it with or without any help. I have made it very clear I am doing this strictly as an outraged super-fan.

NBA-Kiss-Off-letter

The kiss-off letter

How are you strategizing the tweets to publicize the campaign? Is it simply trying to keep repeating the same message often?

This came about very recently so it is not as well strategized as it would be if I had months to plan. But when yet another player (Skeeter Swift) died with no justice, plus the NBA’s kiss-off letter, I couldn’t wait anymore. Right now I’m hoping to repeat the message to the point of others taking the message and going viral with it.

How did you outline what you want the petition to become? Was there a lot of scribbling on paper and multiple drafts? Or a pretty straight-forward message to get people talking and thinking about the NBA’s stance on this issue? Is it moral outrage?

Yes, moral outrage for sure. And I’ve known in my heart what I want for the players from day one. First and foremost, they should be paid like any other player of that era. It was a MERGER and everyone knows what that means. And they were promised to be treated that way. Shame on the NBA for taking advantage of poor players, many of them uneducated in the ways of business, for their gain. However, speaking to the players confidentially, they would settle for even pre-1965 money, and cost of living increases. $300 lousy bucks per month, per year of eligibility.

The second thing I want, probably a lot more than the players themselves, is the trademarks of the ABA, outside of the four teams in the NBA now, to be given to the players so they can at the very least, hold on to their legacy without outsiders diminishing the brand and therefore the memory and history. For example, the more time passes, the more people will think the current ABA is what the REAL ABA was, which is an outrage. The original ABA was on par, talent-wise, with the NBA. They invented the modern game; they should have control of their likeness. So them and their children can bask in and enjoy their accomplishments.

How would you sum up your views on the multi-billion-dollar industry stiffing these pioneers?

Greed and perhaps racially biased. For sure there is an inbred ABA bias, inherent hatred against the upstart ABA for what they did to the game and forcing the merger. It is the ONLY explanation for why they would allow the marks to be used willy-nilly now.

Let me ask you this, if I was to use the NBA marks or one of their teams or even one of their players without permission or in a negative fashion, how soon would the office come down on me with a cease and desist? And they bragged recently about how they did the right thing with the pre-1965 players, who by sheer coincidence are predominantly white, and yet the more modern players from the ABA, who by sheer coincidence predominantly African American, are ignored and dying without justice. Smells bad to me and anyone who knows me knows I usually hate when people use the race card quickly but here, I don’t know what else to think. Maybe it is greed alone, but the bottom line is players are suffering. PERIOD. To satisfy the players, it would cost so little.

The NBA just signed a $24 BILLION contract, are you telling me they can’t afford to have each team contribute ONE TIME, a million dollars, to a fund in which the interest alone can fund the pension? And to give them the marks to a league they have no use for that was operational 40 years ago? BS.

You must be a busy guy with the jobs listed on your Twitter profile. So how much time are you currently planning/trying to spend for this crusade, for this petition?

It’s become a big part of my non-work time. No specific plan on how much time, just squeezing it in as much as possible.

And what is your target, signatures for the petition? How many names do you want to collect to throw it back at Adam Silver and basically put him in a corner that he has only one way to get out of? Do you have a targeted timetable for this campaign? To complete it this summer? This year?

My goal is one thing and one thing only. To show the world what the NBA has done to these players for no good reason other than greed and perhaps bias, and maybe let the NBA realize that in this internet age, you can’t get away with anything anymore, especially keeping secrets of your bad behavior. And hopefully they will realize this is plain bad business and bad PR and they can look like heroes very cheaply. NBA Cares? Prove it. That’s my goal.

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Follow Allen Berrebbi on Twitter: @krbmedia

Recommended reading

http://www.indystar.com/story/sports/2015/08/21/life-struggle-charlie-jordan-wants-new-suit/32159455/

https://droppingdimes.org/2016/07/slam-magazine-aba-players-get-back-feet/

Basketball maven Mark Heisler’s reflections on a legendary career

 

heisler

Mark Heisler

By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (Jan. 5, 2017) — A lot has changed since 1969, the year Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and Mark Heisler began his newspaper career.

Space exploration, of course, has continued. Heisler, meanwhile, has carved out a career as a significant sports writer, one of the most prominent, prolific NBA chroniclers for decades.

Raised in Springfield, Illinois, Heisler’s career journey included stops at the Rochester (New York) Times-Union (two years), Philadelphia Inquirer (three years) and Philadelphia Bulletin (seven years). He was 25 years old and covering the 76ers (more on that below.)

Heisler then moved west and became a part of the Los Angeles Times sports staff in 1979,  a position he held until 2011, when the paper’s newsroom downsizing gutted the department and left a huge void (professional experience, expertise, etc.).

Heisler had a close-up view of the great Lakers-Celtics rivalries of the 1980s, the Michael Jordan/Chicago Bulls dynasty in the 1990s and the Lakers’ return to prominence under Phil Jackson. He witnessed the immense popularity of Magic Johnson and the competitive intensity of Kobe Bryant.

