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.”
Shortly after leaving Netolicky, I’m talking to an attorney in Chicago, an attorney who represents ABA players. His name is Steven A. Hart. ABA players want the NBA, which absorbed their league in 1976, to increase their pensions. That’s what Hart and I are talking about. Well, I’m talking. Hart is yelling. “NBA cares, right? NBA cares?” the attorney says, booming out an NBA slogan. “Well, care about whom? I’ll tell you who they don’t care about: legacy ABA players.”
In the matter of fairness, this is important: ABA players haven’t sued the NBA for better pensions because they aren’t sure they have a case. “It’s possible a court would decide the NBA doesn’t have to do what we’re asking,” Netolicky is saying, “and we don’t have the time to find out. People are dying out here. We found one player living under a bridge. So here’s what we’re saying: “Maybe the NBA doesn’t have to do this. But it’s the right thing to do.”