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The courting of Danny Ainge
Anthony Cotton
October 12, 1981
A jury ruled that his contract with the Toronto Blue Jays was binding, but Danny said baseball was out, and if Red Auerbach has his way the Boston Celtics will be in
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October 12, 1981

The Courting Of Danny Ainge

A jury ruled that his contract with the Toronto Blue Jays was binding, but Danny said baseball was out, and if Red Auerbach has his way the Boston Celtics will be in

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The added intangible of Ainge's skin color is perhaps more important in Boston than in any other NBA town. Boston was the scene of some ugly racial confrontations in the middle '70s, and the racial makeup of its sports teams is watched as closely as the box scores.

Apparently Ainge had been reading his own line in the Jays' box scores just as closely and saw the need to try another sport. Entering the '81 season, Ainge had hit but .239 in 419 major league at bats over parts of three seasons. However, Gillick and others felt that the numbers would improve over the course of a full season. They didn't. Ainge finished this year hitting .187 with no home runs, 14 RBIs and only eight extra-base hits. What with his season-long slump, minor injuries and the legal situation, Ainge has been ineffective since early September. "It's obvious I wasn't having a successful career," he says.

While the consensus among major league scouts is that Ainge was rushed to the majors by Toronto, there is doubt that things would ever get a lot better. "I don't like him too much," says Rick Ferrell, a scout for the Detroit Tigers. "I don't think he'll hit enough. He doesn't throw too good at third base. He doesn't have power."

Ferrell and other scouts concede that Ainge has speed, which, along with an accurate jump shot, heads-up play and light pigmentation, is what has NBA people practically drooling. "We use a scale of five in grading a player, and Ainge got a four in field-goal shooting, free-throw shooting, ball handling, passing, speed and aggressiveness, a three-plus in rebounding and a three in defense," says NBA scouting consultant Marty Blake. "To give you an idea of how good a four is, we gave out only one five all last year." ( St. Louis University's David Burns got a five for speed and was drafted by the New Jersey Nets.) Blake says that no one received a four for his defensive work, which doesn't surprise Pete Newell, who coached a national champion at California and is now the talent consultant of the Golden State Warriors. "He plays D like most college kids—very little," says Newell. "But there's no doubt that he has a tremendous future in the league, especially compared to baseball." The baseball/basketball conflict has occurred before, most recently in the cases of the Celtics' Gene Conley and the Knicks' Dave DeBusschere, both of whom gave up pitching careers. But that was before the NBA season lasted until Father's Day, as it does now.

According to testimony at the trial, Ainge told Bavasi of his intention to pursue basketball on June 10 in Toronto—and asked for permission to join the Celtics. Ainge said Bavasi told him, "You have to do what you have to do," and that "no contract could make a man do what he doesn't want to do." The next day, Ainge said, Blue Jay Coach Bobby Doerr and Gillick repeated those sentiments and said he shouldn't worry about his contract, which includes a clause banning Ainge from playing pro basketball. That clause was sweetened by a $300,000 bonus, of which Ainge collected the last payment, $120,000, in August. Ainge offered to return the entire bonus.

The two conversations, the Celtics contended, were tantamount to the Blue Jays' giving Ainge his release from baseball. Toronto, on the other hand, countered that the things told Ainge were merely personal statements made by stunned men, who, according to Bavasi's testimony, likened the situation to "an ailing wife being left behind by her husband for some blonde floozy from Boston."

After 1� hours of deliberation, the jury ruled that there was no rescission and that the contract was still valid. After the trial Bavasi lit up a large cigar, mocking Auerbach, and said, "There's one minute to go and we're 20 points ahead. As far as I'm concerned, Danny Ainge is a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, and until I'm absolutely convinced he's not, I'm not speaking to Auerbach or anyone else in their organization."

Right now the Celtics aren't too thrilled about dealing with the Blue Jays, either. "The thing is, they don't even want him and he doesn't want to be there, but we shouldn't have to buy their franchise to get him," says Boston Vice-President Jan Volk.

As Danny Ainge sits at home in Provo, the only question seems to be which team can hold out the longest: Boston, which would dearly love to have Ainge's skills at point guard, or Toronto, which claims it won't have to pay the remainder of Ainge's guaranteed contract if he doesn't play. One person who probably doesn't care either way is Austin Daniel Ainge. Austin was born the day after the Blue Jay-Celtic trial started and didn't get to see his daddy until after the jury's decision four days later.

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