In short, he is one of the most experienced, authoritative writers covering the NBA. One nugget that underscore that: He has covered almost 40 NBA Finals.

As a 2006 recipient of the Curt Gowdy Award, which is given annually by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Heisler’s contributions to basketball and journalism were given their well-deserved public recognition.

He paid his dues on other reporting beats before becoming a fixture in pro basketball circles. When he joined the Los Angles Times, Heisler covered the Los Angeles Angels for three years, and for five years he reported on the NFL’s Raiders, when the team called L.A. home. And then he thrived on the Lakers beat.

Nowadays, Heisler pens an NBA column for the Southern California News Group, including the Orange County Register and the Los Angeles Daily News. In recent years, his work has also been featured on HoopsHype.com, Forbes.com and other websites.

In a wide-ranging interview, Heisler shares tales from his long career, noting unforgettable moments and mentors, players and coaches. He also sheds light on how covering the game has changed. He highlights what he misses about the old days and why he thinks analytics are not always practical numbers to dissect a game and a player’s impact.

This is Heisler’s story, his life’s work compressed into a Q&A format, about his nearly 50 years in the biz.

***

What is your favorite Pat Riley story?

My favorite story about Pat isn’t exactly about Pat. I had written my book on him, “The Lives of Riley,” for which he had shut down every source he could. I think he thought it was going to be sensational. In any case, he had an ingrained skepticism of the press, which he included in his list of “peripheral opponents.”…. Anyway, Doc Rivers was then the Knick point guard and very curious to get the real story on Pat, who was the glamorous, silent type. Doc told me he was reading the book on the bus — but with a different book jacket on it so Riles couldn’t tell…. As it turned out, Pat wound up not minding what I wrote about him and we resumed a cordial relationship.

On a personal level, what became different and what didn’t change when dealing with Riley during his days with the Lakers, Knicks and Heat?

Pat had never done personnel or anything else related to the front office when he was coaching the Lakers or the Knicks. He was totally obsessed with coaching but  that was it. In the off-season, he disappeared to get away from the game, probably because he had put so much into it, he was exhausted….

When he took over in Miami, he not only started doing personnel, and running the Heat basketball operation as if he had the GM title, he was brilliant at it…. Pat’s deal had always been to coach through his best player — Magic in Los Angeles, Patrick Ewing with the Knicks…. The adaptation he made in Miami was to go out and get a great all-heart player he could coach through like them—Alonzo Mourning. The Heat team Pat took over was a mediocre one with good players but no real star.

With Zo on the outs in Charlotte because he wanted more than the Hornets wanted to pay, Pat, who would never have gone to Miami if there was any question of the resources owner Micky Arison would make available, Riles pulled off a trade for him, picked up Tim Hardaway and built an elite team in the East….

Years later, he drafted Dwyane Wade, traded for Shaq (not a Riley-type player but Riles had learned flexibility) and won the Heat’s first title…. Years later, Pat beat everyone to LeBron James — after the meeting where Pat dropped his championship rings on the table in front of Bron, as if they were boulders—who joined with Wade and Chris Bosh and won them two more titles.

They might be challenging for titles still if Bron hadn’t stunned everyone and gone home to Cleveland.

And is he one of the best executives in league history? How would you evaluate his ability to run an organization?

I think he is. The execs who come to mind first for me — Red Auerbach, Jerry West — were GMs for decades longer than Riles and built multiple powerhouses, but after those two, Pat would be right there for me.

Under a different system, sans the triangle and Phil Jackson’s guiding hand, do you think Kobe Bryant would have have been as effective over the long haul and won as many titles? And in its L.A. days after the Bulls dynasty was the triangle offense overanalyzed, and deified, by those who didn’t recognize the remarkable ability of Kobe to make big plays in the biggest moments?

I don’t think the triangle made Kobe, who would have been great in any system. On the other hand, he very well might not have won five titles without Phil’s gently restraining hand… and then a lot more people would have doubted his greatness. Of course, Kobe was out of control from start to finish — and so great, he could put up good numbers, like a 45-percent career shooting percentage while taking the wildest assortment ever launched.

Looking at Kobe’s post-NBA projects as a businessman and entrepreneur, do you see a ruthless ambition with equal intensity shining through or more of a step-by-step approach to building a business empire?

I see a guy with amazing drive and will who needs to find someplace to put all of that now that he can no longer play basketball. I sympathize completely and I hope it works out for him because it’s a terrible thing to have to go through, a mid-life crisis so early in life.

How instrumental was Michael Cooper’s defense to the Lakers’ success during the Showtime years? Was it overlooked? In that era known for high-scoring duels, what should people raised on this current 3-point era of basketball know about Coop’s play and impact?

Coop was an important piece of the puzzle, who would have fit into modern basketball very neatly. He was what they now call a “Three and D” player before they had the term. His game fit “Showtime” too, suggesting it was a modern balanced, keep-the-defense-continually-off-strife offense decades ahead of its time, the difference from today’s high-powered offenses being their reliance on three-pointers…. Coop came in as an athletic non-shooter who could D it up on anyone and run on the break with anyone but ty the 1986-87 season, at age 31, he had become the Lakes’ leading three-point shooter, even if that only meant he averaged 1.1 a game, to starter Byron Scott’s 0.8 threes per game.

