A Technical Foul
The NBA has forsaken its pioneer referees
This week, with the conclusion of the NBA regular season, financially strapped franchises can, for the first time, apply for assistance from the league. The money for any bailout would come from a fund that the NBA recently established for that purpose. The program seems to show that the league takes care of its own.
Yet it's not willing to do so in the case of former referees who have been denied coverage under the NBA's pension plan. The league now includes in its pension plans all players in the league since 1965, players with at least five years of experience before '65, coaches, general managers and trainers active since '72 and referees active since '68. But many of those who helped build the league during its first 20 years have been forgotten.
Included in this overlooked group are six officials thought to be the last surviving refs from the 1940s: Sid Borgia (whose shout of "Yes!" after a basket inspired Marv Albert's signature call), Arnie Heft, Phil Fox, Lou Eisenstein, Jim Duffy and Charley Eckman. They range in age from 69 to 77.
Last October, Harold Stern, a lawyer representing the six refs, sent a letter to NBA commissioner David Stern asking the league to consider his clients' case. Gary Bettman, senior vice-president and general counsel for the NBA, wrote back, "Unfortunately at the present time, we see no basis for creating an exception...which would permit these individuals to receive benefits from the NBA."
On March 1, Harold Stern wrote to the NBA's 27 owners, asking them to "create an exception" for the referees. As of last week he had received only one response, from Jerry Colangelo of the Phoenix Suns, who said that while he sympathized with the refs, he supported the NBA's policy.
The former officials consider that policy unfair. "I can't believe the NBA would have no more feeling for us than that," says Eckman, 69, who also coached the Fort Wayne Pistons in the 1950s. "I don't begrudge the modern NBA a thing. I'm happy for its success. But it hurts to have the door slammed in your face."
Says Borgia, 73, who retired from the NBA in '66, "It's not like I'm starving. But my doctor told me I would need two artificial knees as a result of 20 years of running up and down the floor. Refereeing is a forgotten profession, I guess."
A Bad Spill
An auto accident leaves the Shoe paralyzed
At a time when thoroughbred racing is struggling (page 90), the news that Bill Shoemaker had been paralyzed in a California car accident was almost too much for people in the sport to bear. He was not only the best jockey in history, but also the most beloved. The fact that the accident happened less than a month before this year's Kentucky Derby, his favorite race, made it especially disheartening.