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Pension Hearing

Above - The pre-pension players testify at the hearing before the Congressional Subcommittee in 1998

THE PLIGHT OF THE PRE-PENSION PLAYERS

Occasionally you see an injustice that you just can't overlook.  One of which is the shabby treatment which has been extended to the NBA Pioneers.  For a minimal amount of money (by today's NBA standards) the remaining players from the early days of the league could be taken care of.

Leading the charge is former player Bill "Tosh" Tosheff.   Tosheff has worked tierlessly on behalf of his fellow players, and in 1998 Congressional hearing were held on whether the players had been treated fairly.   Along with fellow player Kevin O'Shea, they organized the Pre-1955 Players Association, in hopes of gaining increased benefits for the three and four-year veterans who played before the 1965 season.

Author Neil Isaacs has done his part to help as well, as he chose to contribute one-third of his royalties from his book Vintage NBA: The Pioneer Era 1946-1956 to the cause.  If someone from the league office or NBA Players Association were to follow his example, perhaps the issue would be rendered moot.

-Robert Bradley

RELEASES FROM THE CONGRESSIONAL HEARINGS ON "PENSION FAIRNESS FOR NBA PIONEERS"

WASHINGTON -- The Subcommittee on Employer-Employee Relations will hold a hearing to examine the pension status of pre-1965 NBA basketball players entitled, "Pension Fairness for NBA Pioneers," at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 15, 1998, in room 2175 of the Rayburn House Office Building.

"It is important that we determine whether or not the National Basketball Association has acted unfairly in denying pension benefits to pioneer professional basketball players," said Rep. Harris Fawell (R-IL). "Hearing from pre-1965 basketball players will give us an opportunity to better understand this situation and the apparent double standard that it has created."

The purpose of this hearing is to review H. Con. Res. 83, introduced by Rep. Bill Lipinski (D-IL). The resolution expresses the sense of Congress that the National Basketball Association and the Players Association should extend pension benefits to certain surviving post World War Two, pre-1965 professional basketball players. It would assist approximately 60-80 retired professional basketball players who have apparently been excluded from the NBA's Players Pension Plan.

The NBA and the Players Association established the Players Pension Plan in 1965 through the collective bargaining process to cover players who participated in the league for at least three years in 1965 and beyond. This policy was changed in the 1988 collective bargaining agreement when the NBA and the Players Association decided to extend pension benefits to pre-1965 players who had played in a minimum of five NBA seasons. The NBA maintains that this rule represents a fair requirement.

WHAT: Hearing on "Pension Fairness for NBA Pioneers"
WHEN: 1:30 p.m., Wednesday, July 15, 1998
WHERE: 2175 Rayburn House Office Building

Witness List:
William Tosheff, president, Pre-1965 Players Association, San Diego, CA
John Ezersky, former player, Walnut Creek, CA
Walter Budko, former player, Lutherville, MD
Neil Isaacs, professor, NBA historian, University of Maryland, Silver Springs, MD

* A representative from the National Basketball Players Association is scheduled to testify.

Statement of the Honorable Harris W. Fawell, Chairman Subcommittee on Employer-Employee Relations Committee on Education and the Workforce

Today, we undertake an examination of a matter of limited scope, but one nonetheless of great significance to those effected. At a time that the National Basketball Association (the NBA) has just crowned its champion – from Chicago, I might add – and has reaped unprecedented revenues for itself and its players, 60 to 80 pioneer players have been denied pensions. Many of these pioneers are, as a result, still working into their 70s.

Our hearing today is to discuss H. Con. Res. 83, introduced by Congressman Bill Lipinski with 55 cosponsors. The resolution expresses the sense of Congress that the National Basketball Association and the Players Association should extend pension benefits to certain surviving post-World War II, pre-1965 professional basketball players. It would assist approximately 60 to 80 retired professional basketball players from the Basketball Association of America, the National Basketball League, and the National Basketball Association who have been apparently arbitrarily excluded from the NBA Players Pension Plan. We seek to determine whether the NBA has acted fairly in denying them pension benefits.

The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association, through collective bargaining, established the players pension plan in 1965 to cover players who participated in the league for at least three years in 1965 and beyond. In 1988 those parties agreed to extend benefits to the pre-1965 pioneers, but only those who had played in a minimum of five NBA seasons. This double standard for retired three and four year players has forced many of these pioneers to continue to work well into their 70s. The average player in the 1950s made less than $5,000 per year, while current players average over $2.2 million. Not many players could afford to play five years for only a few thousand dollars a year.

