INDIANAPOLIS – “Hey, there must be some mistake,” Bo Lamar said on the other end of the phone with Scott Tartar, who listened in. Then Lamar, the No. 1 overall in the 1973 NBA draft, said: “No. Not. There error. “
John Fairchild, ABA Indiana player Pacers The 1970 championship team was called up, too, to see if he was “seeing things” in this NBA check that were much more than he expected.
ABA star Pacers Bob Nitolicki heard from Fairchild, and several of his former ABA friends, and put a call to Tartar.
“The NBA got it wrong,” Netuliki said. “No. The NBA didn’t mess around,” Tartar assured him.
said Tartar, co-founder and president of the Indianapolis-based company dropping dimesWhich helps a struggling ABA player and their families. “These checks were much larger than many expected.”
After an eight-year battle with the NBA, Dropping Dimes earlier this year convinced the league to award recognition payments to former ABA players.
more:NBA will pay former ABA players $25 million: ‘This will change their lives’
The first batch of these payments was sent this month. “Just in time for Christmas,” Tartar said. “Yeah, it’s some kind of Christmas miracle.”
A miracle for ABA players in many ways. First of all, these players weren’t sure if they would ever get the pensions they thought they were due when the ABA merged with the NBA in 1976, leaving behind many players who never got a spot on an NBA team.
A miracle because many of these players really need the money. IndyStar covered the plight of these former ABA pioneers and champions who are now struggling to pay rent, medical care, and the basic necessities of life.
A miracle because many former ABA players didn’t expect what they saw in those first NBA checks. One issue to the Pacers great — who was not named — grossed over $100,000, just for the month of December.
The Tatars said: “Unbelievable. I tell you.” “I shed some serious tears about this. It’s just crazy how much it affected these players.”
Lots of happy conversations with the players.
The former ABA players are now in their 70s and 80s. Some of them are homeless and live under bridges. Some die alone with no money to buy a gravestone. Others can’t afford dentures or a new prosthesis to go to church.
“In terms of this pension thing, the NBA is waiting for us to die,” Frank Card, who played for the ABA’s Denver Rockets, told IndyStar in February 2021.
At the time, Card was a retired public bus driver living in a rented apartment. The pension meant a different life for him.
“I’m not asking for some kind of help or something I haven’t worked for or deserve,” Card said. “I don’t know why these guys don’t come forward and say, ‘Why don’t we take care of them like they took care of us?'”
After the article was published, the NBA spoke publicly about the issue for the first time to IndyStar, saying it was in discussions with Dropping Dimes regarding pensions for former ABA players.
The discussions weren’t enough for Card, who died two months later at the age of 76, more than a year before the NBA’s Board of Governors voted in July to pay the former ABA players $24.5 million.
The agreement, reached by the NBA and its players’ association, ended a years-long battle between the league and Dropping Dimes, who argued that these ABA players made way for what the NBA is today — fast-paced, flashy, with 3-point contests and slam dunks. Dunk. And they were entitled to a pension for that.
When the agreement was reached, about 115 players were eligible for compensation, which the NBA called “acknowledgment payments,” not pensions. These players either spent three or more years in the ABA or played at least three combined years in the ABA and the NBA and never received an NBA pension.
But when the checks started arriving in the mailboxes this month, the payments for some players changed. Some were getting extra money from their time in the NBA. Some, who didn’t think they would qualify for either league, were getting money they didn’t expect.
The arithmetic, the money, the way the NBA calculates payments is a complex equation of actuaries, lawyers, and financial types. The crux of it, Tartar said, is that ABA players are finally getting what they deserve.
Even some widows and family members of ABA players are receiving unexpected checks, Tartar said, including Sam Smith’s widow who, before his death, took a chilling photo in his hospital bed with an ABA basketball.
“He grabbed my arm and pulled me close,” said Tarter, who took the photo. He said, ‘I’ll do anything to make the NBA help these guys.’
Before his death, Smith said he considered himself lucky compared to his former teammates. At least he had health insurance from his job at the Ford plant. Smith’s wife, Helen, said after his death that the pension money would have been a windfall for the family.
“It could have been life-changing,” she told IndyStar. “Because we were living. We were having it all, but there wasn’t much we could do.”
Now, finally, you get what Smith was to owe. Tartar said it’s stories like the Smiths that mean the world to him.
The Tatars said: “I am high.” “I have a lot of happy conversations with the players and the families. It’s just incredible.”