If Al Davis had had the desire to own and run a pro basketball team in either the ABA or NBA, do you think (based on his fierce competitive spirit) he would have had success like with his Raiders?

The thing about Al that was so amazing, he didn’t play the game beyond the high school level and he wasn’t much good at Erasmus Hall in Brooklyn. He just thought his way into coaching, working his way up with brains and will. Anyone who overcomes an obstacle like that and succeeds at his level can’t be underestimated. In the right situation, he might have succeeded far beyond what people might expect…. In Red Auerbach’s day, there wasn’t anyone around as smart and as far-sighted as he was. He built multiple powerhouses including the game’s greatest dynasty — the Russell teams who won 11 titles in 13 years —without a single player that someone else couldn’t have taken ahead of him, starting with Bill Russell. It’s amazing enough that Red did all he did so I wouldn’t be the one to say someone else could have done that, too, but one thing Al was, was smart.

What do you consider your biggest scoop as an NBA beat writer? Did it seem huge in your mind at the time? Or grow in significance over time? Was it a real challenge to keep the scoop a secret?

I got a scoop once on a 76er coach — Billy Cunningham replacing Gene Shue — which I thought was cool because the owner, Fitz Dixon, was trying to dump stuff to another paper (I was then on the Bulletin)…. I got a few more like that but scoops were really my thing. Overview was.

What did it mean to you, both personally and professionally, that legendary New York Post columnist Peter Vecsey asked you to write his 2009 Hall of Fame program piece for that special day in Springfield, Mass., when he was honored for his inimitable, important career?

Personally, it meant a lot because we were friends. Professionally, it meant as much or more because Peter’s respect didn’t come cheaply. Love him or hate him — and he’d be the first one to tell you there were plenty of both — there’s no one who wouldn’t say he was a giant in the biz.

How influential was George Kiseda as a mentor to you? And if so, what about his work experience and approach to covering the NBA resonated with you?

Ten on a scale of 10 (or 11 on a scale of 11, as in “Spinal Tap”). George was a mentor to a lot of people — young writers followed him around as if he was the Pied Piper — and one of my best friends. He was the most brilliant guy I ever met in newspapers — or in any other sphere — in everything from writing to generating totally original story ideas to copy editing, which he did late in his career. On the desk at the Los Angeles Times, he wrote headlines that had better ideas in them than the stories under them. As our Olympic editor at the Los Angeles Games in 1984, our boss, Bill Dwyre, credited him with the Red Smith Award Bill received (in 1996) from the Associated Press Sports Editors for our stellar coverage.

George was also the most courageous man I ever saw in newspapers, someone who took controversial stands in important areas — especially race relations — long before newspapers (and sports editors) were comfortable doing that sort of thing… as in 1957 when he pointed out that Army, an institution run with tax dollars, was going to play Tulane in a segregated stadium, the Sugar Bowl. George’s column was read on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. Army was obliged to forego a big payday to move the game to its own campus. And George was ordered not to write about non-sports issues in the pages of the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, leading him to depart for Philadelphia.

George was also the greatest basketball writer I ever saw, the man who all but single-handedly introduced irreverence to the process — which made NBA coverage different from other sports in which everyone took himself so seriously — with his various teams like All-Interview and All-Flake.

There are few of us left who saw George in his prime but we’re all still slack-jawed with awe.

Peter, Bob Ryan and I joined together in writing a letter to the Hall of Fame to urge that he receive the Curt Gowdy Award for print journalism. To many of us who knew George, there should be an award named after him.

Growing up in Springfield, Illinois, and then receiving that honor in Springfield, Mass., too, was it beyond your wildest dreams that your career in journalism would include the top honors?

Truly. In the beginning I just wanted to watch a major league baseball game from the press box.

The summer of 1967 when I graduated, and was about to leave from my native Illinois for my first job in Rochester, N.Y., I went down to St. Louis to see a Cardinal game. I had binoculars with me and I spotted Taylor Bell, a guy I had gone to school with at Illinois (who became a high school writing icon in Chicago) sitting in the press box. I couldn’t imagine anything that could be cooler than that.

How did leaving Illinois and getting to compete and grow and gain experience in the tough sports media market of Philly point you in the right direction to become one of the best in the biz at covering the NBA?

First, thanks for the compliment. The greatest —and luckiest — thing to happen to me was to wend my way to Philadelphia after two years in Rochester, N.Y., following my graduation from the University of Illinois.

Going to the Philadelphia Inquirer, where I worked for three years before going to the Philadelphia Bulletin for seven gave me the opportunity to work against, learn from and become friends with greats like George Kiseda, Stan Hochman, Sandy Grady, Tom Cushman, Gary Smith, Alan Richman, Ray Didinger, Mark Whicker, Rich Hoffman, et al.

