Another one of my ABA guys died yesterday, something we knew was coming for a long time but kept getting put off because the indefatigable patient flat out refused to yield. The same obstinate way he played basketball, especially on defense where he attached himself to prey like a spotted mountain tick. Roland ‘Fatty’ Taylor, 71, confronted cancer since 2000 with the same tenacity. Last time we spoke was at an old timer’s reunion at a New York City hotel, the day before the 2015 NBA All-Star Game. Still had his swagger. Still talked a superior game. Yet volunteered he was hurtin’ for certain.
The colorful legacy of the American Basketball Association will be celebrated at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on April 7, 2018, when the ABA’s 50th reunion is held. All proceeds will go to the Dropping Dimes Foundation, an Indianapolis-based charity that assists former ABA players, coaches, and team employees in need of financial or health care assistance. The event will bring a retro ABA All-Star weekend feel to downtown Indianapolis. Many of the league’s greatest players and coaches are scheduled to attend, including former Pacers legend George McGinnis and legendary Pacers coach Slick Leonard, Julius Erving, Spencer Haywood, Dan Issel, George Gervin, and Artis Gilmore. NBC announcer Bob Costas will serve as master of ceremonies. During the program, the list of the ABA’s all-time 50 greatest players will be announced, as voted on by a media panel.
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!”
Former ABA forward/center Bob Netolicky: “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’m being treated like a second-class basketball player,” said Larry 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 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.”
Now Swift’s voice is back and he is crying, not from self-pity — although my Lord, who would blame him? — but from gratitude. 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 at age 70 on April 20, six days after leaving the message that Bob Netolicky is playing for me. “We can never … repay you for all that you’ve done for us,” Swift says in stops and starts before dissolving in a rush at the end. “And uh … I’ll just wait to hear from you. Bye-bye.”