Many of 108 those players – the same ones who helped create the style of game that is today’s multi-billion-dollar NBA – are struggling, worn out and desperate. They are in their late 60s, 70s and 80s. Some are homeless, living under bridges. Some die alone with no money for a gravestone. Others can’t even afford dentures or a new suit to go to church. “They should have already done it,” McHartley said, of the NBA. “So many guys have missed out. Think of how many of us have passed and never got anything.”
Dropping Dimes has done sophisticated calculations. If the NBA agreed to help the 108 remaining ABA players with the minimum $400 a month, it would cost the NBA $1.8 million a year. “The bottom line is the amount of money it would take to fully fund reasonable pensions, not exorbitant pensions,” said Bob Costas, “is a relative pittance.” One year’s salary for the 12th guy on the bench of an NBA team could fund all of it. And, by attrition, that amount is only dwindling, said Costas, who is a board member of Dropping Dimes and got his start in broadcasting calling radio play-by-play for the ABA’s Spirits of St. Louis.
“A pension, there’s a lot of things it would go toward,” said McHartley, who during his career played for the ABA’s Miami Floridians, New York Nets and Dallas Chaparrals. “Car insurance, upkeep on your car, food intake, rent. So, it’s a lot of things that would help out with your overall living.” McHartley is diabetic with kidney problems and now heart trouble. He said he isn’t asking for a handout. He is asking for what he and the remaining 108 ABA players who didn’t qualify for pensions under the NBA’s contract when the two leagues merged, say they earned.
Speaking at a SporticoLive event on Tuesday, Roberts said that while players share in the passion for the game, and in the responsibility of growing the NBA’s multi-billion-dollar enterprise, “what we don’t share is having an equity stake in the teams.” “We’ve got a collective bargaining agreement that says we can’t [own stakes], and hopefully down the road we’ll make some changes,” she said. “The players will be the last to suggest that we want to see the game’s value, or teams’ values, in any way diminish, but it sure would be nice to be able to go to the party.”
The league is also making changes to make it easier to attract minority investors. Last year it greenlit Dyal Homecourt to raise money for a fund that could invest in multiple teams. Now it’s discussing an expansion of that program, where other institutional investors could gain the same right. “If [private equity investment] happens,” Roberts said, “I will have players complain bitterly that, ‘Wow, we helped create this wealth, we helped create this value, and some private equity guy can come in and I can’t?’”
One suggestion: Instead of giving equity to players themselves, give it to the union. That wouldn’t necessarily result in checks to individual athletes, but it would give the NBPA more resources to support players and their communities. Another suggestion: a structure similar to employee stock options, which are common in other some businesses. “There’s a way, in other words, for players to enjoy equity in these teams that may be non-traditional,” Roberts said. “It may be a little different from the way we do it on the private side, but I still think there’s an opportunity for us to talk about, think about and ultimately resolve what I believe to be an inequity in the system.”