The present-day NBA owes its enormous success to the unselfish dedication of these pioneer players, who received sporadic paychecks and laundered their own uniforms. However, the NBA has steadfastly maintained that this rule represents a fair requirement in determining that group of individuals who made a truly significant contribution to the early years of the league. It seems to me that the minimal annual cost that would be incurred by the NBA Players Pension Plan to cover these individuals – just a few hundred thousand dollars for a plan with assets of over $100 million – would be a reasonable price to secure the retirements of these true pioneers.

Unfortunately, we will not be hearing from the NBA a justification of its position. The Commissioner of the NBA was invited to testify or to send a representative, but he has declined to do so. The players’ union, the National Basketball Players Association, has regrettably also declined the Committee’s invitation to send a representative to explain its position. We will hear shortly from a panel including several of these old-time players. Hopefully, the witnesses can explain how and why this situation arose. Among other things, I do not understand why some pioneer players received pension credit for their military service and others did not.

Based on what I have seen thus far, I really do not understand why the NBA sees no grounds to extend pension benefits to the very players who have provided the basis for the prosperity and durability of the present-day league. Today’s players earn multimillion dollar contracts and generous pensions, and the NBA garners millions from television and merchandising agreements, all as a direct result of the unselfish dedication of these pioneer players.


Statement of William M. Tosheff before the Subcommittee on Employer - Employee Relations Committee on Education and the Workforce

The year, 1937, was the beginning of the National Basketball League (NBL). Thirteen teams comprised this league. Top players signed contracts to play with average salaries approximately $2500 per season. Nine years later, 1946, a rival league formulated. It was called the Basketball Association of America (BAA). This league was structured in the Eastern cities which were at that time heavily engaged in ice hockey. Those persons engaged in the hockey business envisioned an opportunity to utilize hockey arenas in a dual purpose. At this juncture, it must be said that credit be given to the Harlem Globetrotters Basketball Club, who for many years played preliminary games. They brought in the people. This, in fact, helped sustain this league as well as continue for years later. The common rivalry between these two leagues fostered heavy player raiding of player talent. In the fall of 1949, both leagues, BAA and NBL, agreed to merge. The new league was named the National Basketball Association (NBA). Former commissioner of the BAA became the new NBA Commissioner. His name was Maurice Podoloff of New York City.

After two later commissioners, David Stern became commissioner in 1984. David Stern survives to this day as the head of the NBA, with operational offices in New York City, where he orchestrates a multi-billion dollar business.

PENSION BEGINNING: The following salient facts pertain to the start of the 1965 NBA Pension:

QUALIFYING: A player must have been under contract to a league team member of the NBA, for a minimum of three
years.

RETIREMENT: Reaching 62 years of age, the retired player received $200.00 per month for each year played.

ATTAINING AGE 55: Retired players are able to collect the accumulated vested money amount in bulk as a one-time move. This ended the NBA’s burden of payments on-going.

VESTED SPOUSAL SUPPORT FUNDING AFTER PLAYERS DEMISE: The spouse received 100% of the players monthly amount. Upon the spouses demise, all pension distribution ceased.

Purge to include early Pioneer ERA Players -- Pre-1965

In the late 1980’s, a splinter group of early pioneer era players formed an organization calling themselves, "THE NBA OLD TIMERS ASSOCIATION". This group was comprised of approximately 110 pioneer Pre-1965 veterans. Spearheaded by ex-Boston Celtic Gene Conley and his wife, Katie, with the support group of players, namely Bob Cousy, Dolph Schayes, Wm. "Red" Holzman, George Mikan, Bob Pettit, Paul Arisin, Bill Sharman, Jim Losutoff, all Hall of Famers, with the exception of Conley. They asked to depart from the original minimum playing requirement of three years to that of five years. Instead of receiving $200 a month for every year played, they opted for $100 per month. THIS SELF SERVING PLAN IN FACT ELIMINATED THE 3 & 4 YEAR PIONEER ERA VETERANS - PRE 1965. In 1987, David Stern directed Hall of Famer Bob Cousy, to inform this association to place a complete moratorium on media support. The association honored David Stern’s request. At this juncture, many players throughout the United States were never informed as to these proceedings. David Stern obviously did not want the myriad of responses from the players who questioned the aforementioned plan. After six months of waiting, the Association again contacted the NBA asking for action in their behalf. A article appeared in an eastern newspaper quoting Bob Cousy. He said, "David told me that no pressure in the world would make him acquiesce to approving a plan for pension inclusion Pre 1965, but he felt it was the right to do and was for it." In addition, at the request of David Stern, his number two man Russell Granik, contacted the Association telling them that a plan was underway and soon to be implemented after the owner agreement with the Player’s Association. In the fall of 1998, inclusion was eminent.

1988 AMENDMENT #5 TO THE 1965 PENSION PROGRAM:
A minimum of five years of player contractual activity was the prescribed rule. Present requirement is still three years. Pre 1965, upon retirement, players received $100 per month for every year played.

