Cousy makes plea for NBA oldtimers

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 20, 2005

A little help! It’s the cry everyone knows at the playground, the basketball rolling away to another court, a plaintive plea for an assist from a stranger.

It’s one being made by the veterans of the NBA, the players who pulled the red carpet into place with their sweat and sacrifice so today’s players can work for an average salary exceeding $4 million per year. They’re asking for perhaps what one player earns in one season for more than 120 pioneers of the NBA, many barely surviving in nursing homes and health care facilities.

They’ve been told, in effect, to take care of their own problems. The NBA players are busy with their own game.

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&uot;We’ve heard in collective bargaining $35 million was going to be applied toward augmentation of the pension for both pre- and post-65 players,&uot; said Bob Cousy, the former Celtics great and the player who truly began the modern style of basketball 50 years ago with his trickery and ballhandling. &uot;… Traditionally, they have not responded at all to our issues. … It traumatizes a lot of my guys. From the beginning, we’ve been beggars at the gate. We’re still beggars. We’re dropping daily. We’re passe. We’re a bunch of old men waiting to have our tickets punched. They’re sitting back and waiting for us to die off so the problem goes away.&uot;

Last month when NBA great George Mikan died, there was a spike of publicity about the plight of the so-called pre-65ers, the group of NBA players whose careers ended before 1965. They initially weren’t included in the NBA pension plan.

&uot;I hear about guys being thrown out of nursing homes,&uot; Cousy said. &uot;For the most part, guys in our generation had a couple of jobs. I’ve done eight different things, camps, whatever I had to do. (They) are not homeless, but guys are dying off. There are a few now even working to earn a few dollars. Whatever increase that would be passed on to us would have a positive effect on the lives of the guys left.

&uot;Thank God I’m comfortable. I’m not wealthy, but I don’t need a bump. I’ve got enough to sustain my lifestyle. I’m willing to pass my share on to the guys who need it.&uot;

Hearing Cousy, you just wish there were a few more players like that today.

This issue is significant now because the rhetoric has heated up about a lockout July 1. What’s pathetic is how little it would take - much less than the NBA and players donated for tsunami victims. How about Old-Timer aid?

It would be laughable to guys like Cousy if it weren’t so sad.

&uot;They reached out once and put a pension in for us, but obviously a lot of guys feel it isn’t adequate,&uot; Cousy said. &uot;Thank goodness everything went beautifully and everyone is making a lot of money. We feel the players have a definite responsibility to those who went before them.&uot;

By the end of next week, there should be a new labor agreement in place ready to be signed. It will last at least six years. By then there may just be a handful of pre-65ers living. C’mon, guys, a little help!

Sam Smith is a sports columnist for the Chicago Tribune.