SI Vault
Tom Meschery
October 02, 1972
A former basketball star and coach has left the game he loves—but only, he strongly feels, after loyalty and integrity had departed it first
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October 02, 1972

'there Is A Disease In Sports Now...'

A former basketball star and coach has left the game he loves—but only, he strongly feels, after loyalty and integrity had departed it first

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I love basketball. It is important for people to understand that because, as much as I believe in it, I have to leave it now. There is a sickness there. It is in basketball, and it is in sports in general.

This isn't an easy thing to say, and many people won't agree. Maybe they will say that I'm just an embittered and jealous man. But they will be wrong. There is disease anywhere when cheating and deceit are ignored. In sports today, they are often applauded. Integrity is disappearing. Contracts mean nothing; not between owner and player, or owner and fan. Players jump teams. Teams jump cities. And all the while the money flows as from a cornucopia.

To me it is reprehensible that a college player like Jim Chones should be encouraged to ignore his commitments to his teammates with less than half a season to go in order to sign a pro contract, just as it is wrong that Charlie Scott and Jim McDaniels, who both jumped from the ABA to the NBA last season, should ignore their professional commitments. The only difference between the vagrant pros and collegians is that the pros have business contracts while the collegians do not. Universities cling tenaciously to the opinion that they are not in the same marketplace for athletic bodies, but they are.

There was a time, and it was not so long ago, when things such as honor and loyalty were virtues in sport, and not objects of ridicule. It was a time when athletes drew pleasure and satisfaction from the essence of competition, not just from their paychecks. But somehow, with the introduction of big business, the concept of sports in this country has changed.

The business psyche has invaded basketball and has made the players nothing but businessmen spurred by the profit motive. In some cases players make more money with their outside financial activities than they do on the court. Their sport becomes a mere showcase to keep them before the public, like an actor's guest appearance on a television talk show. The game no longer has its roots sunk into idealistic bedrock. It's just business: nine to five. And that's very sad, because to me sports always have been a sort of quixotic-type existence.

I have a real hang-up about big corporation spider webs. It bothers me when I see guys stepping on each other to achieve their financial goals. And now these people, wearing big boots, are in sports, manipulating them the way some people manipulate the stock market or the price of gold.

I'm going to leave all that. Maybe someday I'll be able to return. I hope so. But the way things are now, I have to get out. I've taken my wife, Joanne, and the three children and I've been accepted into the University of Iowa's Graduate Writer's Workshop. I've had a book of poetry published, some of it about basketball. I've saved a little money and I intend to write. Much of my thinking is socialistic. I just don't care about big money. I could live a life similar to the athlete in Russia, with a steady job, and I'd be provided for and I'd know my family wouldn't starve and I'd be doing the thing that I love to do: play sports. Maybe that sounds very naive, very emotional, but it's my way of life.

People in the business world can't understand me, but that is only another symptom of the problem. Money has become so much of a ceramic god to them that they think, you're demented to walk away from a job that pays a good salary. I've been called a big hippie. I'm big, but I'm not going to be a hippie. I'm a product of the 1950s and I'll never be able to change. For instance, I'll never be able to alter my concept of loyalty. To me, loyalty is important; loyalty to the team, and teamwork, means an awful lot to me. I'm not an individualist in that sense.

I was born in Harbin, China 33 years ago. My parents were refugees from Russia who fled when the Communists took over in 1917. My father was an officer in the White Russian Army and my grandfather was a member of the Senate, and my mother was from an aristocratic family. I've learned through them and my childhood that money is meaningless. At one time my parents were part of the upper class in Russia. A few years later, after much of my family ended up in Japan, we were interned in a concentration camp for the duration of World War II. Money was of no value. People died there, rich and poor alike.

When our family emigrated to America in 1947, we settled in San Francisco and lived on the edge of the Fillmore Street ghetto. We were very poor. My father was a tanner. And finally he became a dental technician.

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