As great as New York and Boston were in sports writing, Philadelphia writers took special pride in what we were doing. I think we were the toughest sports writing city, emblematic of our readership.

My first year in town in 1969, I went to the exhibition football opener between the Cowboys and the Eagles. They were introducing the players one by one, running out onto the turf in Franklin Field and when they got to tackle Lane Howell, the whole place went up in boos — and this was years before they used to say who holding penalties were on. I thought to myself, “What great fans!” I was thrilled to work there.

Was it really more laid back working for a newspaper in L.A. than in Philly? Or is that a misconception?

If was definitely more laid-back in Los Angeles because there was no real competition for my paper, the Times, even before the Herald Examiner folded.

When I was hired in 1979, the Times had a “daily news magazine” format with long features more or a priority than hard news gathering.

An East Coast writer I knew had a joke about it, claiming that all the L.A. baseball writers would ask Dodger Manager Walter Alston was, “Good game, Skip, Sutton going tomorrow?”

It was too close to being true for Los Angeles Times sports editor Bill Shirley, who hired a bunch of us from around the country to put more teeth into our coverage.

Nevertheless, the people who did the hiring at the Los Angeles Times were extremely sharp. The section I worked on in the Olympic year of 1984 was the best I have ever seen in the biz with Jim Murray and Scott Ostler as our columnists, beat writers like Mike Littwin, Alan Greenberg, Richard Hoffer and Gordon Edes — and young upcoming young guys like Rick Reilly, Gene Wojciechowski, Mike Penner, Chris Dufresne and Sam Farmer who weren’t even on beats yet.

What were a few hard lessons (and embarrassing mistakes) you made at the Bulletin and Inquirer that looking back on now you view as vital in your maturation and development as a journalist?

The hardest lesson was how to stand up to people on the beat in order to write what you thought needed to be written, no matter how anyone felt about it.

The worst day I had in my first 10 years in the business was the one in which I trotted out stats to show the 76ers’ 47-35 record in the 1970-71 season was only better than their 42-40 mark the year before because of their record against the three new expansion teams.

True as that was, it set off Coach Jack Ramsay, who made a remark about all the critics. When I asked him later if he wanted to talk about it, he snarled, “I don’t give a fuck what you write,” and stomped off.

It hurt me so much, I resolved to leave the business. I revered Ramsay, a really upright kind of guy, as did so many who knew him. That was a lesson to me — don’t revere people you cover. Don’t like them, or dislike them. Just cover them. It’s not a personal relationship, it’s a professional one.

I actually would become friendly with Ramsay later on when I was no longer covering him day to day. (that’s usually what happens over the years, even with Al Davis, who demonized me for every day of the five years I covered his Raiders). But from then on, I knew to protect myself against investing in someone I was covering.

Of course, five years covering Al, who once told me straight out in the weird accent of his that he would never sit down for an interview with me because “Ah think youah a prick,” was a lifetime of experience all by itself.

gasol-and-heisler

Former Lakers star Pau Gasol and Mark Heisler

Is there an over-reliance in statistics and analytics by basketball writers today? For example, do you think the game story of, say, 1985 was better and more interesting for the average reader (perhaps because of better descriptive writing) than what appears in online news sites and newspapers today?

I think there is. Modern “analytics” is very much in vogue now, especially on the internet. The problem is, all statistics aren’t equally useful, nor are all statisticians.

Sharp ones like Zach Lowe are discerning in the way the use stats. The internet is full of less discerning guys who throw numbers around as if they’re a magic language, no matter how well or badly they’re conceived.

This is the age of the algorithm, which is a black-box kind of analysis based on a model somebody constructs, spitting out stats that no one understands, like WAR, which discerning baseball people (I like Keith Law a lot) use), or basketball’s PER.

I think a lot of John Hollinger — whatever you think of their models, a lot of analytic guys are really sharp — but his PER is one of my pet peeves. If you look at PER rankings, there are always total anomalies that make you wonder what the whole thing is worse, like (presently) Javale McGee at No. 32 and Jabari Parker at No. 44…. If PER suggests that a backup center averaging 8.3 minutes a game is somehow better than one of the league’s hottest comers, I’d suggest the stat has shown itself to be problematic, rather than telling you anything of value.

Indeed, the PER anomalies all have incredibly high shoot percentages, since the guys mostly just dunk lobs.

There’s also the issue of whether a single list can sum up up the difference between big players, who get points, rebounds, blocks and have high shooting percentages, and perimeter players who get points, assists, steals and threes. Personally, I don’t think it can, and I think the anomalies I cited suggest that.

There’s also the issue of how modern “advanced stats” apply from sport to sport. I think there’s much better application to baseball, which is a static game in which there really is additional value with every base you gain, so that On-Base Percentage really does measure something of more value than mere Batting Average.

Basketball is a fluid, zero-sum game in which any shot I take is one that you can’t take. I think it’s harder to apply statistical measure to than baseball. Bottom line, some stats work better than others but there’s too little recognition of that fact and too much inclination to throw around dumb numbers like basketball’s “usage rate” which essentially just adds up all the numbers, including turnovers, as if they’re all equal.

