The Forgotten: Ex-ABA players are struggling to get the help they need

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At least the Knicks suffered in silence

The first time Scott Tarter talked to George Carter, it did not go well.

“He was very angry,” Tarter remembers. “Very bitter.”

Carter had a terrific pro basketball career, playing all but one of his 478 career games across eight seasons in the old ABA, averaging 18.1 points.

He was a star on the 1972-73 Nets, averaging 19.0 points and 6.2 rebounds, and his time here was bookended by history: Carter was acquired from the Carolina Cougars after Hall of Famer Rick Barry was ordered to honor his NBA contract with the Warriors; he was traded to the Virginia Squires in the deal that brought Hall of Famer Julius Erving to New York.

Tarter knew all of this. When he was a kid in Indianapolis, the ABA was a huge part of his life, he and his father often going to the Indiana State Fair Coliseum to see some very good Pacers teams. Later, as an attorney, Tarter befriended some of the Pacers he used to idolize, like Mel Davis and Darnell Hillman.

They alerted him that many ABA players had gone on to live prosperous lives, but there were some who’d fallen through the cracks, mostly because their time as active players ended before the ABA-NBA merger in 1976. Some had fallen on hard times.

Seven years ago, Tarter became the co-founder and CEO of Dropping Dimes Foundation, which helps ABA players who experience such times. There are only about 300 people left who ever played in the ABA — and that number shrinks every year.

“The guys who played in that league have a special kinship for each other, a unique brotherhood,” Tarter says. “They want to look out for the less fortunate among their brothers.”

Last summer he became aware of Carter’s story. After his playing days, Carter had become a limo driver in Las Vegas. A year ago he was diagnosed with throat cancer. The treatments were costly, didn’t allow him to work. He was on the verge of being evicted from his apartment when he wrote Dropping Dimes a letter. Tarter called back.

The initial fury quickly softened when Carter realized Dropping Dimes was legit. The foundation helped pay Carter’s medical bills. They put a down payment on a new place for him to live. Carter and Tarter became friends, even as Carter’s condition worsened. He died Nov. 18. Tarter takes comfort knowing Carter was able to find peace in his final days.

He’s hopeful the NBA — which has lately expressed an interest in doing right by those old ABA players — might finally follow through on old promises to do so.

“All it would take is about $1.8 million to be able to care for the 105 or so players, who could use around $400 a month in assistance,” Tarter says.

He is too gentlemanly to say the obvious: The NBA (to say nothing of present players who all benefitted by the ABA) can daily locate $1.8 million in revenues in couch cushions before the end of breakfast. Somehow this bridge can’t be gapped — like, immediately?

Here’s where this story takes a personal turn for me: Carter was probably the finest athlete in the history of St. Bonaventure. In 1967, he was drafted with the 81st pick in the NBA draft by the Pistons, the 318th pick of the NFL draft by the Bills, and the 876th pick of the MLB draft by the Mets.

After Carter’s death, Tarter placed a memorial ad in the Buffalo News — Carter had no immediate family and his remains were destined for a pauper’s grave in Vegas. Several folks attached to the university — his former hoops teammate Jim Satalin, former baseball teammate Steve Morello, former hoops players Jim Baron and Dale Tepas among them — wondered if they couldn’t make for an appropriate final chapter.

Two sons of Fred Handler, who coached Carter in both basketball and baseball at Bonaventure, reached out to Dropping Dimes — including Eric Handler, who is also the vice president of communications at YES Network. Together, Dropping Dimes and the St. Bonaventure network have arranged for Carter’s remains to be laid to rest at the St. Bonaventure Cemetery, right across from campus.

(If you’ve read more than five of my columns, you know I’m a proud St. Bona alum; I’ve never been more appreciative of that association than after watching how so many Bonnies have stepped up for one of their own.)

“Mostly,” Tarter said, “I think you see that people usually want to do the right thing.”

In this case, they sure did. All the way around.

Vac’s Whacks

Judging by the early reaction of Jets fans, Robert Saleh doesn’t have to even worry about winning the press conference. He already won the press release. In a blowout.

Thanks to the many of you who responded to my best-trades-in-New-York history column last week. From the looks of the respondents, the ones that were left out and shouldn’t have been were two Yankees deals — Roger Maris for a slew (1960); Bobby Bonds for Mickey Rivers and Ed Figueroa (1976) — and Mets fans picking the Keith Hernandez (above) trade over the Gary Carter deal.

Been re-watching “The Sopranos,” and it occurs to me: Has there ever been a show where you are less likely to press the “skip intro” button? Listening to “Woke Up This Morning” and seeing Tony’s no-in-a-straight-line tour through North Jersey is an essential part of each episode experience, to me.

I hope Corey Kluber makes it all the way back with the Yankees. It always seemed like he was doing something that bordered on art when he was at his very best in Cleveland.

Whack Back at Vac

Bill Miller: Great signing of DJ LeMahieu by the Yankees. And great for both parties. That, kids, is a great deal. Why can’t he become this generation’s Paul O’Neill? Oh yeah: We need a few championships.

Vac: Welcome back, Deej. Now deliver!

John Wagner: This point was made a number of years ago regarding another college coach moving to the NFL, but it certainly applies to Urban Meyer taking the Jacksonville job. This will be the first time Meyer will have to work with a salary cap!

Vac: I actually think Meyer will work out better for Jacksonville than most college coaches do. I also put the over-under on his time with the Jags at three years.

@MSGold1212: Did I see an Air Jordan logo on the Knicks’ uniforms last night? How is that possibly OK?

@MikeVacc: I was prepped for that a few years ago when I visited Patrick Ewing in his office at Georgetown and dominating one wall was the very same logo. Patrick sighed, smiled, and said, “Business is business.”

George Corchia: Now that the Nets have collected all the disgruntled superstars in the NBA, there’s one Nets alumnus they should hire as an assistant coach to mentor these giant egos: Derrick “Whoop-Dee-Damn-Do” Coleman!

Vac: At least on those nights when they don those awesome powder-blue vintage ’90s uniforms!

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