The Ainge Drama Continues
Reading the Danny Ainge story in this town is like reading about Ronald Reagan in Albania. The Celtics are not the Roman Empire of sport, they are the Holy Roman Empire, and what they do can only be right, just and proper.
As we were told, Ralph Sampson was an unthinking, selfish and misguided young man for staying at the University of Virginia even though Red Auerbach was willing to offer him some money. And now our eyes are supposed to be filled with tears for Ainge, poor Danny Ainge, who is being held, bleeding, in the public stocks of the Toronto Blue Jays while Auerbach tries to free him.
So much for the Celtics' propaganda. As an out-of-towner remarked last year, reading about the Celtics in the playoffs last spring was like reading about Woody Hayes in Columbus. What the Celtics are trying to do is get Ainge to jump a contract he knowingly signed. Can you imagine Auerbach's moral indignation if Tub Bradley got offered $500,000 a year by the Montreal Alouettes and decided to jump?
The point is not that Ainge is hitting under .200 and that the Blue Jays win once a week. The point is that there are two issues here: 1. the validity and sanctity of a contract and 2. the integrity of Ainge himself. I don't care about what he is hitting, I don't care that scouts are mumbling that he's shown tendencies of being a dog, and I don't care that Bobby Knight has told baseball people that he plays in the first-person singular.
What is important is that on June 8, Ainge took a check for $120,000, part of his bonus on the three-year contract he signed with the agreement that he wouldn't play any competitive basketball until that contract had expired, and a month later found out he could make four times that much with the Celtics. That's wrong, the Labatt's Brewery and Blue Jays are right and I, for one, am damn glad they're willing to pursue this thing for the principle.
Ainge was drafted and signed out of high school by Toronto, who nurtured him, cowtowed to him and tried to develop him with the realization that when he got to his senior year, what they had done is invest somewhere in the vicinity of $500,000 for the rights to bid against the NBA when he was finished. This is no different than the Yankees' offer to Stanford's junior quarterback John Elway of $75,000 plus scholarship replacement value for one summer in the minors and the right to bid against the NFL in June, 1983. Ainge didn't have to take that money and play baseball; obviously, he realized it was better spending cash than working at a co-op. Come March, 1983, Elway may decide that the cash on hand is preferable to the cash in the NFL's bush and sign with the Yankees. That is what Ainge did last winter when he signed this three-year contract. Little did he know that he'd go from the sixth- or seventh-ranked college guard to the Great White Hope. In June, when he pocketed more of the bonus, little did he know that it would be the Celtics who would come up with the megabucks.
The Celtics, who didn't have the decency to sit down with Toronto and work the thing out before trying to sign him, may claim that Blue Jays' president Peter Bavasi and general manager Pat Gillick told Ainge he could leave anytime he wants, but they and everyone I know in that office says that's simply not true. They offered him the money in December, saying, "look, you know if you take this, you've made a commitment to us for three years." Look, Ainge was getting the bonus and the six figures because the Blue Jays were bidding against basketball. Seven months later and hundreds of thousands of dollars later, Ainge's commitment wasn't worth a damn.
The Celtics' suit is shoe-banging at the U.N. The relevant case is the suit in New York filed by the Blue Jays, and they think they've got one helluva case. It's fine to say someone should be able to do what he wants, but only to an extent. What Danny Ainge decided was that he wanted the money, grabbed it when he could, then decided he wanted more. If he doesn't want to play for the Blue Jays, fine, go home to Utah and get a job outside baseball or basketball. There comes a time when contracts have to be two-sided, when the Me and Renegotiation Generations have to be brought to reality, and that time is now. And if this were the Bruins, Patriots or Red Sox, it would be seen that way.
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