Here's a copy of the letter I'm sending to Jason Quick of The Oregonian, and Dwight Jaynes of the Portland Tribune. I urge you to send a letter to the sports writers in your areas. Thanks.
The recent death of the great George Mikan has inspired me to write to you with a special request. The "pre-'65ers," who played in the NBA prior to 1965, the year the players first formed an organized bargaining unit, are being treated poorly by a league who owes so much to them.
My understanding is that the old-timers receive $200 - two days' meal allowance for current players - for each season they played. I have read that there are about 70 pre-'65ers who receive benefits, and another 80 or so who played three or four years, and receive no pension.
In this day of multi-million dollar player contracts and league revenue exceeding the gross national product of some nations, shouldn’t the players who paved the way for today’s jewelry- sporting millionaires receive better consideration from the NBA and, at least, not have to struggle to survive in their golden years? (Mikan’s widow couldn’t afford his funeral costs – until Shaq stepped up with an offer to pay for it).
Your knowledge and influence places you in a unique position to affect a change. Publicizing this travesty might pressure the players and the league to act more humanely toward these former warriors and trailblazers. Would you please do what you can, write what you can, say what you can to help right this wrong? I am sure that the old-timers, as well as fans of today’s game would appreciate your effort.
This came from the Associated Press:
Mikan's death gives light to meager NBA pensions
PHOENIX (AP) -- Perhaps in death George Mikan can accomplish what he worked so hard to achieve in the last years of his life -- a boost in the meager pension provided to the pioneer players of the NBA.
When he died on June 1, 18 days shy of his 81st birthday, Mikan was praised throughout the league for his quiet dignity and service to the game.
"George Mikan truly revolutionized the game and was the NBA's first true superstar," NBA commissioner David Stern said at the time. "He had the ability to be a fierce competitor on the court and a gentle giant off the court. We may never see one man impact the game of basketball as he did, and represent it with such warmth and grace."
But words do not translate into dollars.
Strapped for cash after Mikan's long illness, with most of his memorabilia sold, the family accepted Shaquille O'Neal's offer to pay for the funeral.
For his 8 1/2 seasons in the NBA, when his star power helped keep the fledgling league alive, Mikan received a pension of $1,700 per month. His wife of 58 years will get half that -- $875.
Mikan was one of the "pre-'65ers," those who played in the NBA prior to 1965, the year the players first formed an organized bargaining unit. The old-timers receive $200 -- two days' meal allowance for current players -- for each season they played.
There are about 70 pre-'65ers who receive benefits, according to ex-player Larry Staverman, who serves as coordinator of their loosely knit association. Another 80 or so played three or four years, and receive no pension.
Mikan campaigned quietly but persistently for more, writing letters, making phone calls and giving interviews. He was scheduled to talk with The Associated Press on June 2, the day after he died.
"Dad just felt that the pioneers had done enough for the game to be considered in the same group as everybody else," Mikan's son Terry said. "He was determined to at least make everybody aware of what he cared about."
Staverman said the old-timers only want the same that is given to those who played after 1965.
The post-'65ers aren't exactly showered with riches, either. They can choose a lump sum payment or receive $357 per month for each season played, with a minimum of three years served. Their widows receive half that much. But the post-'65ers' pension kicks in at age 50 for anyone who played at least three seasons. Those who played before 1965 didn't get theirs until they turned 62, and must have played at least five years.
Mel Davis, executive director of the Retired NBA Players Association, believes all the retirees should receive the same amount, and all deserve a big boost.
"Our pension is underfunded significantly," he said. "My view is that we would like, in this collective bargaining, to be brought up to federal guidelines, a 60 percent increase to benefits. I think it behooves the NBA to take care of the pioneers and the legends of the league that made the league what it is today."
Mikan's death might have nudged the two sides into action.
"We know the issue is there," NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik said late last week. "We haven't given much focus to pension for anybody up to this point. We do have the more fundamental issues to take care of before we get to that."
Granik said that altering pensions isn't an easy chore, and that the special circumstances of the pre-'65ers make it even trickier. They were granted pensions in 1988 in a special addendum to the contract.
Still, Granik said, "There is no question it will get discussed during this bargaining session."
The NBA Players Association did not return two calls asking for its position on the issue.
Staverman, who played for Cincinnati from 1958 to 1964, said he has written to every NBA owner, to the players union and to prominent former pros asking for their support. He emphasizes that any help would be a short-term commitment, since the average age of the pre-'65ers is 79.
"We're all going to be gone in five to 10 years," he said.
A statue of Mikan taking his trademark hook shot stands inside the Target Center in Minneapolis. Staverman believes the big man deserves an even better monument. The new contract, he said, should contain a section that gives the old retirees the same benefits of those who played later, and it should be called "the Mikan addendum."
"What a great way," Staverman said, "to memorialize the first great superstar in the NBA."