When the owners of the NBA and the players’ union unanimously agreed in 2016 to provide comprehensive health insurance for retired players, the two sides worked in harmony as they wanted to help people like Phil Chenier.
Chenier spent 10 seasons in the league, a generation before player salaries resembled the gross domestic product of small countries, and retired in pain.
“All the players I talk to. . . we are all very excited about this plan in the way it has helped and saved us, ”the former Washington Bullets great told me Thursday afternoon from his home in Columbia, Maryland. Four years with this healthcare package, Chenier’s voice still rings with gratitude.
The league and the union have not extended medical benefits to people like Terrence Williams.
He was a 2009 lottery pick who spent six years in the NBA and is said to have won around $ 7 million in a career cut short after wielding a gun at his child’s mother in 2013. Retired Williams is said to have tried to fool the health of the league. health care program by submitting bogus claims for medical and dental expenses. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, Williams was the mastermind among 18 former NBA players who submitted $ 3.9 million in false claims.
Some might question the motives of the federal authorities, who seemed too eager to publicize a scheme involving prominent names but just a small bundle of money. At a press conference on Wednesday, a prosecutor dropped a squeaky pun on “the accused’s playbook.” And on an easel, officials presented an oversized visual of a basketball rack that featured a breakdown of the case, just in case anyone forgot that – wait – former NBA players have. been arrested and charged.
However, if the accusations are true, it’s hard to see how these players could lie, cheat, and steal their own league’s coffers. And even harder to understand how little they cared about their elders, the men who helped turn the NBA into a billion dollar global industry, and for whom this medical program was created to honor.
Chenier had two back surgeries around the twilight of his career. When he left the game, his knees hurt. His feet too. Even today he walks heavily because he cannot use his toes. He is almost 71 years old and requires frequent physiotherapy sessions. He also has a skin problem and needs to see a dermatologist. And after battling prostate cancer, Chenier has to see his urologist four times a year.
However, Chénier has a good life. He spends a lot of his time watching one of his six grandchildren or playing pinochle and dominoes.
Williams, who is accused of sending bogus supplier invoices to players in exchange for $ 230,000 in bribes, also has a good retirement life. To celebrate his 34th birthday, Williams made it rain at a strip club – which he happily shared on Instagram.
If authorities accused Williams of being a lone wolf in this scheme, perhaps we could believe that a single selfish individual attempted to defraud the plan the same year it began. But Williams is said to have recruited other young retirees who were in the league as wages rose.
Glen “Big Baby” Davis, perhaps the most notable name because he won a championship with the Boston Celtics, has remained somewhat relevant in his post-basketball days by hosting a podcast and working as a commentator for one. celebrity basketball league. Yet he still would have tried to claim $ 132,000 from the dental benefits plan he never received.
Milton Palacio, who was recently hired as an assistant coach with the Portland Trail Blazers, was working in the developmental G League when authorities allege he tried to claim nearly $ 75,000 in reimbursement for services he did not. received. Greg Smith was playing professionally in Taiwan when he allegedly tried to tear up the $ 48,000 dental plan he couldn’t have done in Beverly Hills.
Their greed has tainted the spirit of the healthcare plan, which the league and its players have backed with pure intentions. When Chenier read an article about the charges on Thursday, he was stunned by the alleged conspiracy.
“Wow,” he said in reaction. “It’s a little disappointing because it was a plan we were all excited about.”
Since signing up for premium health coverage, Chenier said he can’t remember having received a single large medical bill in the mail in four years. Now, Chenier is wondering if the actions of a few bad actors of the younger generation will impact the benefits for the older ones.
The NBA and NBPA did the right thing in 2016. They created a plan for the other leagues to follow, even for the rest of us. We need to look after and care for the generations that came before us, whether they played a decade of basketball in the 1970s or spent 30 years working in an office, factory or hospital. Our predecessors deserve more than just appreciation. They deserve comfort.
As union president Chris Paul said when the deal was struck: “At one point, at one point or another, everyone here will be a former player. You know what I mean? I think it shows how connected we are as a group of NBA players. “
It was the vision. But the indictment describes 18 men who stayed connected to the fraternity of ex-players only by sucking what was not theirs. If guilt is proven, the real transgression was their disrespect for people like Chénier.