It was recently reported that the NBA and its players union are nearing a new collective bargaining agreement that would avert a players’ strike or an owners’ lockout. But Arvesta Kelly doesn’t see it resolving his long-standing battle with the league.
“I wait[ed] 30-some years to receive my pension,” says Kelly, a longtime St. Paulite now living in Mississippi. He played in the American Basketball Association (ABA) 1967-1972, but for over a decade he and pension administrators seemingly can’t agree on his playing years.
“I call[ed] the San Antonio Spurs, and they tell me I didn’t qualify,” Kelly points out. “Instead of them going by [his contract] they were looking at [game] books. They were judging on how many years and credit how many years on the number of games you played whether you were on a roster or not. I bet that almost half of the NBA players… Those guys don’t play in over half [the games] and wouldn’t get credit [either].”
Through copies of documents Kelly provided us, we learned:
- He received two payments in April 2003 totaling almost $18,000 for four years of credited service
- An affidavit by Kelly stating that he never received such payments and he played five seasons
- A copy of a letter from his former lawyer to the ABA pension plan administrator to send him the pension check to his office in Kelly’s name.
“I’m thinking I will have a couple of hundred thousand or at least a hundred thousand in my [pension] account. $17,000?! What happened to the interest? The money didn’t collect any interest all those years?” asks Kelly. “I received a $6,000 check and I received that $3,000 from that  settlement. That was a joke.”
A player who played in the ABA between October 1, 1970 and September 14, 1976 and played a minimum of three “credited service” years was eligible for pension payments either at age 55 or age 65. All former ABA clubs were required to contribute to the plan.
A class action suit by former ABA players against the four ABA clubs over their pensions was settled last year.
“I played five years,” Kelly explains. “The last two years I didn’t play in a whole lot of games, but I was on the roster because I kept hurting my thigh. I probably had four-five surgeries on my knees, so I couldn’t play. I waited two or three years after I stopped playing in the ABA and went over to Europe.”
His ping-pong paper trail dates back to the early 2000s. “I kept writing letters and kept on them and kept on them for all these years. Then they finally tell me that I qualify, but I only qualify for three years.” A pension committee later awarded Kelly a fourth year.
We reached out to Tammy Turner, the ABA Affairs administer, Kelly’s former lawyer, and the National Basketball Players Association, but none of our calls or emails were answered.
“They already screwed us when the merger took place,” states Kelly on the 1976 ABA-NBA merger agreement. “The NBA sold ABA merchandise, and all that money went to the owners and the present players association. [Former NBA commissioner] David Stern was the chief negotiator for the merger. He [as the NBA’s top lawyer] set up that merger thing.”
In town this summer visiting family, Kelly reiterated that he believe that after Stern became commissioner, the four former ABA owners eventually stopped contributing to the ABA pension fund.
“They robbed a lot of people of their pension and the right to live a decent life [in their golden years]. If I was supposed to receive a pension, I should’ve gotten it,” says Kelly. “We always were like second-class in the way that [the NBA] treats us in not giving us our pension like we should have gotten.”
Asked if he thinks league officials are just waiting him and the other old ABA guys out, Kelly says, “Of course, because guys are dying like flies. It’s a shame that the NBA with all this money and these owners won’t do what’s right. We just got screwed.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at email@example.com