For 23 years, there was a distinct line in the NBA pension sand. If you retired before 1965, it didn't matter if you were Bob Cousy or George Mikan. You got nothing. If you played after 1965, it didn't matter if you were Nate Hawthorne or Bob Carrington. You got something.
Then, in 1988, a group led by Cousy and his former Celtics teammate, Gene Conley, got the NBA to act. The league agreed to pay pensions to those who had retired before 1965 (the year the pension went into effect) if the player had five years of service.
Cousy, Conley, and around 100 living players qualify for what now is a $200 a month pension for every year played. Post-1965 players need only three years to qualify. And pre-1965 players with three- and four-year careers get nothing.
Cousy has taken some heat from the three- and four-year players who retired before 1965. He has been accused of engineering a ''sweetheart" deal with commissioner David Stern and then keeping mum about it. He said last week he only wished he had had that much clout when he fought to include the pre-1965 players.
''We had no legal standing whatsoever," Cousy said. ''We basically had to beg. It never crossed my mind to get three or four [years]. We were told what was going to happen."
Cousy remains an enthusiastic supporter of all the pre-1965 players, saying he would gladly contribute his share to those who need it more than he does. ''I don't need it," he said. ''I'd throw in my increase."
He said he was not initially aware that the three- and four-year, pre-1965 players were not eligible for pensions. ''That only makes their case even more compelling," he said.
Cousy was one of the founders of the NBA Players Association and is rankled to this day at the lack of support he has received from the union.
''[Former union chief Larry] Fleischer never reached out," he said. ''[Current chief Billy] Hunter never reached out. I've never even met the man [Hunter]. But today's players are like sheep. There are some Grant Hills out there, but not enough."
When the collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and the players association was announced last month, Stern was asked if the ''improved pension benefits" mentioned in the release applied to the pre-1965 players as well.
''Actually, we have set up a fund of a certain amount, and we need to be able to get some advice from our actuaries, who are crunching numbers and our lawyers who are looking at legalities to see how exactly that is going to be dispersed, if at all, and we believe it will, amongst current, retired and pre-'65 players," the commissioner said.
This week, both the NBA and the players association declined to be more specific.