As Far As I’m Concerned, Mikan And Others Should Have Been Receiving Help

By Gregory Moore
Updated: June 4, 2005

Shaquille O'Neal posing with George Mikan back in April of 2004. O'Neal told TNT after last night's Game 5 victory over Detroit that he would

Shaquille O’Neal posing with George Mikan back in April of 2004. O’Neal told TNT after last night’s Game 5 victory over Detroit that he would “like to pay for his funeral.” (Photo by Andrew Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

SAN ANTONIO,TX— – The passing of George Mikan is something that basketball fans of all ages, creeds and colors just didn’t want to see happen right now. But so is the story that was being told about how the man who revolutionized the ‘big man’ game lived his life. Massive medical bills and very little financial help from a league that he helped make great isn’t the way this man should have passed away. It’s not the way any man who has made such significant contributions to the National Basketball Association should leave this earthly plane. It shouldn’t be this way but because of Mikan and few others being what they call the “Pre 65ers”, this group of players could follow their former comrade’s path of misery and destitution all because you have a league and a union that doesn’t seem to think that protecting the pioneers is as paramount as fleecing the fan base for billions of dollars or arguing of a few pennies because somebody’s ‘fat cat’ needs a new whatchamajigger. But I’m not going to just point the fingers at the billionaires and millionaires squabbling over a new collective bargaining agreement. Shaquile O’Neal isn’t even going to get a free pass because he is going to pay the funeral expenses of the Mikans family (even though that is a very charitable thing to do). Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, is going to escape my wrath on this topic because it makes no sense. From former players like George Gervin, to the current NBA analysts who played the game, to the young stars like Amare Stoudamire all the way up to the old heads like Tony Massenberg and Elden Campbell, the NBA and its group of supporters need to get their stuff together and protect the ones before them.

The NBA owes a serious debt to this group of players who are not covered in any collective bargaining agreement. The pioneers of the league, meaning the players during Mikan’s era, should have been well taken care of decades ago but it is always the short sightedness of unions and owners during these stretches. The tragedy the befalls this league is the fact that Mikan was the original logo of the franchise even though he may not have appeared on corporate marketing paraphernalia. For a league that was struggling for an identity during that time, No. 99 stepped up and made one franchise the pinnacle of success and to this day that team owes this man great respect and love. But the focus needs to be placed on the rest of the members of the Pre 65ers because they are few in number. While the biggest name of this group has passed, why can’t Charles Barkley, Magic Johnson, LeBron James and so many others come up off of a few dollars and set up a fund that insures that these men have no more worries. Is Billy Hunter that myopic to not be able to push his members to do the right thing by these gentlemen? Well I guess so if it takes an op/ed to call them out on the matter.

So here’s my proposal forget about the old heads like Barkley and company. It is up to the young guns to maybe take the lead on this matter because they are the benefactors of the hard work that the players before the NBA union was founded in 1965. Here’s a simple solution to this problem that could be a tax write off to a great majority of the current union. Set up a trust fund in honor of George Mikan for the members of the Pre 65ers. If the league and union are willing, I say set up a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that is a charity for this and other hardship cases and every member of the union needs to give an initial deposit of minimum $25,000 to maybe $100,000 depending on their salary structure. Why should the union and league be supportive of such a notion with such a high dollar deposit amount into an organization that makes NO profit? Because then you are taking care of the players in a way that helps their families. Can you imagine how much good an institution like this would have done for Mikans if it were established just even a decade ago? A hardship foundation would have helped him and his family with their medical bills and it could have given him a small bit of income that wasn’t covered under any collective bargaining agreement.

Maybe this is asking too much of the current leadership right now but it needs to be looked into as things will continue to arise where families of former players will begin to face such cases. George Mikans was indeed the gentle giant but it is high time for this league, and other professional leagues that have pioneering members who set them on the road to financial prosperity, to start taking care of these individuals. In our capitalistic society just how hard is it to be benevolent to the founding members these days? Are we that callous in not wanting to just pay for funeral expenses when a human being is in dire help? I would hope not but it is plainly evident that professional sports is really no better at taking care of their own as the rest of us are.

Oh by the way just to show that I’m not heartless I think the fact that O’Neal is paying the funeral expenses for the Mikan family is indeed a thoughtful and benevolent gesture and shows that there are some individuals who understand the history that these individuals like the Gentle Giant made to this league.