8.17.2008

Truth Obscrued in Ainge Saga

There are three sides to every story. The third is the truth.

Just where that stands in the matter among Danny Ainge, the Celtics and the Toronto Blue Jays of the American League will be better known next week in hearings scheduled for courts in New York and Boston.

But for now, here is Danny Ainge's version, given in a recent affidavit to be placed in evidence. For the past three years Danny Ainge has played baseball in the summers for Toronto. In the winters, he has been an All- America basketball player at Brigham Young University.

This past June 9, he was drafted in the NBA on the second round by the Celtics, and just last week, Toronto sought and received an injunction preventing the Celtics from talking further with Ainge about playing for them. The Celtics brought a counter-suit, and Ainge, in preparation for the court battle, gave the following account in the affidavit:

Before June 9, growing more disenchanted with playing baseball, he met with both Peter Bavasi, president of the Blue Jays, and Pat Gillick, vice president (general manager), and told them of his feelings, saying he wanted to play basketball.

Bavasi and Gillick, at that time, both told Ainge that they were concerned with his happiness, and would not stand in his way if this were really what he wanted to do. It was left at that time that Ainge should wait to see what happened in the basketball draft.

On the day of the draft, Ainge was in Chicago, and after reading in the papers that the Chicago Bulls were going to conduct their draft at a local hotel, journeyed to the Bulls' draft headquarters, and sat at the back of the room (with no one knowing who he was) and heard himself taken by the Celtics.

Ainge said he was happy about being picked by Boston, and when the team returned home to Toronto, met again with Bavasi and Gillick the next day, and told them again that he was sure he wanted to play basketball. Again, according to Ainge, Gillick and Bavasi said they would not stand in his way, and would do what they could to accomodate him.

Also at this meeting, Ainge told both Bavasi and Gillick he would pay them back his baseball bonus ($300,000 as agreed to in a contract signed the previous September) if he could gain his release from Toronto.

The following morning, June 11, Gillick, the general manager, and Bobby Doerr, the former Red Sox great, now a coach with Toronto, went to Ainge's home, meeting with Danny and his wife, Michelle.

Again, Ainge said he had made his decision not to play baseball, and that he would like to make the break that day if possible. Gillick asked him if he would like to play the rest of the baseball season. Ainge said no, he would like to retire that day.

Gillick, according to Ainge, then told him that he would arrange to have it done that day, and for Ainge to come by Gillick's office that night for the announcement. Before leaving, Gillick mentioned that he would have to check with the team lawyers. At his point, Michelle Ainge asked why this was necessary. Gillick reportedly answered: "Just to make sure we put Danny on the right list, so we can protect him as our property in case he decides to return to baseball in the future." The Ainges accepted that explanation.

That night, Ainge went to Gillick's office and sat outside in a reception area for an hour before he was told that the general manager was too busy to see him. Ainge was instructed to return the next morning. When he did, the secretary handed him a piece of paper. On the paper was a letter from an attorney representing the Blue Jays, informing Ainge that he had contractual obligations to the team, and referring him to a section of the contract that would prevent him from playing basketball.

Toronto, in its papers filed in a New York court seeking the injunction, said it never gave permission to Ainge to play basketball, or talk with the Celtics.

Yesterday, I called Pat Gillick and informed him of what Ainge said in his affidavit.

Reporter: "Danny Ainge says in his affidavit that before the draft on June 9 he spoke with both you and Peter Bavasi and that both of you said you would not prevent him from playing basketball. Is that true?"

Gillick: "I can't comment on that."

Reporter: "Well, I'll get specific. Danny Ainge claims that on June 11, you and Bobby Doerr went to his house, and again, you told him that you would not stand in his way, and that you would give him his release."

Gillick: "I can't comment on that."

Reporter: "You can't remember if you went to his house?"

Gillick: "I really can't comment about anything in this case. I will give you the number of our attorney and you can call him."

Gillick was very courteous, and said that even though he had given an affidavit himself, he really couldn't comment. The number for attorney Cliff Lax in Toronto was correct. Two calls were made. But Lax was obviously unavailable for comment, because when the calls were placed through to his desk, no one picked up the phone.

So, if you believe Danny Ainge's story, you have a kid who decided he wanted to play basketball, and would give all of the money back to Toronto. You also have to wonder why Toronto, after giving permission, suddenly pulled the rug on him after consultation with its attorney.

Two other things are interesting in this case. At the time Ainge offered to give the money back, he still not had talked contract with the Celtics and was taking that gamble on his own.

Secondly, when he made an agreement with Toronto on his contract in September 1980, he did so without advice of counsel.In the talks leading to an agreement totaling $525,000 to be paid with a $300,000 bonus, and salaries at $50,000, $75,000 and $100,000, nothing was mentioned about a covenant attached to the bonus clause, stating he could not play basketball.

Ainge says the first time he saw that convenant was the day he walked in to sign the contract. Next time he should bring a lawyer.

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