By Jeffery Armstrong
Once again while watching ESPN's SportsCenter, I saw some things that really inspired me to write my column for the week. This goes to show that as usual, the NFL trumps the NBA and major league baseball when it comes to being the better league.
I was watching two different SportsCenter segments within a week of each other dealing with former athletes who have been hit with crippling diseases and what is being done to help them.
The first segment I saw dealt with former NBA legend George Mikan, one of the first superstars in the league. Mikan was a 6-foot-10 center for the Minneapolis Lakers in the late 1940's and '50s and helped make them a dynasty before they moved to Los Angeles. Mikan left an indelible mark on the NBA before he retired in 1956: he was a multiple NBA champion (1950, '52, '53, '54); he was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (1959); he was a five-time All-NBA First Team selection (1950-54); a four-time NBA All-Star (1951-54); the 1953 All-Star MVP and he was selected as one of 50 Greatest Players in NBA history (1996).
Now Mikan suffers from diabetes and the disease has affected him like no opponent could on the basketball court in his heyday. Mikan had to have his right leg amputated below the knee in the late 1990s and on that SportsCenter segment, his son George Jr. said his family has had a hard time paying George Sr.'s medical bills, which have escalated over the years. The NBA's pension plan, which was set up to help former players in need as they got older, only helps those players who retired in 1965 and beyond so Mikan can't get any help for his bills. To pay his bills, Mikan has had to sell his All-Star memorabilia, various other NBA awards and I want to say he's even had to sell his 1953 All-Star MVP trophy. I'm sure that had to hurt, but what probably hurts worse is that the NBA Players Association, the league itself and the current and recently retired NBA players haven't done anything to help this man out. To me, that's just disgusting. If I was a current NBA player, I would contribute something to the Mikan family. I couldn't sit around on my millions after hearing about a former superstar suffering through a debilitating disease and having to sell his hard-earned awards just to pay his medical bills. I just couldn't let that happen, but maybe that's just me.
The other SportsCenter segment I saw dealt with the NFL's Oakland Raiders, a team I just may have to start rooting for a bit. A former Raiders fullback, Steve Smith, has the disease Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, and he's in bad shape. Smith, who retired in 1993, can barely talk and his wife has to feed and clothe him. Former Raiders running backs Marcus Allen and Bo Jackson, who played with Smith, and older Raiders like Gene Upshaw and Howie Long have given their time and money to help Smith out.
Even current Raiders like cornerback Charles Woodson have come to Smith's aid, giving money to the family for medical bills. The Raiders even have an organization set up by former Raiders players which helps their guys who fall victim to diseases or other serious problems. If any former Raider needs help, that organization comes to the rescue. They set up an autograph show recently, with all the proceeds going to Smith and his family for medical bills. Hopefully, some NBA players will or have already come through for Mikan, but with the way those players are in the NBA, I wouldn't bet on it happening any time soon.
Jeffery Armstrong is a sports writer for the Daily and his column appears on Thursdays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .