Tiny Archibald’s Heart Transplant Gave Him A Second Chance At Life

He wore the original heart out.

That would seem to be a correct assessment considering Nathaniel Tiny Archibald skated through the NBA for 14 seasons, once leading the league in scoring (34.0 ppg.) and assists (11.4 apg.) during the 1972-73 season while averaging a league-best 46.0 minutes over 80 games.

But, the South Bronx native says, that was not the case. And Tiny doesnt care about the statistics. Not at all.

I dont want to talk about my stats, leading the league in scoring and assists, Hall of Fame stuff, he says from his New York Presbyterian Hospital room last Friday. We know all of that. That didnt give me a bad heart. But I have a new heart, it was successful, and I have another life.

Thats what I want to say.

Nate “Tiny” Archibald’s Legacy – Career Highlights

Check out the Hall of Fame career of Nate Archibald and why he was nicknamed Tiny.

And say it he did and much, much more during a one-hour phone interview just one week after he underwent heart replacement surgery, an operation that literally saved his life. He says that after the surgery, he feels a little like the actor Redd Foxs character Fred G. Sanford from Sanford and Son at the moment. Im a little wobbly right now but Im much stronger.

Indeed.

If not for the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), however, the 69-year-old Archibald doesnt believe he would still be here to have this discussion.

Back in December of 2016, Archibald took advantage of a free health screening provided specifically to retired NBA players at the NBPAs New York offices and was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat. After that first assessment, he received even more startling news.

I had been detected with Amyloidosis, which is hereditary, you can call it a disease, that mostly affects Black American people, he explains. The highest risk, if you look it up anywhere, is Black American males, I think its 75-80% that dont know about Amyloidosis.

The Mayo Clinic website describes Amyloidosis (am-uh-loi-DO-sis) as, a rare disease that occurs when a substance called amyloid builds up in your organs. Amyloid is an abnormal protein that is produced in your bone marrow and can be deposited in any tissue or organ. Amyloidosis can affect different organs in different people, and there are different types of amyloid. Amyloidosis frequently affects the heart, kidneys, liver, spleen, nervous system and digestive tract. Severe amyloidosis can lead to life-threatening organ failure.

It continues to state that there is no cure for amyloidosis.

Tiny says he had never heard about amyloidosis. Ever. But the doctors took the time to explain it all.

It is a protein buildup in your arteries thats affecting your heart, he adds. You might think your heart is good, but the protein buildup it could be blood clot, you could have a heart attack, you could have a mild stroke. And you wont know because you dont know whats going on inside of you.

Tiny says that he knew he was not feeling normal, health-wise, and he also knew, at that very moment, that he needed a great deal of help.

Enter the NBPA to the rescue.

The Players Association felt that, all of the guys they see during the All-Star weekend, and at the Hall of Fame, and they see them dragging, with your bad legs, he says. It wasnt just Amyloidosis, it was the knees, the hips, the back, guys say they have concussions, all type of other injuries.

The NBA and the Players Association, with Michelle Roberts as the Executive Director, decided that they were going to kick in millions and millions of dollars. Most of the guys, and I want to say 100% of guys, there is a policy thats called United Health Care and they cover everybody for free. But you have to get the screening first.

That screening, in hindsight, saved Archibalds life.

I was one of the first guys to get the screening. And they detected something in my heart. Everything else was good, but they detected an irregular heart beat then did some more research. And Im going to just say this, and you could put it in any words you want, they dont do a lot of research on us; they dont give a (expletive) about us.

Tiny seems to be heating up at this point so I ask him, Just how did this help become so readily available for retired players?

With Michelle Roberts, Chris Paul (President), LeBron James (First Vice President), Im just going to throw out names, those are the chief rockers in the NBA but they also if you look at the NBA Board of Directors with the Players Association, all of the head honchos, you could call them All-Star guys are on there and they make decisions.

Not like before.

Not at all.

Without the Players Association partnering with the NBA kicking in that money, some of us would have been gone a long time ago, Archibald continues. It happened two years ago in January. I remember the date, January 1. It wasnt like they demanded it. They said free screening, so you could find out what was wrong. They did your knee, they did everything, they did your whole body. They screened your whole body. Guys who had knee injuries went in and got their knees taken care of, hips and all of that, for free. It all depends on what tier you got … Im on the top tier. Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) played 19 years but Im on the top tier, too. That means, you dont get a Discover Platinum Card, but you up there.

Nate “Tiny” Archibald: Career Mixtape

Enjoy.

Without (the NBPA), you can call it what you want, but we all have to thank them, the Players Association. They have been doing this since Oscar (Robertson), Dave DeBusschere, Archie Clark, Dave Cowens, they were the forefathers of the Players Association, Dave Bing, they were the forefathers … And one of their things was, Take care of the guys because were losing so many guys; never had good insurance. Never.

But we had no power (early on). So, Im going to tell you who the key guy was … It was the Big O who kept pushing and pushing, who kept meeting with the young brothers, the young stars now. They decided that sooner or later they are going to be retired, so Oscar convinced them, Man, you know we dont have a problem; we have a voice. Could yall do this? And they did it. I think it was passed on Jan. 1, 2016.

And as grateful as Archibald is with regard to the NBPAs recent efforts, he laments the lost lives of those who were not able to take advantage of this opportunity for a thorough examination and requisite follow-up help from top-shelf medical personnel.

You know how many people we lost? You know what happened to Connie Hawkins? I going to give you about five guys who left here, I mean star guys. Wilt Chamberlain, Connie Hawkins, Moses Malone, Darryl Dawkins, Pearl Washington, and on and on.

The Players Association in conjunction with the NBA got together and did something. We have to congratulate them on their effort.