MILITARY CREDITS (1988 application):
If a player’s career was interrupted by military service WW II or Korean Wars, those years could be used toward the five year requirement or beyond. Also, if a players career was immediately preceded by military service time, this too could be used for qualification.

(INCLUDED IN THE PENSION PROVISIONS, AMENDMENT #5, WERE PLAYERS WHO PARTICIPATED IN THE TWO PREVIOUS LEAGUES, THE NBL AND THE BAA).

NOTE: There exists documentary proof that a "SWEETHEART DEAL" was devised by the NBA, the NBPA, and the NBA OLD TIMERS ASSOCIATION, which eliminated all of the deserving three and four year pioneer era players, Pre 1965.

In fact, a double standard for pension qualification Pre 1965 was set. It is fact that a two tiered standard pertaining to pension payments was set. In essence, those 3 and 4 year pioneer era players were and are discriminated by their exclusion.

Over eight years of continual communication with the NBA has not cured the injustice to those who also helped "SET THE TABLE" for today’s big time professional basketball business.

In 1992, the National Basketball Retired Players Association (XNBA) assisted in a windfall payment of $2 million dollars that was distributed to those Pre 1965-5 year qualifiers, thus raising their monthly payment to $116.73 per month for every year played. Again with the assistance of the XNBA, and at the 1996 collective bargaining agreements, payments were raised again from $200 per month for Post 1965 players to $285 per month for every year played. Those Pre 1965 pensioners were also raised from $116.73 per month for every year played to $200 per month. Yet, none of the groups attempted to cure the obvious injustice to the Pre 1965 veterans with 3 and 4 years of playing time.

In closing, the opportunity to appear before this Subcommittee group, to air the moral case I lead, is truly the American way toward justice. Those 3 and 4 year veterans, Pre 1965, who did serve in WW II, then entered college, completed their education, then participated in the NBL, BAA, or the NBA, get no credit toward pension requirement is totally unconscionable. The double standard, two tiered payment structure of the 1988 amendment #5, did in fact cause the unfair non status of approximately 80 deserving pioneers who are mostly in their 70’s with many in dire need.

We the men of the Pre 1965 NBA Players Association cry out for parity. I trust the sense of Congress will reach the mind of David Stern, to cure a long standing injustice. We all belong on the same page as originally designed in the 1965 pension program. We ask for retroactive payment back to 1988. We ask for no charity or foundation assisted help, just parity, equality, and finally monetary respect.

ADDENDUM: Cost for inclusion
80 men retroactive to 1988 - $6 million dollars
$700,000 annual payments (always on a declining basis)
3 year men -- $600.00 monthly
4 year men -- $800.00 monthly

Much credit to Neil D. Issacs for authoring the book, "VINTAGE NBA: THE PIONEER ERA," Masters Press. Our concern has always been his concern ... totally. He honors the past.

Statement of Professor Neil D. Isaacs before the Subcommittee on Employer-Employee Relations Committee on Education and the Workforce

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

I will be brief, attempting to provide a historical and philosophical context for my support of H. Con. Res. 83. In my judgment, the NBA's denial of any pension benefits to the naturally diminishing number of three- and four-year veterans of the pioneer era in professional basketball is reprehensible, unconscionable, even scandalous.

When I undertook to compile an oral history of the first decade of the NBA (Vintage NBA: The Pioneer Era), I was so appalled at the league's policy of exclusion for those surviving old-timers that I arranged for one-third of my royalties to be donated to the group seeking equitable treatment. I believe that it was this gesture and the principles behind it that persuaded Senator Bill Bradley to write the Foreword for the book.

In that Foreword, Senator Bradley said, in part,

"Despite the fact that professional sports has become a worldwide, multibillion-dollar industry, the day-to-day business of its franchises--details of ownership, player contracts and retirement benefits--remain obscure to the public. All the while, those pioneers of basketball whose military service limited their professional careers to a couple of years less that five required for vesting in the NBA pension plan receive none of the fruits of their early labor which helped to build the NBA of today. … As a player who benefited from the growth of a players union in the 1960s and 1970s, and from the subsequent collective bargaining agreements which loosened the owner choke-hold on player movement and provided players with per diem money, severance pay, disability insurance, medical insurance, increased pension benefits, better paying conditions, first-class air travel and moving expenses, I am pleased that [this book] has recognized the unique contributions of the NBA pioneer players and has called for their inclusion in the NBA's pension plan."

With the clarity of hindsight, the historian may see that in 1946 the time was ripe for a new professional basketball league. The elements were present and conditions cohered to produce what we now know as the NBA, emblematic of basketball at its best and a model of success in professional sports operations. From the vantage points of those who lived through the emergence of the league, however, the situation was chaotic, turbulent, unpredictable, and almost completely random.

