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Rubino: Today's NBA best might not risk what '64 stars risked

  • Oscar Robertson, bottom, of the East team kills the ball as Bob Pettit (9) and Jerry West, center, of the West team close in on him in the fourth period of their NBA All-Star game at Boston Garden, Jan. 15, 1964, in Boston. The East won 111 to 107. (AP Photo)

Could today's NBA All-Stars match those of 50 years ago?

Sure, sure, today's players are bigger, stronger, faster. Still, comparing athletes from different eras is by its very nature sheer speculation.

Who would win?

Impossible to know for sure.

Still, it's an awful lot of fun to speculate, isn't it? So, let's have some fun right now. Let your imagination fly down a fictional court on a mythical fast break of what-ifs and let the hypothetical bodies fall where they may.

Could Dwight Howard do anything to stop Wilt Chamberlain?

Wait! Stop! Hold it right there. Didn't you hear the whistle?

We're not going to imagine the 1964 NBA All-Stars beamed 50 years into the future to suit up for today's game. Instead, we're going to imagine today's NBA All-Stars beamed 50 years into the past to suit up (or maybe not) for the 1964 game.

A past in which travel wasn't always first class, and hotel accommodations were far from luxurious.

A past in which most arenas were glorified, smoke-filled gyms.

A past in which the Harlem Globetrotters played before sellout crowds while the five-time time defending champion Boston Celtics rarely did.

A past in which salaries were such that most players needed offseason jobs.

A past in which teams had 10-man rosters, and owners treated the toothless players union as if it were the 11th man, refusing to negotiate with players over the establishment of a pension fund despite the league being on the verge of getting its first major network television contract — a five-year, $4 million agreement with ABC, a mega-deal back in the day.

A past in which, hours before tipoff to the All-Star Game, a majority of the players voted not to play unless the league took the pension issue seriously.

This is how Bill Simmons described the 1964 All-Star pregame drama in his “The Book of Basketball”:

“Frustrated by low wages, excessive traveling and the lack of a pension plan, the '64 All-Stars make one of the gutsiest and shrewdest decisions in the history of professional sports, telling commissioner Walter Kennedy two hours before the All-Star Game that they won't play without a pension agreement in place. With ABC televising the game and threatening Kennedy that a potential TV contract will disappear if the players leave them hanging in prime time, Kennedy agrees fifteen minutes before tipoff to facilitate a pension deal. ... You had the first instance in American sports history of professional stars risking their careers and paychecks for a greater good. And ultimately, you had what turned out to be the first pension plan of the modern sports era, the first real victory for a players union in sports history. Other than that, it was a pretty boring night.”

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