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Retired athletes excited about chance to inspire young people in N.O.

27th August 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Ro Brown
Contributing Writer

If you are a basketball fan you are familiar with names like Oscar Robertson, Dave DeBusschere, Dave Bing, Dave Cowens and Archie Clark. They were teammates…not on the court, but after their playing days came to an end.

These forward-thinking athletes founded the National Basketball Retired Players Association (NB­RPA), a non-profit organization formed to advocate a wide array of programs for professional basketball players after the cheering stops.

Recently, the NBRPA held the Legends World Sports Conference in New Orleans, a three-day convention consisting of business meetings, seminars, sightseeing and community service.

Hall of Famer Moses Malone, Tree Rollins, Spencer Haywood, Harvey Catchings, Mark Eaton were difficult to ignore while strolling around the French Quarter. The Legends Conference saw the return of at least four members of the New Orleans Jazz: Aaron James, Nate Williams, Bud Stallworth and Louie Nelson.

Triumphant Return
Perhaps no one was more excited about the NBRPA coming to New Orleans than the organization’s Chief Executive Officer, Arnie Fielkow. One year ago, Fielkow left the world of New Orleans politics for Chicago to give the organization a boost.

“I loved my job on the city council. It may not have been the best paying job but it was the most satisfying job professionally,” said the man who served six years as Executive Vice President of the New Orleans Saints.

“But my career was always in sports and I missed sports. The good thing about this job is it’s sports but it’s also a combination of doing something really good for people.”

A lot of former players need help. It’s a struggle for many when life after basketball becomes a reality for which they are unprepared.

Jack Marin, a 12-year NBA veteran and a two-time NBA All-Star, counts his blessings. An attorney who serves as outside counsel for the NBRPA, the Duke University grad feels he’s been lucky. However, the transition was not easy. “When I went to law school I was 11 years behind, said the fifth overall pick by Baltimore Bullets in the 1966 NBA Draft. “As an athlete you worked differently, maybe two and a half or three hours a day. In the legal business you work 12 or 14 hours.”

Lasting Impression
The National Basketball Retired Players Association came to town bearing gifts. $25,000 was donated to the New Orleans Recreation Development Com­mission to help fund painting of the basketball courts at Oliver Bush Playground in the Lower Ninth Ward. For NBA retiree Eldridge Recasner, lending assistance to the Hurricane Karina-ravaged area is special.

“I’ve been gone for 27 years but my heart is always at Caffin and Galvez,” says the Lower Ninth Ward product and Lawless High star.

Recasner played six seasons in the NBA. He has fond memories of the man for whom the playground is named. “My fa­ther and Mr. Bush’s son were good friends and I remember going to Mr. Bush’s gas station on the corner of Claiborne and Reynes Streets,” said the three-time All-Pac 10 selection at the University of Washington. “It fills me with so much pride to know that the NBRPA is making a two-year commitment to the Lower Ninth Ward. My dream has always been to come back and help less fortunate kids like I was and I’ll be involved any way I can.”

The Legends conducted a free life skills and basketball clinic at A.L. Davis Playground. It is familiar and sacred ground to Bruce Seals, a local prep and collegiate legend prior to playing in the ABA and NBA.

Watching the smiling faces of children eager to learn from these gentle giants could have a hand in making a life-changing decision for Seals, who is athletics director of the Boys and Girls Club in Boston. “I’m 95 percent sure that I’m coming back home,” said Seals. “I’ve worked everywhere else so I need to come home and give what I’ve got.”

The NBRPA in association with the Louisiana Council on Fitness will conduct a basketball clinic at Oliver Bush Playground in 2013 and during NBA All-Star Weekend in 2014.

“Giving” is what the National Basketball Retired Players Asso­ciation’s Legends World Confer­ence is all about. Eldridge Recasner feels a change in the organization as a result of new leadership. “I joined because I knew I would meet the guys I’ve always idolized like Julius Erving,” he explained. “I think it started like a reunion thing, but now they are really trying to push it into an organization that will help the guys transition from their playing days to life after basketball.”

The National Basketball Retired Players Association is comprised of NBA, ABA and Harlem Globetrotter alumni.

This article originally published in the August 27, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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