McHale may Play in Italy

August 21, 1980

Will McHale say, arrivederci, Celtics?

Several of the NBA's top draft choices, including the Celtics' first pick, Kevin McHale, are weighing offers to play their basketball in Italy this season. And Boston attorney Bob Woolf says he is "contemplating" legal action against the league in the near future.

To date, none of the top 11 choices in the NBA have reached agreement on contracts with their respective teams.

"It has never gone this far before," says Woolf, who represents the top two choices in this year's draft, Joe Barry Carroll of Purdue and Darrell Griffith of Louisville. "I'm going to wait about 10 more days and if nothing happens, then I will bring suit."

Celtic president Red Auerbach said he was aware that McHale had reportedly received offers to play in Italy, but terms the report a "negotiating tactic. If he (McHale) wants to play in Italy this year, good luck to him," said Auerbach. "We'll get along without him. What's he going to do after that? He'll still belong to us.

"I'm not paying any attention to that stuff. We'll make him a better offer than any he's going to get from Italy. We're meeting with him Friday, and then we'll find out what the story is."

Woolf says that representatives of several Italian basketball teams have been in the United States recently, and have met with the top players, including Carroll. "I wouldn't be surprised at all if at least two of the top five in the draft went there to play. The money they are offering is just as good as what has been offered by the NBA so far."

Woolf said that the money for the top choices this year is about half of what was paid to Larry Bird and Magic Johnson at the top of the draft a year ago. Woolf thinks it is "totally unfair" to this year's crop to expect them to take contracts at that level.

"I've been thinking about the law suit and I've been a bit ambivalent because I don't want to hurt the game. But there isn't much else to be done except bring suit if this is the way the teams are going to act."

Woolf said his suit would be brought on the grounds that the league is violating the antitrust laws with its apparent collusion to reduce the salaries. He would also bring a class-action against the teams involved.

"I think what is happening also violates the Oscar Robertson agreement between the owners and the players where they agreed to bargain in good faith. And the last part might be the most important even though I don't like to do it. That would be to bring suit against the draft and try to have it declared illegal."

Bruin general manager Harry Sinden is still worried about veteran center ice star Jean Ratelle. "I'd be less than candid if I said that I wasn't very concerned about Jean's back. It is getting better day to day, but this has taken a long time now and he still has some problems with it. We really don't know if he'll be able to play with it until he gets to training camp and gives it a full-test. We'll just keep our fingers crossed and hope that it turns out OK." Sinden has some contract problems of his own, but doesn't think they have reached the serious stage yet. Some of his better players, including Rick Middleton, Pete McNab, Stan Jonathan and Dwight Foster are entering the option year of their contracts unsigned. "We like to get our players signed to new contracts before they get into that option year," said Sinden, "but we've had cases in the past where we have worked out a new deal during that final year."

The story out of Los Angeles Tuesday that somewhere between 40 to 75 percent of the players in the NBA use cocaine drew mixed reactions from the Celtic front office. "From knowing the players on our club the way I do, and from what I've been told by others close to our club, I say we don't have any problems like that," said Auerbach. "I think the story is blown way out of proportion. How can you put a percentage on something like that without taking a survey, and then who is going to admit to it?"

Apparently the story developed out of the league meetings this past spring. In a coaches' meeting, one coach brought up the subject and felt that seven members of his team were using the drug. Later in the meetings, coaches and general managers discussed the problem and tried to squelch the conversation right there. Evidently, the word of the discussion finally leaked out.

"Right now," says Celtic coach Bill Fitch, "I think they are making a bigger story that it really is. But the story really could become big if they catch someone at it and they take action. If that happened, I think it would be the end of it. I don't think players would risk their careers that way if they saw some player being thrown out of the league because of it."

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