Statement of John Ezersky
Subcommittee on Employer-Employee Relations
Committee on Education and the Workforce
"Pension Fairness for NBA Pioneers"
July 15, 1998
I was born and raised in the lower end of Manhattan. I truly believe that God put me on this earth to play basketball. My soul centered on nothing but the game. It is still a life sustaining memory. Now - at 76 years of age - still driving a taxi in San Francisco in the 48th year. Those memories of the game I love has been tainted. Tainted by decree of probably the most powerful sports head in the world - that would be David Stern - Commissioner of the mega-billion dollar professional basketball business - the National Basketball Association.
I am not appearing as a witness this day to put anything or anybody on trial. But, in a sense, it is a trial. As a plaintiff, I charge that the NBA has forgotten those who suffered the rigors of unbelievable travel and sacrificing body and family to play professional basketball. To be a part of a beginning is something that makes me proud. It was worth it all. Then something happened. In 1988, the NBA and the Players Association made a move to include just some of the men from our era into a pension program. What bothered me is that three and four year veterans were left out. Prior to my pro activity, just as I expected a great career, World War II took me away. Even when I was a part of the Normandy Invasion with the 747th Company C Tank Battalion to free Europe, I still dreamed of a pro career. I had, if I came out whole, the desire to play again. And I did.
In war, we had to be a team player. Basketball is the same. It is conducive to be successful. When you break up a team, a loss sustains. So there was a loss when I realized just a segment of men I played with and played against were in 1988 brought into the pension program which originally started in 1965. What I learned was that the NBAs office statement for the difference was as follows,
"Two decades later, in recognition of those individuals who had contributed greatly to the formation of the league, the NBA took the unprecedented step of extending a pension benefit to those players whose careers ended prior to 1965. "
This did not mean all Pre - 1965 pioneers. This was a direct ongoing quote from Russell Granik, Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer. I could not believe that the playing field was uneven. To leave out men of three and four years of playing time, by raising the minimum playing requirement to five years instead of the original and still sustaining three years, was beyond moral contention.
Through the leadership of Bill Tosheff, I saw where representation to cure a long-standing injustice was gaining momentum. Now, this day, July 15, 1998, I am able to sit here and let you see firsthand a man who needs to be retired after forty-eight years of driving a cab. I do not want charity. I just want a fair shake like the others got. I feel that I too was a part of something great -- Pro Basketball. Sitting before this Subcommittee gives me added strength to know that this day somebody cares about myself and others who deserve pension inclusion. Never did I imagine having this opportunity to appear in our great Nations Capital.
I have learned that on this day too I am to be presented with a gold medal - a "medal of celebration" - awarded by the people of France through their government for participating in the Normandy Invasion on June 6, 1945. My thank you to Congressman Lipinski for his work in obtaining for me this honor. The people of France can remember fifty years ago -- why could not the NBA remember ten years ago? I go back to San Francisco with my heart filled with hope and yet I know that I will again sit myself in my cab, putting in another twelve to fourteen hour shift.
Incidentally, I have read where I and others like me have a life expectancy of eighty-three years of age. This information was provided by major insurance actuaries. If this be the case, then we would not be a burden to the pension coffers of the NBA for not many years. The receiving of a pension would be on a declining basis. How can the NBA lose?
God bless this Committee and God bless America.