To me, this piece* really demonstrated your ability to capture the essence of a person’s life, work and legacy? Was there a level of satisfaction that went into writing about Vin Scully at the end of his remarkable career that topped the level associated with most other assignments?

*http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/last_call_for_vin_scully_the_king_of_los_angeles_20160923http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/last_call_for_vin_scully_the_king_of_los_angeles_20160923

To me, the satisfaction doesn’t come from saying nice things about someone lots of people love. It’s in doing the job as well as I’m capable of doing it, even before I start the actual writing, thinking it through so that I can give the reader a chance to see the subject in the context of the big picture… and in a way that you can’t read 100 other places.

Also, I love to make readers laugh. I know how much I love it when I read someone who does that to me. The whole story doesn’t have to be a comedy routine but great lines are great lines.

I always like it if I can figure out something to say that no one has. In this piece, I looked at the devotion of Vin in the context of the hometown baseball announcers I grew with like Harry Caray, whom I listened to as a boy 100 miles from St. Louis; Harry with both teams in Chicago; Jack Buck in St. Louis; Harry Kalas in Philadelphia and, of course, the one and only Vin. (There are more, I just didn’t happen to grow up with, like Red Barber and Ernie Harwell.)

What it suggests is something deeper than mere baseball. These guys are on the air so much as voices of hope, creating such a bond with their audience, they’re more than sports announcers. They’re like doing the narrative of the entire community.

What was the greatest all-around team in NBA history? Is there a clear cut No. 2 in your mind?

To be meaningful, I think “best team” has to include achievements from more than one season.

I’ll overcome the inevitable tendency to overvalue relatively recent events and go with the Russell Celtics, who won 11 titles in his 13 seasons. From there, you could pick out your favorite — like the team that won 60 games in an eight-team league with Bob Cousy still active and Sam Jones and K.C. Jones coming up under him.

At No. 2, I’ll go with the Michael Jordan Bulls’ champs from 1996-1997-1998, when they won 72, 69 and 62 in the regular season.

To me, that’s way ahead of Golden State winning 67-73 the last two seasons but only one of the two titles. If you look at multiple seasons, whatever the Warriors’ level of greatness is, it has yet to be determined.

That’s the way it should be. To me, the answer to most sports questions being debated at any given time is: Incomplete.

What was the most stunning NBA Finals game you witnessed? Why?

Game 5 of the 1976 Finals in Boston where the Celtics had just taken a two-point lead at the end of regulation, about to go up, 3-2, on Phoenix. I was getting an early start to the dressing room, which you had to do with all the people there. I was shuffling along behind everyone… when Gar Heard hit his famous “shot Heard ’round the world” to tie it at the end of regulation, a 17-foot moon ball over Don Nelson after in-bounding it with :01 left in the first of three overtime sessions.

So I’m shuffling along toward the dressing room, jammed in with everyone else, when I see Gar’s shot go way up, and come way down, into the hoop… so i turn around and shuffle back the way I came.

That was also the game in which the Suns’ Paul Westphal called for a timeout they didn’t have, taking a technical foul and giving up a point — which made the Boston lead two points but moved the ball up to half-court for the in-bounds play, giving Heard a chance to tie the game.

That was also the game in which a Celtic fan wrested referee Richie Powers to the floor in the melee after Boston took its lead before Heard’s shot. The fans thought the Celtics had won the game but the refs then summoned both teams back onto the floor.

It went three OTs with Dave Cowens and Paul Silas fouling out before the Celts won to take that elusive 3-2 lead. The Celtics then closed the series out in Game 6 in Phoenix with everyone emotionally exhausted.

Had the Suns managed to pull it out, they’d have been going home with that 3-2 lead and history might have been different.

What were 2-3 of the most difficult breaking news assignments you had on the NBA beat? (I would predict Magic’s HIV announcement/retirement in November 1991 would be at or near the top.)

You would be right. We were all working with lumps in our throats that day.

Nothing else comes close to that. That wasn’t a sports story. That was real life, and, we thought, death… although I had such admiration for Earvin and his remarkably positive mindset, I didn’t really believe this would kill him.

In any case, I cried when I wrote my last line about Magic in that week’s Sunday column, the one in which Jerry West told me something on the lines of, “Somewhere there’s a young player on a playground who’ll be better than Magic, but there will never be another leader as good.”

Is Adam Silver as effective a commissioner as you thought he’d be when he was chosen to follow David Stern?

I think Adam has been great, in part because David left him a league in such good shape after all the misadventures they had endured in the years after the 1998 end of the Jordan dynasty in Chicago, like the 2004 Auburn Hills riot and the 2008 Tim Donaghy scandal.

I had my share of go-arounds with David but I always thought very highly of him. He was not only highly intelligent but imposing going on intimidating. He had been a litigating lawyer —the ones who go to court —so standing in against him in a press conference called for all you could summon in the way of poise because he took great delight in making you look foolish.

