NBA old-timers get big pension boost

LAS VEGAS -- Ending one of the most long-standing unresolved issues in NBA history, commissioner David Stern and players union director Billy Hunter announced Saturday that a small group of former NBA players will finally receive pensions.

The former players who will be affected are those who spent three or four years in the NBA, or its predecessor, the BAA, prior to 1965. Previously, pre-1965 players had to have five years of service to qualify.

"Oh, my gosh, I'm getting goose bumps all over," said John Ezersky, 85, who played for the Boston Celtics in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

"This will be like hitting the lotto, and you can't imagine how much this means to me. I'm penniless right now, but this means a whole new life," said Ezersky, who spoke by phone with from Walnut Creek, Calif., where he lives with his wife of 25 years, Elaine, and gets by on $1,200 a month in Social Security payments. "I've been struggling on Social Security, and I mean struggling, struggling, struggling."

According to an NBA news release, the pre-1965 players will now receive $3,600 a month per year of service, compared to the $2,400 per year of service they received under the previous pension program.

The agreement is retroactive to July 2005, meaning the 40 or so pre-1965 players, including Ezersky, with three or four years of service who were excluded from the old pension plan will soon be receiving lump sums equal to 20 months' worth of pension checks.

"It's just unbelievable how good this is," said Ezersky, a World War II veteran who took part in the D-Day invasion of Normandy. He said he is planning to watch Sunday's All-Star Game on television.

In other news Saturday from Stern's annual All-Star news conference, he said Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman and Clark County Commissioner Rory Reid have until mid-March to come up with a compromise proposal addressing the NBA's concerns over local casinos taking bets on NBA games.

"Oscar's response was, 'You mean the ball is in my court?' and I said, 'Yes,'" Stern said.

Stern, in more of a combative mood than he's shown at the his past several All-Star news conferences, said the league was looking forward to next year's game in New Orleans but has serious concerns about the long-term viability of the city post-Katrina.

"You read ... about people just tossing in the towel and leaving. And although politics and government are not our beat, it sure would be nice to see a plan, unrelated to basketball, to deal with the issues for the people of New Orleans that haven't been dealt with. We want to be good citizens, but we'd like to see something that takes care of the displaced people and a place that hasn't really made a lot of progress, because it really is not going to be much fun to be there if progress hasn't been made, even though it won't affect our visitors.

"We think it's time to move past having this wonderful tourist ability, a great convention center and a covered arena, and then you take your guests on tours of areas that have been devastated where it seems very, very little has been done. We don't understand it," Stern said.

Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.