Still, Tiny insists that he doesnt want to just thank the NBPA. He wants all of his fellow colleagues who have played in the league to participate in what he believes is the type of coverage that is necessary for their health, considering all of the ailments faced by retired NBA players.

He says he is tired of hearing the excuses for not getting screened.

If you look at the way the Players Association is structured now, all of the guys who are All-Star guys, they are on the board and they make decisions, Tiny continues, punctuating his words to make sure I can hear each and every one. The owners are not bucking these guys.

They made it possible for us to get free and affordable education. You could go back to school for free, for free, but not on the tier Im on. Im on my last tier. But undergrads, guys that come out early, they dont have to pay. They can go back to school for free. And then they have a family plan where your wife and kids can go back to school, for free.

We didnt have that when we were playing, Im just telling you that, and you could put it in any words you want, but people need to know that (the NBPA is) trying to help US. Im just telling you, what they saw is that sooner or later, whos going to be retired? They are. They might not have to go through the same things that we went through because theyre making mucho money but theyre saying, sooner or later, they are going to be retired and were hoping that the guys who are behind us are going to look out for us.

We were with Moses (Malone) on Saturday and he died on Sunday. Im just telling you that, Bro, at the Basketball Hall of Fame. And I read a small sentence that said he died of cardiac arrest. What is that? I know its a heart attack, but what kind? You read the article? I told Ernie (Browne, longtime friend from the South Bronx) they had more stats on him than why he actually passed away. And we have to know because Amyloidosis has to do with Black American People and its like 75-80% in Black American Males. 

The NBA set up free screening at their offices in New York and Tiny says he was almost the first one through the door.

They decided that, with the insurance and all that, you had to get screened, he says. We have chapters all over the United States. Orlando has a chapter, L.A. has a chapter. We have a chapter here in New York with about 300 guys, covering New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. 

They opened up the Players Association office and they had all of the doctors doing EKGs, ultrasounds, they take your blood. But let me give you this statistic. Out of 300 guys, only three guys showed up. And its free.

So let me give you my take, he says. This is not a statement Im making; this is my personal feeling: Black people never want to go the hospital. In the case of the retired players, we have what they called macho-ism. These are guys that think nothing is ever wrong with them. … Its called macho-ism. We think we have armor.

Considering what the NBPA leadership has done as far as funding health insurances for retired players with at least three years of NBA experience, Tiny feels this is a no-brainer and believes that every member of this elite group of men needs to take advantage of the program.

He believes that the majority of those who played in his era need to take a closer look at the fate of a number of their brethren. Yes, he says, the macho-ism is the first hurdle. But Tiny personally believes that there are a couple of other roadblocks that this specific group of players needs to overcome.

The second part is this affects African-American people, Tiny says. Black people, not all of us have good insurance so we know we are going to have to pay. They dont have United Healthcare like the retired players who get everything for free now. So, you say, Im going to see the doctor for a physical; hes going to charge me. I dont have the money. Im not going because there is nothing wrong. Dont have to worry about the money anymore.

Thirdly, they dont have enough research, he states, and then repeats it.

There was not a cure for Tiny Archibalds diagnosis of Amyloidosis. His protein build-up landed in his heart and was irreversible. At that point, he says, he had a very frank conversation with his cardiologist.

This doctor, he said, The third thing, Nate, it kind of hurt me is they dont give a shit about the Amyloidosis that you have. How deep is that. … He said, they havent done all of the research. And if you didnt get it checked out, youd be dead. Because they dont give a (expletive) about doing research on you because you really dont count. You could put that in the article, you (expletive) really dont count.

Thats what he told me, and he was fair and just when he said this. He said, Nate, they havent done any research; theyre doing some research now, but he said, They dont give a (expletive). … Thats deep, Bro.

He was just giving me bullets. He said the first thing is the macho-ism, recalls Tiny. When we were playing in the NBA, guys thought the insurance was going to carry over when they retired. As soon as you get out of the game, you pay for your insurance. … As soon as you stop playing (and) you retire, its on you, Bro.

After creating one of the most dynamic careers in NBA history over a 14-year span that includes All-NBA First Team three times; All-NBA Second Team twice; an NBA Championship with the Boston Celtics (and that Larry Bird fella) in 1981; seven-time NBA All-Star and an All-Star Game MVP; a spot on the NBAs 50th Anniversary All-Time Team; and, lastly, induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Nate Tiny Archibald is still fighting the proverbial good fight.

Vintage NBA: NATE ARCHIBALD

Nate “Tiny” Archibald is an American retired professional basketball player. He spent 14 years playing in the NBA, most notably with the Cincinnati Royals, Kansas City-Omaha Kings and Boston Celtics. In 1991, he was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Archibald was a willing passer and an adequate shooter from midrange.

And his latest uphill battle is getting his fellow retired NBA players to wise-up and focus on their health, in light of all that the Players Association has done to provide the money necessary to make it all possible.

As the hour passes in, seemingly, five minutes, Tiny becomes reflective.

I want to congratulate and send my blessings out to the person, the donor the hospital was great but the donor who gave up his heart and his life for somebody else to get a second chance to live, he says. Thats really what I want to say. Chris Paul and (the rest of the National Basketball Players Association leaders) put the funds in, but before that, a lot of us were leaving here.

I want to bow down to those guys who looked at their future and said, sooner or later, were going to be like these guys. And this is the start-up. I dont know what else they are going to do but the start-up saved some of our lives.

It saved my life. I got a second chance at life, Bro.

I got a new, young ticker.

And a new lease on his magnificent life.

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Special Contributor Garry D. Howard, the Director of Corporate Initiatives at American City Business Journals, is a South Bronx native who served as the Deputy Sports Editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer, Assistant Managing Editor/Sports at The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and the Editor-in-Chief at Sporting News, among others, during his illustrious sports journalism career.