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Profit without honor

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For some reason I found this story to be particularly appalling:

When Sam Smith died in his modest home on the east side of Indianapolis, he died a man who not long before had swallowed his pride and made a phone call to ask for gas money. He died a man who had to make a call to ask for help with funeral expenses for his daughter.

He died a man who was an American Basketball Association player, a pioneer who blazed the trail for what the NBA is today.

But basketball ended for Smith. After winning an ABA championship with the Utah Stars, he got a job as a security supervisor at the Ford assembly plant in Indianapolis. Years passed. Times got harder. More years passed.

As Smith’s 50th reunion for his Kentucky Wesleyan NCAA Division II championship approached five years ago, he called the Dropping Dimes Foundation, which helps struggling ABA players and their families.

Smith didn’t have the money to get to his reunion, he told Dropping Dimes CEO and founder Scott Tarter. He needed a loan, and insisted it be a loan, for $250. Dropping Dimes gave him the money and told him it was a gift, not a loan.

Smith waited, hoping he wouldn’t have to make another call to Dropping Dimes. Hoping for the $2,000 a month pension he said he was owed by the NBA for his five years playing in the ABA, which merged with the NBA in 1976.

Two years later, Smith had to make another call. His daughter had died a single mother, leaving her 5-year-old son with autism for Smith and his wife, Helen, to raise.

“He called me up in tears,” said Tarter. Smith didn’t have the money to pay for his daughter’s funeral.

Dropping Dimes helped and Smith waited some more, hoping. The pension from the NBA never came.

The math here is that the NBA could fully fund pensions for the 138 former ABA players that Dropping Dimes is trying to help for $35 million. The league is projecting revenues of $10 billion for this year, which means it could fund these pensions with a one-time payment equal to one out of every three hundred dollars the league is generating in just this season alone.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has an annual salary of $10 million.

It’s pretty clear that the NBA’s strategy is to allow as many of these players to die off as possible before public pressure builds enough, if it ever does, to force the league to act in a slightly less monstrous way.

And I wouldn’t be surprised if it paid McKinsey or Bain $35 million for that bit of advice.

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