Remember that sports had been protected and preserved throughout the war years. Not only had they been kept going on the home front despite travel restrictions and the draining of the talent pool, but also they were actively sponsored all over the world by service teams and performers. A national commitment to athletics became justified or demanded as a bulwark of morale--public and military. Athletes themselves comprised a substantial cadre of "special services."

In all fairness, it must be said that the NBA does recognize and honor certain service to the nation--but only on restricted terms. I find it no less patriotic or honorable when careers are shortened by military service that took place prior to rookie seasons in specified leagues rather than as an interruption in play in those leagues. Remember also that we are talking about a decade in which virtually all able-bodied (sports capable) men were liable and likely to have served in World War II or the Korean War--or both.

The NBA was begun in 1946, as the BAA, as a way to market the growing popularity of basketball, filling the dark nights in mostly hockey arenas, primarily in the population centers of the East. The existing NBL, then almost a decade old, had the majority of the outstanding players, but they played in small facilities throughout the Midwest, in places like Sheboygan, Anderson, Fort Wayne, and Waterloo. After its first year, the BAA lost four of its original eleven teams through financial reversals. In the third season, the two best teams in the world, Minneapolis and Rochester, came over from the LNBL along with two others, but financial success was still elusive.

Newly named the NBA, the league stumbled through a fourth season after incorporating most of the surviving NBL clubs in an awkward seventeen-team alignment. By the end of its pioneer decade, only eight teams remained in the league, only three of the charter members of the BAA. Costs of travel rarely were covered by gate receipts, and most players had to earn a living--often at hard labor--between seasons.

Statement of Walter Budko before the Subcommittee on Employer–Employee Relations Committee on Education and the Workforce

Gentlemen,

Thank you for the opportunity to testify regarding the unfairness of the NBA Pension Plan as it applies to the pre 1965 Players.

As a bit of background, I completed my first year at Columbia University in 1943 and enlisted in the U.S. Navy in May 1943. After serving on active duty from 1943 to 1946, I returned to college under the GI Bill to complete my BS degree in 1948. In 1948 I joined the Baltimore Bullets of the B.A.A. and played for a total of 4 years ending my career with Philadelphia in 1952.

My years with the NBA were enjoyable but in 1952, I made a personal decision to pursue other endeavors and never looked back.

The original pension plan did not interest me inasmuch as the NBA excluded almost a generation of players that played prior to 1965.

However, the amended pension plan of 1988 was another story as it held the promise of some parity with the past 1965 Players. Now, the plot thickens. I was naïve enough to believe that my previous playing time plus my military service would certainly qualify me for benefits. I also thought that because of the aforementioned facts, I would receive information as to the issues involved in the new plan. No information was ever sent or relayed to me. Not one word from the NBA, the players association, or any groups that were supposedly representing players like myself.

Well, the rest is history. The new plan was adopted in 1988 and I submitted my petition for benefits in March of 1989. The pension committee denied my request on the basis that my military service did not count inasmuch as I returned to complete college in 1946. Let me point out that there was no B.A.A until 1946. It is important to note that many current pension recipients have received military credit for the same period of time. Why the double standard? Was my wartime service any less valuable than theirs? Was not my life and career plans interrupted as much as theirs? Apparently the men who drafted the new pension agreement believed in this double standard.

The stated purpose of this hearing is to address the issue of fairness and I contend that the NBA and the Players Association have not demonstrated this trait in their dealings with the pre 1965 players. Why should benefits be available after 3 years to the post 1965 players and 5 years for others? Were not the contributions of the "pioneer" groups as meaningful to the success of the NBA as the later group? The military credit issue I discussed earlier.

In closing, I am sure the committee is aware that in 1997 the NBA pension plan was amended whereby the benefits to participants was increased. Nothing was considered for those of us outside the plan.

Thank you for your time!

Statement of John Ezersky before the  Subcommittee on Employer-Employee Relations Committee on Education and the Workforce

I was born and raised in the lower end of Manhattan. I truly believe that God put me on this earth to play basketball. My soul centered on nothing but the game. It is still a life sustaining memory. Now - at 76 years of age - still driving a taxi in San Francisco in the 48th year. Those memories of the game I love has been tainted. Tainted by decree of probably the most powerful sports head in the world - that would be David Stern - Commissioner of the mega-billion dollar professional basketball business - the National Basketball Association.

I am not appearing as a witness this day to put anything or anybody on trial. But, in a sense, it is a trial. As a plaintiff, I charge that the NBA has forgotten those who suffered the rigors of unbelievable travel and sacrificing body and family to play professional basketball. To be a part of a beginning is something that makes me proud. It was worth it all. Then something happened. In 1988, the NBA and the Players Association made a move to include just some of the men from our era into a pension program. What bothered me is that three and four year veterans were left out. Prior to my pro activity, just as I expected a great career, World War II took me away. Even when I was a part of the Normandy Invasion with the 747th Company C Tank Battalion to free Europe, I still dreamed of a pro career. I had, if I came out whole, the desire to play again. And I did.

In war, we had to be a team player. Basketball is the same. It is conducive to be successful. When you break up a team, a loss sustains. So there was a loss when I realized just a segment of men I played with and played against were in 1988 brought into the pension program which originally started in 1965. What I learned was that the NBA’s office statement for the difference was as follows,

"Two decades later, in recognition of those individuals who had contributed greatly to the formation of the league, the NBA took the unprecedented step of extending a pension benefit to those players whose careers ended prior
to 1965. "

This did not mean all Pre - 1965 pioneers. This was a direct ongoing quote from Russell Granik, Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer. I could not believe that the playing field was uneven. To leave out men of three and four years of playing time, by raising the minimum playing requirement to five years instead of the original and still sustaining three years, was beyond moral contention.

Through the leadership of Bill Tosheff, I saw where representation to cure a long-standing injustice was gaining momentum. Now, this day, July 15, 1998, I am able to sit here and let you see firsthand a man who needs to be retired after forty-eight years of driving a cab. I do not want charity. I just want a fair shake like the others got. I feel that I too was a part of something great -- Pro Basketball. Sitting before this Subcommittee gives me added strength to know that this day somebody cares about myself and others who deserve pension inclusion. Never did I imagine having this opportunity to appear in our great Nation’s Capital.

I have learned that on this day too I am to be presented with a gold medal - a "medal of celebration" - awarded by the people of France through their government for participating in the Normandy Invasion on June 6, 1945. My thank you to Congressman Lipinski for his work in obtaining for me this honor. The people of France can remember fifty years ago -- why could not the NBA remember ten years ago? I go back to San Francisco with my heart filled with hope and yet I know that I will again sit myself in my cab, putting in another twelve to fourteen hour shift.

Incidentally, I have read where I and others like me have a life expectancy of eighty-three years of age. This information was provided by major insurance actuaries. If this be the case, then we would not be a burden to the pension coffers of the NBA for not many years. The receiving of a pension would be on a declining basis. How can the NBA lose?

God bless this Committee and God bless America.

pioneers.jpg (9440 bytes)

For more information on the Pre-1965 NBA Players Association, write to:

  Bill Tosheff
  The Pre-1965 NBA Players Association
  1455 2nd Ave. Suite 1402
  San Diego, CA  92101
  619-899-2504 & 619-234-3500
vintagenba.gif (6829 bytes) Copies of Neil Isaacs' oral history of the early years of the NBA are available through Bill Tosheff at the above address for $20, half of which will go to the Pre-1965 NBA Players Association.

Bill Tosheff

Above - Bill Tosheff during his playing career with the Indianapolis Olympians.


LINKS
Bill (Tosh) Tosheff
Professional Athlete's Pensions


PENSION FACTS FOM TOSHEFF'S TESTIMONY

PENSION BEGINNING
The following salient facts pertain to the start of the 1965 NBA Pension:

QUALIFYING
A player must have been under contract to a league team member of the NBA, for a minimum of three years.

RETIREMENT
Reaching 62 years of age, the retired player received $200.00 per month for each year played.

ATTAINING AGE 55
Retired players are able to collect the accumulated vested money amount in bulk as a one-time move. This ended the NBA’s burden of payments on-going.

VESTED SPOUSAL SUPPORT FUNDING AFTER PLAYERS DEMISE
The spouse received 100% of the players monthly amount. Upon the spouses demise, all pension distribution ceased.

1988 AMENDMENT #5 TO THE 1965 PENSION PROGRAM:

A minimum of five years of player contractual activity was the prescribed rule. Present requirement is still three years. Pre 1965, upon retirement, players received $100 per month for every year played.

MILITARY CREDITS
If a player’s career was interrupted by military service WW II or Korean Wars, those years could be used toward the five year requirement or beyond. Also, if a players career was immediately preceded by military service time, this too could be used for qualification.

(Included in the pension provisions, Amendment #5, were players who participated in the two previous leagues, the NBL and BAA).

COST FOR INCLUSION
80 men retroactive to 1988 - $6 million dollars
$700,000 annual payments (always on a declining basis)
3 year men -- $600.00 monthly
4 year men -- $800.00 monthly


23Jan01 USA Today article on the Pre-Pension Players

EX-NBA PLAYER SEEKS PENSIONS FOR PIONEERS

By Richard Willing, USA TODAY

SAN DIEGO — During his playing days in the NBA in the early 1950s, scraped elbows were an occupational hazard for William "Tosh" Tosheff.

