Last Thursday a basketball dream team from the 1950s and '60s mustered in a midtown Manhattan hotel. Bob Cousy passed off to Oscar Robertson, and the Big O in turn yielded the floor to Dave DeBusschere and Bob Pettit. Upset over efforts by a group of dissident active players, including Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing, to decertify the players' union, the former luminaries, many of whom helped found the NBA Players Association and all of whom now belong to the NBA Retired Players Association, took turns blasting the breakaway players. They called the revolt the work of agents—eager for ever-larger signing fees—who will have their clients' interests at heart only so long as the players are active. Their sentiments essentially aligned with those expressed in The Boston Globe last week by another former player. "I would tell Michael Jordan that he is selfish, greedy, that his agent is selfish and greedy," former Celtic Tom Heinsohn said. "A lot of ex-players who paved the way for the game he is trying to rape are concerned."
The retired players weren't acting without self-interest. If the union is decertified, the retirees will lose pension benefits they had been granted over the years through the collective bargaining process, at least until a new agreement extending those rights is reached. Under the expired agreement NBA players with at least six years of service who retired before 1965 received $100 per month for every season they played; those with six years who retired after 1965 received $200 per month per year in the league. The retirees admit they're not sure what was in the agreement that union leader Simon Gourdine negotiated with the league—and that the players never voted on—last month. But they believe it included $5 million in benefits for old-timers and some progress toward "pension parity" for the pre-1965 players.
The retired players seem certain that the abolition of collective bargaining—one of the rebels' stated aims—will leave their needs unmet. "All we're saying is that if these players have a dispute, then sit down with the union leadership and discuss it," said Robertson, who has always insisted that he filed his landmark 1970 lawsuit, which led to free agency, to secure the greatest good for the greatest number of players. "There's a process by which to air your grievances. Twenty years ago I was fighting with the union behind me."
The specter of a vote to decertify has produced at least one positive: It has forced the league's shop stewards, players like Buck Williams and Charles Smith, to shore up their constituencies by reiterating the benefits of a union to the rank and file. The decertification effort, says Retired Players' executive director Dennis Coleman, "may be the best thing ever to happen to the union. It's basically a Tip O'Neill thing. As the Tipster said, all politics is local."
Prince of the Pampas
During his brief, spectacular Formula One racing career, Argentina's Juan Manuel Fangio, who died last week of kidney failure at the age of 84, maintained a presence befitting so imperial a sport. The epitome of the old school driver, looking dashing in the cockpit of the elegant front-engined cars whose sleek bodywork was uncluttered by sponsor logos, Fangio was the standard by which all Grand Prix drivers measure themselves. Yet he somehow never lost the unassuming sensibilities of the common man.
Even during the 1950s, one of the most volatile and divisive political decades in Latin American history, right-wing dictators and Marxist revolutionaries could agree on at least one thing: Fangio's greatness. Friends of the Maestro like to recall the time when, before a minor F/1 race in Havana in 1958, Fangio was captured by a group of pro-Castro insurgents hostile to the rightist Batista regime. The revolutionaries were so in awe of their hostage that they brought him breakfast in bed and watched the race with him before releasing him that night. When Fangio was buried last week in his birthplace of Balcarce, his open casket was surrounded by two enormous funeral wreaths, one from Fidel Castro and another from Arnold Rodriguez, the man who led the group that had kidnapped him from his Havana hotel.
Although Fangio was already 37 when he began his Grand Prix career, he won an astounding 24 of 51 races in his 10 years on the F/1 circuit before retiring in 1958, citing his belief that champions, like actors and dictators, should go out while still on top. Yet in retirement the Maestro never failed to carry himself with the forbearance and humility that had defined him during his racing career. "When one runs the risk of losing a sense of proportion," he once said, "it's time to go home, sleep in the same bed in which one dreamed while still a nobody and to eat the simple, healthy dishes of one's childhood."
Monica Seles will return to the WTA Tour as the No. 1 player in the world, the status she held when an unemployed lathe operator stabbed her during a tournament in Hamburg two years ago. But what should be a warm welcome back has been soured by infighting among top players who object to the WTA's restoration of Seles's standing. Among those with objections are Steffi Graf, who will be ranked co-No. 1, and Arantxa Sánchez Vicario, Conchita Martinez and many other Top 20 players.