NBA, NBPA and NBRPA join forces for cardiac screenings


VIDEO: Hall of Famer Bernard King was an unstoppable force on the basketball court

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The wake-up call for Bernard King came the morning after the 2015 Naismith Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

The night before he’d spent a good hour talking with fellow Hall of Famer and former teammate Moses Malone about everything but basketball. It was a joyful time, King said, a chance for old friends to catch up on one another’s lives after the game.

But before King could open the door on his car as he headed to the airport that next morning, he received the news that Malone had died suddenly, yet another member of the NBA family gone way too soon.

That’s one reason why King was one of 25 retired NBA players to take part in a cardiovascular screening for local NBA alumni Saturday at Philips Arena, a program sponsored by the Hawks in conjunction with the NBA, the Players Association and the Retired Players Association.

“We’ve lost a lot of guys over the last couple of years,” King said, “Moses, Darryl Dawkins, Jerome Kersey and before that Pat Cummings, just to name a few. And a lot of these guys have died of heart attacks. So I think it’s great that the league, the players association and the retired players association are joining forces to try and figure out why that is and what we can do to adequately provide for everyone.”

Malone died in September of a cardiovascular disease, a month after Dawkins died of a heart attack. It’s the loss of those close to you, King said, makes the reality of the situation even more real for he and his fellow retired players.

“It certainly hits home,” he said. “These are guys you’ve competed against and played with or against for so many years. I sat with Moses for 90 minutes at the Hall of Fame just laughing and joking about everything you can think of going back to our days playing together in Washington. We didn’t even talk about basketball. Before I could even get in the car the next morning Meadowlark Lemon, who we just recently lost, and Artis Gilmore stopped me and asked if I’d heard about Moses. I said, ‘what are you taking about? I was just with him last night.’ And they told me he’d died last night. So yes, it’s disheartening that anyone would lose their life like that, whether they were a professional athlete or otherwise. The bottom line is, too many guys are dying at too young an age.”

That’s one of the main reasons the cardiovascular screening program was initiated, said Joe Rogowski, the NBPA’s Director of Sports Medicine and Research. The first one was held in Houston in December. Saturday’s event included Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins, Hawks Vice Chairman Grant Hill, who was instrumental in the event being held at Philips Arena, as well as more recently retired players like Tony Delk.

“This is fantastic,” Delk said. “I’m 42 and very conscious of my health now that I’ve stopped playing. So when I heard they were offering this program free to retired players, I made sure to get my name on the list. When you’re playing, you take so much of this for granted, you’re talking about some of the best-conditioned athletes in the world. But none of us is immune to the issues that come with getting older.”

Rogowski worked in the league for a decade and said that the NBPA’s executive committee was discussing player health and retired player’s health during a meeting and idea for the screening program came out that exchange. It was placed on a high-priority list by the executive committee and fast-tracked for this season.

The NBA and the NBRPA jumped on board immediately when informed about the program, Rogowski said, and now that they have the Houston and Atlanta screenings in the books, there is much more to come.

“It’s been a truly collaborative effort,” he said. “From the NBPA, the NBRPA and the league to all of the specialists we fly in from all over the country to the teams, both Houston and here in Atlanta, for allowing us to set up shop and use the space in the arenas. It’s the same group that goes from city to city. And were thankful we’re doing it, because we’ve found some things that need to be addressed. And this is just the first step in a long-term process that will help us address the needs of the players, past, present and in the future.”

Rogowski cited the program’s mobility as one of the crucial elements to the success of the first two screening events. It can travel and reach the retired players in a place that is familiar and comfortable for them.

“I consider this a golden opportunity,” said King, 59, who has lived in the Atlanta area for over 15 years. “You have the finest experts here, health-wise, to check you out and ensure that your body is okay and functioning the way it should be. Those opportunities don’t always present themselves to you after you are done playing, so I made sure to get my name on the list before it filled up, because it was first come first serve.”

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