He did it to me once when I asked a poorly-thought-out question at the 2007 Las Vegas All-Star Game. Happily, David had mowed down the two guys who asked better questions before I did, enabling me to write that NBA reporters didn’t ask questions so the commissioner could answer them, but, instead, got run over by the commissioner.

David called me at home the next day and apologized. I told him he didn’t have to since give and take is part of the process. Of course, I thought that much more of him because he did.

What was Stern’s biggest accomplishment at the helm? What mistake(s) that he made had a profound impact on the game?

As I said, he kept the league together in the down years between the end of the Jordan Bulls dynasty in 1998, which represented the league’s high point.

It was 10 increasingly grisly seasons from there to the rebirth of the Laker-Celtic wars in 2008, marked by the riot in which NBA players slugged NBA fans, on camera, and the mother of all officiating scandals.

The Laker-Celtic Finals of 2008 and 2010 were followed by LeBron’s adventure in Miami, giving the NBA a ratings-driving celebrated team, if one that everyone hated.

From there, it was a straight line to the new $2.6 billion TV deal that guaranteed prosperity for all after all those years battling in the bushes.

Who are, for you, a half-dozen or so must-read sources of NBA news and commentary these days?

No surprise, anything Woj (Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski) writes. What he has done in this age in which everyone goes nuts trying to get news is truly amazing.

Bryan Curtis of the Ringer is one of the smartest guys out there, although he doesn’t specialize in NBA stuff. Frank Isola of NY Daily News. Ramona Shelburne, Brian Windhorst, Marc Stein and Baxter Holmes of ESPN. Mitch Lawrence of Forbes.com. Howard Beck and Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report. Mike Bresnahan of Time Warner and Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times, my long-time teammates at LAT. Scott Howard-Cooper, Fran Blinebury and Steve Aschburner of NBA.com. Bill Oram and Dan Woike, my current teammates at Southern California News Group. Kevin Modesti, an editorial writer for the Southern California News Group who’s a former sports writer and one of sharpest I know.

How has covering the game changed for the better and for the worse over the past few decades?

Much less access to players, who have much bigger heads. Back in the day, the guys didn’t make enough money to take themselves that seriously. We hung out with them, especially as far as travel was concerned, flying on the same planes, riding the same buses, killing time in the same airports. Whether or not we did a good job of explaining who they were, we knew players then a lot better then than we know them now.

What’s your favorite basketball book of all time? Sports book? Non-sports book?

“Catch-22” for non-sports book.

“A Season on the Brink” for sports books. Major props to John Feinstein for a year spend with the tyrant of tyrants, Bobby Knight.

“Hoop Dreams” for the all-time best work of sports journalism.

Who would make your 15-man rotation of all-time best players? Why?

Michael, Magic, Larry, LeBron, Kobe

Kareem, Wilt, Russell, Hakeem, Shaq, West, Oscar, Elgin, Duncan, Charles

As to why, just because they were the best. It’s great if they led their teams to titles but not all-important if greats like Barkley (or, especially, Mailman or Stockton) didn’t.

The problem I have with naming top teams is leaving people off and making it look like they’re less deserving. I think it’s awful if someone like Ron Santo dies feeling bad about not getting into the Hall of Fame because of some sports writer’s opinion. Having been a sports writer, I don’t care what sports writers have to say.

Same concept for NBA figures – your all-time interview team, including front-office personnel and support staff?

Michael (boy next doorest), Magic (most likeable), Larry (candor humor award), Charles (funnest), West (most endearing with his heart on his sleeve), Wilt (wildest), Phil Jackson (wiggiest), Don Nelson (most creative), Gregg Popovich (really!), Donnie Walsh (mensch), Jack McMahon (mensch), Gene Shue (taught me most), Mike Dunleavy (down to earthest), Mike D’Antoni (nicest), Isiah Thomas (most heart), Bill Fitch (top story-teller)

Who are the 3-4 best TV and radio analysts working the game today? Who’s No. 1 on your list of all-time play-by-play announcers?

No. 1 all-time in basketball for me would be Marv (one name should suffice). Hip, professional and Vin-style inobtrusive…. Chick, of course, who was anything but inobtrusive but was thoroughly Chick.

For color guys, I love Jeff Van Gundy for saying the opposite of what the league wants, and Doug Collins for his sharp perspective…. And Billy Packer, a college guy, of course, for loving ball and being able to explain it as well as anyone ever has.

Before the Instagram/Facebook/Snapchat/Twitter/texting era, working on and reporting stories was quite different. That said, are there a few examples from your Philly and L.A. days when your ability to work the phones and speak directly to people face-to-face developed as top-notch go-to sources for years, maybe, decades to come?

My favorite story is from the ’70s when we had everyone’s number. The 76ers just gave us a sheet, with all the home numbers on it.

So, I’m trying to find out what’s going on with the 76ers and Coach-GM Jack Ramsay, so I call up Hal Greer… but I dial the wrong number and get Matty Guokas, the next name down on the list.