"I was on the floor a lot diving after (loose) balls," said the still-scrappy ex-guard, now 74.

These days, as he tries to win pensions for players of his era, a sore backside comes with the territory.

"I spend a lot of time in the car, going to meetings, giving speeches, looking up (player) records at my desk," said Tosheff, who spent 1951 through 1954 with the Indianapolis Olympians and the Milwaukee Hawks.

"It's hell on my sciatica."

Tosheff is generally sore about the state of pensions for basketball pioneers, such as himself, who played in the NBA or its predecessors, the National Basketball League and the Basketball Association of America, before 1965, when basketball pensions began.

Currently, pro basketball provides a $200 a month pension per season played for pre-1965 players with at least five years of service. Post-1965ers get $321 a month per year of service and need play only three seasons.

Tosheff's goal is to persuade the league and the players union, who together set pension benefits during collective bargaining, to equalize benefits and lower the service requirement for pre-1965 players. That way, old-timers will need to have played only three seasons to collect the same pension as their modern counterparts.

In the meantime, Tosheff is scouring the country for World War II-vintage ex-pros whose careers were interrupted by military service but who still managed to play three or four seasons. By adding their years in the military to their basketball careers, Tosheff has persuaded the NBA to grant pensions to seven basketball old-timers who are World War II vets.

But Tosheff, himself a World War II vet, has been unable to win a pension for himself, because of a technicality — his military service came before he began his pro career.

"It's hair splitting at its most extreme," said Tosheff, who estimates there are about 60 living ex-NBAers who fall just short of meeting the five-year requirement.

"Why not just give it to us?"

Reaching back

Pro sports have dealt with their oldest alumni, those who played in the pre-pension era, in different ways. In 1988, pro football "reached back" to add players whose careers dated from the 1920s to the pension plan. To keep costs down, the old players received lower benefits and had to meet a higher service requirement — a five-year playing career.

Basketball "reached back" that same year, picking up about 100 pre-1965 players with five-year careers but leaving out at least as many who had played three or four years.

In 1997, Major League Baseball began to offer a flat $10,000 annual benefit to about 150 former big leaguers and Negro Leaguers with four years of service whose careers ended before pensions began in 1947. That money is paid quarterly while the players live and, unlike old-timer pensions in basketball and football, cannot be willed to widows or children.

To get the money, the ex-ballplayers had to agree not to sue Major League Baseball for selling old newsreels and still photographs of the players.

"Baseball tried to buy (lawsuit) insurance," said Ron Katz, a San Francisco attorney who filed several such suits on behalf of old players before baseball offered the pension.

Most of the old-timers took the money. Some who didn't now wish they had.

Pete Coscarart, an 87-year-old ex-Pittsburgh Pirate and Brooklyn Dodger, was part of a small group of former players who refused the pension and pursued a lawsuit against baseball for marketing their images without permission. The players lost, and now face Major League Baseball's demand that they pay tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

"They've really got us over a barrel now," said Coscarart, who lives in Escondido, Calif. and gets by on Social Security checks. "It's not like they don't have the bucks."

Providing pensions for the oldest ex-players would be expensive. For basketball veterans, Tosheff estimates that a one-time $5 million retroactive payment would be needed. And $650,000 a year, declining as "guys kick off."

That's a small portion of basketball's plan, which was worth nearly $99 million in 1998, the last year for which federal filings are available. But relief, if any, must come from owners and players who together set pension levels through collective bargaining. And the omens are not auspicious.

"More people have to get interested," said Ron Klempner, players union vice president, who says the subject came up in bargaining but has never been a major issue.

"Tosh has been tireless in his efforts (but) somebody current has to be willing to get involved."

That someone could be Washington Wizards forward Juwan Howard. Howard, former vice president of the players union, said he's willing to take the lead in raising the issue with owners and player representatives during All Star game weekend in Washington in February. The money needed, Howard said, "shouldn't be a problem," especially if owners as well as players kick in.

"I love history, and it's amazing to talk to some of these old guys, to see how they traveled, by train and all, and what they went through (to build) what we take for granted," said Howard, 27. The challenge, he said, is to get other young players to "think about our game's history."

Tosheff agreed. It's why he drove cross country twice last July, bunking with old ex-NBAers as he went, en route to the player's association's annual meeting.

"I got a great response, guys coming up and saying, 'We didn't know you were out there! Let us help (when the contract is re-negotiated in 2004).' " Tosheff said. "But all that sitting. My heart was strong but (I) was dead."

