NEW YORK -- Shortly after Darryl Dawkins' and Moses Malone's sudden heart-related deaths sent "shock waves" through the NBA community in August of 2015, Adam Silver picked up the phone and called Michele Roberts.
The NBA commissioner and NBA Players Association executive director both agreed that something had to be done before the NBA lost another beloved retired player due to health. Soon after that, today's stars and the game's biggest name from the past, Michael Jordan, joined the cause.
With Jordan, now the league's most famous owner, working over his fellow co-owners to lend a very influential assist along with current stars like Chris Paul, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony voicing their desire to take care of the previous generations of NBA players, the NBA will become the first professional sports league to offer retired players medical benefits as part of a comprehensive and enhanced player retirement package.
"That was kind of a big point for us to be able to give back to retired players," Anthony told ESPN concerning the recent collective bargaining agreement negotiations. "Every league sees what happens to retired players after a certain period of time. But for us to be able to take care of those guys, I know how much it means to them."
Starting on Jan. 1, the NBA and NBPA will equally fund a new health insurance plan, education/career development program and increases in pension benefits for retired players.
Previously, players who retired from the NBA received a pension from the league but were responsible for their own health insurance. While the owners and players recently reached a tentative agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement, both sides were unanimous on the decision to take care of retired players who helped pave the way for the current booming economic state of the league.
"I've said it a number of times: the biggest thing is the health insurance that we got for some of our former players and stuff like that," said Paul, the NBPA executive committee president. "No question. That was a huge priority. Well, I mean, it was a huge priority to keep the game going, first and foremost, for the fans. But at some point, one time or another, everybody out here is going to be a former player. You know what I mean? I think that shows how connected we are as a body of NBA players."
While Silver and Roberts may have gotten the ball rolling with their discussions in late August in 2015 after Dawkins and Malone passed away just a little more than two weeks apart, the Players Association executive committee took the initiative to honor the players that came before them. And then there was Jordan, who made it clear to everyone how important this issue is.
Jordan once famously chided former Washington Bullets owner Abe Pollin during contentious labor negotiations while he was a player. But now owner of the Charlotte Hornets, Jordan played a pivotal role behind the scenes in pushing the negotiations along while championing the cause to take care of the previous generations of players. Silver went as far as to say he had to "single out one owner in particular, Michael Jordan" when he updated reporters in October on CBA negotiations.
"(Malone's and Dawkins' deaths) sent shock waves through the whole basketball universe," said Dwight Davis, who played for the Cavaliers and Warriors in the late 1970s and now serves as vice chairman for the National Basketball Retired Players Association. "Some of the deaths of retired players could have been avoidable because guys didn't have insurance and weren't doing yearly checkups."
"This is the first time in professional sports that this has happened," Davis added of the NBA providing medical benefits for retired players and their families. "What it means, dollar-wise for a guy like me who is 67, steadily employed for a while, on Medicare, with this new plan, I am going to save thousands of dollars -- in co-pays a minimum of $4,000 to $5,000 a year.
"Some of my younger counterparts are guys in their 40s, some of those guys are paying $30,000 a year for health insurance for themselves and families because of preexisting injuries. The abuse our bodies take, it is hard to get affordable insurance as a retired player."
Phil Chenier, former Washington Bullets guard and current Comcast SportsNet analyst for the Wizards, caught Silver off guard by thanking him as a retired player for the new medical package during an interview with Silver on a recent Wizards game telecast.
"I was talking to Jim Cleamons and Kevin Porter the other day ... anybody you talk to who is retired, guys are aware of it and certainly taking advantage of it," said Chenier. "I texted a couple of (retired players) and all they did was text back and say, 'already on it.'
"I am feeling the nagging injuries," added Chenier, who underwent two back surgeries in 1978 and 1980. "I've got some nerve damage in my hands, my feet ... I was one of the first ones to sign up (for the medical package). I got a couple of doctor appointments lined up already."
Pensions for retired players will increase by as much as nearly $300 a month, depending on age and years of service. Players who retired after a decade or more of service are eligible to receive premium health coverage for themselves and their family. Retired players are also eligible to be reimbursed for college tuition and career transition programs up to over $33,000 annually.
"You have to look at the different decades, and you look at guys who are in their 40s, guys who have been away from the league for 10-15 years," Davis said. "They were not making an average of $5 million a year like some of the guys now, and if you have a significant medial issue, a heart problem or organ problem, like the average American, you can become bankrupt."
Davis, Chenier and former Knick Johnny Newman all profusely thanked the Silver, Roberts, the NBA, NBPA and current players like Anthony for recognizing how previous generations helped pave the way for the current state of the league and some of the hardships they face long after they played the final minute.
"I am pretty sure it was difficult for those guys to kind of take care of themselves and their families," Anthony said. "So now they are in a good situation."
Nate "Tiny" Archibald recently attended a free heart screening offered by the NBPA in Manhattan. Archibald has been urging his fellow NBA retirees to get their health checked out, especially after Malone's and Dawkins' sudden deaths.
"I am 68, under Medicare, I am covered, but they don't do a thorough job at times," the Hall of Fame point guard said. "I am elated [about the NBA and NBPA's push to take care of retired players]. It makes life a lot easier when a lot of us are searching for coverage. A lot of guys are retired from every day [work] and don't have the funds to go and get themselves checked out. [Also] too many guys take it for granted that there is nothing wrong, and we come up short sometimes."
"I get a checkup every year because I want to be around to see my grandkids grow up and my great-grandkids to grow up," Archibald added. "I want to be around to see them grow, and I don't want anybody talking about a statistic with me. I want to be around to see them live and grow."