Matty tells me he was in the office the day before and knew what I was trying to find out, giving me the scoop: The 76ers were bumping Jack down to coach only and would hire a new GM.

The Los Angeles Times has lost a huge amount of talent and experience and proven expertise in sports in the past several years. When you see the direction the paper has taken and the similar situations at news outlets across the country, do you think the big-city sports section as a staple of news consumer’s information diet has vanished for good?

The importance of the local paper hasn’t vanished — the better the local one is, the luckier its readers are — but obviously the old days are over.

My generation was obsessed with writing, who the hot writers were, who the tough writers were, etc. Nowadays, it’s more about who gets hits and who gets on TV — which means, to a great extent, who works for ESPN, the billion-pound gorilla. On the other hand, someone has to dominate. It was the same way my L.A. Times dominated the other papers around here locally, pre-internet.

There is still a place for long form but it seems to be a shrunken place. It’s no wonder there’s so little perspective, and that holds true in more areas than sports, like — witness the recent campaign —politics.

***

Word-association time … What phrases and/or words immediately come to mind for …?

Wilt Chamberlain… Fun guy. Guy’s guy. A gift for any writer he say down with.

Elgin Baylor… The stars’ star in his day, all too forgotten today.

Rick Barry… A difficult guy but a great, incredibly precise player.

Magic Johnson… Best at dealing with people I ever saw and he dealt with a huge number of them.

Jerry Buss… Best owner for being engaged but not too engaged, furnishing the grand vision while backing up his professionals.

Chick Hearn… Chick Hearn.

James Worthy… As great a guy as a player. The one who hugged me when I told him I was leaving the Laker beat.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar… Stand-offish but really smart. Did more journalism than most journalists.

Jerry West… All heart, all smart: the logo, definition of an icon, NBA’s greatest exec after being one of its very greatest players.

Phil Jackson… All eccentric. smart, too.

Kobe Bryant… All Kobe all the time, but if what you do is what counts, he’s the most passionate basketball player the game ever saw.

Larry Bird… Country humorist with totally urban chops. video of players on Atlanta bench falling over each other at his improbable shot is one of funniest ever.

Bill Russell… Not best center ever but definitely the most competitive, not to mention winningest.

Bill Walton… There but for good health goes the best center there ever was. Awesome in his life for the game.

Michael Jordan… Had it all, including personality. Deservedly considered the best there ever was.

Bob Ryan… Greatest gig there ever was. One of the greatest hoop writers ever covering one of the greatest ongoing stories for one of the greatest sports sections.

Peter Vecsey… Had the same deal as Bob except Pete did it his way and Bob did it his.

Red Auerbach… Smartest NBA guy ever, from an age in which you could out-smart people — which is how they won 11 in 13 seasons without a single player they had the first shot at, then built powerhouses someone else could have had, Dave Cowens and Larry Bird.

Pat Williams… Showman. Unbelievable energy. Still going strong.

Marv Albert… How to broadcast basketball. Hip and unobtrusive, the NBA version of Vin.

Donald Sterling… My cottage industry.

Ralph Lawler… Almost as much of an iron horse as Chick. Special commendation for being as good as he has been for as long as he has been, with the team a laughingstock for so much of it.

Bill Dwyre… Thanks for the memories!

*AND A BONUS TALE*

me-and-al-1

TV screen grab

Heisler explained the on-TV mix-up this way: “Photo is a TV capture from a Raider game in Denver in 1987. I was taken by it, of course, because they put Al’s name over me.
The timing was exquisite. Al had just sent his PR guy, Irv Kaze, to tell me to watch what I wrote or they could ban me from their practice facility.

“We used to extend off-the-record privileges to Al when he sat in the press box, as he did for road games like this.This time, I made sure to use something in my story that he yelled — he was always cheering, moaning, etc.— to signal I wasn’t going with the program.
I never did get barred. Al later told Mike Ornstein, his bulldog of a promotions guy, to throw me out, but Orny —whom I later became very friendly with—didn’t want any more notoriety, having become infamous for throwing CBS’s Irv Cross off the Raider sideline before the 1984 Super Bowl, and wouldn’t do it.

“So, not being the confrontational type, himself despite his swashbuckling image, Al couldn’t get me thrown off his own lot. That was the stuff you went through all the time with the Raiders. They should have given combat ribbons for covering them.”

***
Follow Mark Heisler on Twitter: @MarkHeisler

Before Steve Nash’s two MVP seasons

This feature on Steve Nash appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on Oct. 9, 2004.

A legitimate leader

By Ed Odeven

When the Phoenix Suns drafted Steve Nash in 1996, fans had mixed reactions: many booed, some cheered. Kevin Johnson was a well-established star then and many wondered why the Suns would spend the 15th pick in the draft on a point guard.

Nash didn’t spend a lot of time in a Suns uniform. In July 1998, when Jason Kidd was the undisputed floor leader of the Suns, Nash was deemed expendable and was traded to the Dallas Mavericks for Pat Garrity, Bubba Wells, Martin Muursepp and a future first-round draft pick, which turned out to be Shawn Marion in the 1999 draft.