© Copyright 2001 USA Today, a division of Gannett Co., Inc.


15Feb01 San Diego Union - Tribune article on the Pre-Pension Players

TOSHEFF GETTING HELP FOR NBA'S TRUE VETERANS

February 15, 2001

Bill Tosheff has scored again, and in numbers far larger than those routinely posted by his girls basketball team.

You read that correctly. For the last month Bill Tosheff -- vintage NBA player, former minor league pitcher, soon to celebrate a 75th birthday -- has been interim coach for the Clairemont High girls varsity. Installed his Jellyfish defense, is making do with a seven-girl roster, is coming off a 50-49 victory over Madison.

"Coaching is easy," says Tosh, who insists he posed only one question when offered the job by athletic director Dennis Musial. "What do I do if they cry?" Tosh asked. "If I hug them, I'll get arrested." Coaching is easy compared with Tosheff's other volunteer job, which is attempting to obtain pensions for professional basketball players who were active before a 1965 collective bargaining agreement provided for them. Eventually, benefits were extended to pre-1965 athletes with a minimum of five years of service. Tosh's goal is to have the requirement reduced to three years -- the same as it is for post-1965 players.

His most conspicuous success thus far has been in persuading the NBA to credit players with years lost to military service. By using that concession, Tosheff has earned coverage for seven former pros -- with payments retroactive to 1988. The most recent was Jim Seminoff, a U.S. Marine from 1942-45 and member of professional teams in Chicago and Boston
the following three years.

The task can be daunting. Proof of military service and of professional participation must be tracked and documented. That's time-consuming. When I last discussed this matter with Tosheff, his list of those who didn't meet the five-year requirement included 58 names. By yesterday, it had been reduced to 52.

Tosh is working to establish eligibility for Ernest Andres and Bud Palmer, and was putting together a proof package for Bernie Opper. "But Bernie died," Tosheff says. "He was 80."

When Tosheff does score, it can mean significant easing of financial pressure. Jim Seminoff, who is 78 and resides in San Clemente, will begin receiving monthly payments of $1,392 and a bulk retroactive sum of $99,000, after taxes.

Until recently, Tosh pursued this quest without compensation. He's now asking for 15 percent of the retroactive package to cover expenses. Last summer he drove 8,000 miles to gather documentation, attend NBA meetings and lobby influential current and former players.

Although Tosheff was a pilot during World War II and later played three seasons with franchises in Indianapolis and Milwaukee, he doesn't qualify for a pension because of broken time between military service and basketball. "They're good at splitting hairs," he says.

Ideally, NBA owners and players would include in their next collective bargaining agreement language that would make the three-year requirement uniform and thereby provide economic relief for a remaining handful of
league pioneers.

There's precedent. Thirteen years ago, the NFL extended pension coverage to players who'd participated professionally as far back as 1920. At a time when the NBA could use a positive spin for its image, Tosh has provided an opportunity.

Selig silent

Meanwhile, up in Escondido, Pete Coscarart sits waiting for the reply that never comes.

Coscarart is the former infielder who, along with four other old-timers excluded from major league baseball's pension plan, had the audacity to sue -- based on the fact that images of players from that era were being used to promote the game.

An Alameda County jury ruled for the plaintiffs, but baseball appealed and a Superior Court judge not only overturned the decision, he ordered that baseball's attorneys' fees be paid by the Coscarart five. Pete, whose maximum baseball salary during an eight-year major league career was $9,000 and whose current income is limited to Social Security, could be responsible for nearly $250,000 if that judgment isn't set aside, or if baseball doesn't voluntarily forgive the award.

Response by the commissioner's office to date isn't encouraging. In 1997, baseball offered a flat $10,000 per year to former major leaguers with four years of service and careers that ended before a pension plan was adopted in 1947 -- if they'd agree not to sue over the promotional materials issue. Because of their lawsuit, Coscarart and friends were excluded and, despite the loss in court, continue to be.

Here's insight into the sensitivity of commissioner Bud Selig. Four times in the last six months, Coscarart has written Selig to ask why he wasn't offered the $10,000 benefit. Three times Selig replied by letter -- stating on each occasion that his office was "checking" on the status of Coscarart's claim. The fourth inquiry, sent Jan. 13, received no response.

"And I still have the threat of those lawyer fees hanging over my head," Coscarart said this week. "It's a hell of a way to live."

Pete Coscarart will turn 88 on June 16. Is Bud Selig waiting for age to remove the problem?

A lovely thought for the first day of spring training.

© Copyright 2001 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.


18May2001 Los Angeles Times article on the Pre-Pension Players

LONG FORGOTTEN, THEY ARE LEFT IN LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN

By DIANE PUCIN

Harry Boykoff died of lung cancer in February. He was 78 and his wife, Beatrice, says she is sure there was no mourning in the offices of the NBA.

