10.19.2008

Celtics Finally Sign Ainge

1981-82 Boston Celtics
November 28, 1981

Danny Ainge, the 22 ear-old retired Toronto Blue Jay baseball player, last night officially became a Boston Celtic basketball player.

Or to put it into more precise language, the Celtics announced at a hastily arranged Garden press conference that they had signed Ainge to a multiyear contract after having reached a financial agreement earlier in the day with the Blue Jays.

Celtic coach Bill Fitch said that Ainge "will play when he's ready. We plan to have him join us for practice by next Thursday, and he could be in uniform for his first Garden appearance when we play the New Jersey Nets Wednesday, Dec. 9."

Tod Rosensweig, Celtic public relations director, then dragged out a Celtic jersey with the numeral 44 for the benefit of photographers and TV cameras. The last Celtic player to wear 44 was Pete Maravich.

The Ainge signing was treated as a big media event by the Celtics, with Ainge holding center stage. Ainge was accompanied to a white-covered table by his father Don and his attorney, Robert Quinney. The Celtics were represented by owner Harry Mangurian and general manager Red Auerbach along with Jan Volk, the team's legal counsel, and Rosensweig. Watching the proceedings intently were Pat Gillick, vice president of operations for the Blue Jays, and Herb Soloway, the Blue Jays' attorney.

The Celtics declined to disclose what they will have to pay Ainge, a 6- foot-5 guard, or the Blue Jays. But make no mistake about it. In order to get the Blue Jays' permission to deal with Ainge, Mangurian obviously agreed to give the American League baseball club a generous financial settlement, possibly in excess of the $1 million that Toronto demanded from the Boston organization.

Gillick, however, made it clear that the Blue Jays' financial arrangement is strictly with the Celtics.

"Our agreement has absolutely nothing to do with Ainge, it's strictly with the Celtics," Gillick said. "All I can say is that we're satisfied with the agreement with the Celtics. The amount? It could be less than $1 million, and then again it could be more. If Ainge hadn't come to terms with the Celtics, we would have been glad to take him back. We still feel he has the ability to be a good baseball player."

There's little doubt that the agreement between the Blue Jays and the Celtics was one of accommodation. The $1 million or more the Celtics paid Toronto for compensation was the price the Boston organization had to pay to get Ainge. The Ainge controversy erupted after Peter Bavasi, then the Blue Jay president, accused Auerbach of tampering with Ainge while Ainge was still legally property of the Blue Jays.

Two years ago Ainge signed a three-year contract with the Blue Jays calling for $525,000, of which $300,000 was paid up front. But Ainge, who batted only .187 last season, decided that he wanted to quit baseball and instead switch to basketball with the Celtics. The Celtics had drafted Ainge in the second round of the NBA draft on June 9.

Ainge, a consensus All-America selection last year, led Brigham Young to the NCAA tournament. He averaged 24.4 points per game on 52 percent field-goal shooting. He scored 40 points in one game against Oral Roberts in 1978.

Bavasi, who has since resigned as president of the Blue Jays, took the Celtics to court on the tampering charge, and a New York jury found in favor of Toronto. The Blue Jays recently gave the Celtics permission to negotiate with Ainge for two weeks with a stipulated deadline set for next Monday. Last night the Celtics beat that deadline.

"We're tired, but happy that we've consummated the signing of Ainge," said Auerbach. "We did it with the help of many people like Danny's father Don, and Robert Quinney. And also Pat Gillick and Herb Soloway of the Toronto Blue Jays.

"But I don't deserve the credit," said Auerbach, pointing toward Mangurian. "He has really engineered the whole thing."

When Auerbach was asked if he intended to pursue his threat to request that NBA Comr. Larry O'Brien's office look into his charges that both the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers had been illegally tampering with Ainge, he replied, "We're going to have a full-scale investigation."

"We're happy and pround that we have this announcement tonight that he (Ainge) is going to be a Celtic," said Mangurian.

Mangurian then introduced Ainge to the media. "I've always wanted to be a Celtic, and I'm anxious to get going," said the boyish-looking Ainge, "but it's going to take me a couple of weeks to get in shape. It will be coach Fitch's decision on how I can help. I feel I can play defense and come off the bench."

Ainge said he never participated personally during the ongoing negotiations between his attorney, Quinney, and Mangurian.

Ainge added that he "doesn't know if there was a certain time that I felt I was a better basketball player than baseball player. I knew I wanted to play basketball before the NBA draft took place."

Ainge said "no" when he was asked if any NBA club had contacted him other than the Celtics.

Fitch said he has no desire to put any undue pressure on Ainge, and he won't be looking for Ainge to provide the Celtics with immediate help.

"I doubt if Chris (Ford) and Tiny (Archibald) will still be around by the time we go after our ninth championship in a row," quipped Fitch. "For him (Ainge), it's just a matter of going out and catching up. He's four weeks behind every other NBA rookie.

Neither Terry Duerod nor Tracy Jackson is in instant danger of becoming an ex-Celtic. But the time isn't too far off when Fitch will have both Ainge and the injured M.L. Carr activated, and he'll then be forced to make room for them.

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