Over the next six seasons, Nash transformed himself from a capable backup into one of the NBA’s top point guards. He made All-Star appearances in each of the last two seasons.

Nash became a free agent last offseason and signed a four-year deal with the Suns during the summer. It surprised many that Mavericks owner Mark Cuban did not match the Suns’ offer (a $65 million contract) or make a serious bid to re-sign him.

“I left pretty green and in many ways unproven, and to come back having gone through a lot of the battles (I have been a part of) I have a lot more confidence and legitimacy. My teammates have been great. They’ve respected me and welcomed me,” Nash said Tuesday, the first day of the Suns’ weeklong preseason training camp in Flagstaff.

Indeed, the Suns, who went 29-53 last season, welcome the 30-year-old Nash back to the Valley with open arms.

First and foremost, Suns coach Mike D’Antoni is cognizant of Nash’s leadership skills.

“The guy’s a winner, obviously, and his intensity and excellent work ethic and everything else (are valuable),” D’Antoni said. “He just brings so much to the table.”

After Stephon Marbury was traded to his hometown New York Knicks in early January, the Suns did not have an experienced point guard. They lost 18 games by five points or less last season, a telltale sign of a team lacking leadership.

Enter Steve Nash.

“I think they felt like I was a perfect fit for this team,” he said. “They have a lot of great talent, and I think for me my attributes are my experience and making my teammates better.

“If I can help these guys improve and help this team reach its potential … that’s why they brought me here.”

The Suns already field a young, athletic nucleus of players, including guards Joe Johnson and Quentin Richardson, who signed a free-agent deal after playing for four years with the Los Angeles Clippers, and forwards Shawn Marion and Amar’e Stoudemire.

Now, Nash will be expected to mold this team into a winner.

“I think he just brings his veteran (leadership) and experience,” said Marion, who was one of only two NBA players (Kevin Garnett was the other) to be in the top 30 in points, rebounds, steals, blocks and minutes last year.

“He’s been in the playoffs on a consistent basis (six straight years with Dallas) and we were lacking experience at point guard, so that’s going to help us become a more seasoned team.”

The Suns want to be a higher-scoring team this year after averaging just 94.2 points a game last season. Nash’s former team led the league with 105.2 ppg compared with the league’s worst-scoring team, Toronto (85.4 ppg).

With Nash running the show, expect the Suns to stick to D’Antoni’s plan of being one of the league’s quicker teams.

 

“His style is to run up and down,” D’Antoni said. “We always want to do that. We’ll just run a little smarter now with him.”

As a result, the Suns should make better decisions with the basketball.

“He’s a great passer,” Marion said. “He’s an elite-five (player) in the NBA in passing. That says it all right there.”

Added Nash, “I think this is a very talented group, a very athletic team. We have some definite strengths. We are going to be able to score.”

Nash has averaged 7.3 or more assists per game in each of the last four seasons, including a career-high 8.8 apg in 2003-04. In addition, he’s a terrific free-throw shooter (a career average of 89.3 percent) and a dependable 3-point shooter. He’s averaged 12.5 ppg in his career.

Statistics don’t interest Nash, however. Only winning does.

“(Making) the playoffs is the only real goal,” Nash said. “Any other goal, if you don’t make the playoffs, what good is that? So that’s the only goal.”

Along the way, the ex-Santa Clara University standout who now considers himself a “grizzled veteran” will be a mentor to young Suns guards, including Leandro Barbosa, the second-year pro from Brazil, and rookie Yuta Tabuse, a former BYU-Hawaii player who is trying to become the first Japanese-born player to make an NBA roster.

“He always moves the ball and he never stays still on the court,” Barbosa observed. “I think this is different than other point guards. I think (seeing this) has helped me a lot.

“I can learn a lot of things when he moves the ball and I defend him (in practice).”

As Tabuse is surrounded by a throng of Japanese media members on a daily basis, Nash has become his most vocal supporter. After Tuesday’s evening practice concluded, Nash chatted briefly with Tabuse before speaking to the media.

“I told him he should never feel uncomfortable or embarrassed if there’s so much attention here,” Nash said. “I think it’s a difficult situation to be a rookie and be from a different culture and have all this attention.”

On and off the court, Nash knows how to be a leader.

Part III of Tokyo Apache column series

By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (April 24, 2016) — Here’s the third and final installment of a column series on the 2010-11 Tokyo Apache team. Five years later, former NBA and Apache center Robert Swift, who battled heroin addiction, is working to get back into the game as a pro player.

After serving time in prison on gun charges, Swift says basketball and his Christian faith have helped him turn his life around.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/sports/2016/04/23/basketball/bj-league/ex-tokyo-apache-standout-swift-rebuilding-life-after-off-court-troubles/#at_pco=cfd-1.0&at_ab=-&at_pos=3&at_tot=8&at_si=571c7806036dada8