"David Stern and those people in New York, I think they're just waiting for all of them to die and go away."

It is not David Stern alone who deserves Beatrice Boykoff's disdain. It is the pension plan adopted 30 years ago which ignored the contributions of men who helped start the league that is the problem and it would take an agreement of NBA executives and the NBA Players Assn. to make things right.

The "all of them" that Beatrice Boykoff refers to are the 54 living alums from the Basketball Assn. of America and the National Basketball League, the precursors to the NBA, and from the NBA itself in its early days.

Some were busy fighting in World War II, others had family obligations and had to work and didn't get the necessary five years of playing credit for an NBA pension.

About 11 years ago, Bill Tosheff, a one-time NBA pioneer from Gary, Ind., who lives in San Diego, started his solitary campaign to include these men in the NBA's pension plan.

There were 85 alive then--85 men who had played in the days before the NBA started a pension plan in 1965, 85 men who worked two jobs, who drove cross-country to play basketball for six months. Without those 85, there might not be an NBA where an overweight, drug-haunted serial father such as Shawn Kemp can get a seven-year, $98-million contract.

Jim Seminoff, 78, recently became the seventh on Tosheff's original list to be given his pension. Players of the WWII era are credited with NBA years for their time in the service if it came immediately before or after their pro playing days. Tosheff has spent the last 11 years finding men like Seminoff, men who played and fought, gathering the documentation and making the case to the NBA.

Shouldn't the NBA be doing this? Shouldn't the NBA eagerly reward men like Seminoff, whose $147,000 retroactive pension--the most any of these former players ever has received--would be pocket change for someone like Kemp?

Seminoff has had three hip replacements, a knee replacement, cancer surgery and spinal surgery. He's alive. He sits in his chair in his San Clemente condominium and rises slowly. But he rises. He walks with the aid of a cane, which is a miracle. He does rehab.

Seminoff didn't think he would walk again last February when his legs turned to jelly and he collapsed in a doctor's office. His spine was a mess, as were his hips and knees. Seminoff's body, which still looks like an athlete's body, his long legs tanned and his waist without the extra belly of an old man, is paying the price of playing basketball. Joints and bones ache.

But Seminoff is a fighter. He's a former All-American from USC who drove from Los Angeles to Chicago in the fall of 1946--in 72 hours, with his pregnant wife, Rosemary, and two young children--so he could play professional basketball.

Seminoff played two years for the Chicago Stags and two years for the Boston Celtics, finishing in 1950. It was a glorious time. The NBA was just beginning, with the help of young men like Seminoff, many of whom had just come home from war and all of whom loved basketball.

"I wouldn't have done it any differently," Seminoff says. "I loved playing those games. But I do think I deserve the pension. I played for four years but it would have been more without the war."

Seminoff was a Marine. He fought on Guam and Iwo Jima. He came home in December of 1945, then the next October got a phone call from the owner of the Stags.

"He told me I had 72 hours to get to Chicago," Seminoff says.

"We tied all our stuff on the roof of the car in a pile so high it was bigger than the car. We had to stop in Albuquerque and rent a trailer or the car would have turned over."

How wonderful it would be for Seminoff to tell his story to the NBA millionaires. How smart it would be of the NBA to invite Seminoff to visit the playoff teams, to tell of how he and his family lived in a hotel room for six months, of how he traveled by train between games and was thrilled with his $6,000-a-season salary and absolutely ecstatic with a $2,000 playoff bonus one year--and of how he was offered the Celtics' coaching job.

Seminoff turned that down.

"It seemed like it would be too hard to get players to do what you want and they had your salary in their hands," he says.

So Red Auerbach got the job.

Tosheff estimates it would cost the NBA around $5 million to fund pensions for all the veterans who played three and four years. There is one early NBA player nearing his 80s, who still must drive a taxi to support himself.

Boykoff wasn't poor. He had been a businessman, then became an actor when he was 74. A St. John's grad who lived in Los Angeles with Beatrice, Boykoff can be seen in the Goldie Hawn-Warren Beatty movie "Town and Country." He played a 6-foot-8 butler with an expressive face.

Seminoff isn't destitute. After the NBA, he started a metals business. He isn't wealthy, either, but he did donate part of his lump-sum payment to USC to fund athletic scholarships.

"I want others to enjoy what I did," Seminoff says.

Mostly, this isn't about the money. It is about doing right.

It is about remembering the past and honoring it. It is about thanking men, some of whom came home from the war and took a big chance on basketball, a game they loved.

Sharing isn't easy for today's well-paid athletes and executives. Taking time to appreciate history isn't easy either. Both things are worthwhile though.

© Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times.


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