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Edited by Jack McCallum
October 10, 1994
Name-Game Shame
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October 10, 1994


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Name-Game Shame

There's another conflict in the pro basketball family besides the NBA's labor difficulties with its players (page 30), but in this one it's clear who's playing the heavy. Because NBA players who retired before 1965 receive only half the pension benefits provided to those who quit in '65 or later, the National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA) has staged exhibition games and peddled shirts and other merchandise with its XNBA logo to raise funds to bring the old-timers up to parity. But late last year the NBA, claiming trademark infringement, ordered the retired players to cease and desist using XNBA or any variation thereof. League commissioner David Stern is unapologetic about the NBA's position. "What if a bunch of former AT&T employees got together and started something called the XAT&T Telephone Company?" he says. "Don't you think AT&T would have a problem with that? It's exactly the same to us."

It isn't to us. You would think a league that blathers on about "a partnership with our players" would recognize the difference between people and fiber-optic cable. Further, rather than trying to make a profit, the NBRPA's primary goal is to provide support—in some cases, critical support—to the game's aging pioneers and their survivors, "the guys who set the table for people who are eating quite well right now," says NBRPA general counsel Dennis Coleman. "We're prepared to go to court, if necessary, to get the right to use the trademark."

The league's stance has only sown resentment among the former greats and journeymen who played in the 1940s and '50s, when salaries barely allowed for subsistence, much less something extra to set aside for a nest egg. "The ones I know about aren't doing well," says Oscar Robertson, who's the NBRPA president. "And there are a lot I don't know about. We were told by the NBA that those guys' problems aren't the NBA's problem."

It's easy to look small when you work among so many outsized people, but Stern & Co. are outdoing themselves.

Beginning next spring, Izzy (n� Whatizit), the ringworm being pawned off as the mascot of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, will star in three syndicated TV specials, as yet untitled, to be produced by the same Hollywood animation studio responsible for The Simpsons. If that news is enough to make you have a cow, man, you probably won't want to know that the producers are threatening to make even more episodes, if $1.3 million per installment in additional funding can be found. Bet we could raise that much with a promise to keep Izzy off the air.

Gift Box
With Boston Garden facing the wrecker's ball next fall after the scheduled 1994-95 NHL and NBA seasons (whether or not there are NHL and NBA seasons), Garden president Larry Moulter has decided to give former Bruin Terry O'Reilly, who spent more than 40 hours in the penalty box during his 14-year career, a special souvenir to remember the old Garden by: the penalty box itself.

Presidential Pardon
Amid all the labor strife plaguing pro sports, it's worth remembering that the college basketball season nearly ground to a halt last January in the face of a threatened boycott by some coaches over academic standards and scholarship cutbacks. In an effort to mollify those coaches, the NCAA Presidents Commission last week moved ever so slightly off the stubborn stance it has adhered to since introducing tougher standards in 1986. In a proposal that will go before the NCAA convention in January—and legislation originating with the presidents is virtually always approved—colleges would be permitted to award an incoming freshman an athletic grant-in-aid regardless of how low his test scores might have been, as long as he maintained a 2.5 grade point average in his college-prep courses. Under the proposal, such "partial qualifiers" would still have to sit out their freshman season. But they would be on scholarship, and in deference to the impassioned pleas of coaches, they could practice with the team. The NCAA estimates that this rule could affect some 2,000 athletes, 1,400 of them black.

The proposed legislation doesn't go as far as the Black Coaches Association would like; if you don't score 700 on the SAT, you're still benched for your first season. "It's what I call another drive-by solution," Temple basketball coach John Chancy said, a comment suggesting that a boycott may still be in the offing this season. But the legislation would give coaches one thing they've been clamoring for: the opportunity to work with a larger number of marginal students in a college environment.

At the same time the presidents announced this concession, they withdrew an earlier offer to restore a fourth season of competition to freshman nonqualifiers who go on to prove that they can do college work. That's a shame for two reasons. One, that extra season would be a compelling reward for an athlete who beats the odds and makes something of his stay on campus. Two, nonathletes typically take closer to five years to graduate. It's unrealistic to expect an athlete to complete his studies in less time.

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