As for Shaw, the Celtics' fatal mistake was underestimating his threat to go to Italy in the first place. Shaw had received $75,000, the NBA minimum at the time, for his rookie season of '88-89, but the Celtics did not act decisively enough to sign him for future seasons, even though they were sure he was their point guard of the future (he averaged 8.6 points and 5.8 assists as a rookie). At that time—last summer—the idea that a young player would opt for linguine over chowder was unthinkable to the Boston brass. Spurn the Boston Celtics? Shaw did.
Though he was successful in Italy, he was not altogether happy there. Celtics part-owner Alan Cohen and the team's general manager, Jan Volk, kept in touch with him, and last Jan. 23, Shaw, in the presence of Volk, signed a five-year, $6.65 million deal that included a $450,000 signing bonus.
But on June 6, the Celtics received a letter from Shaw's new agent, Jerome Stanley, notifying them that Shaw was contesting the contract.
"Brian did not want to do the deal," Stanley told SI last week. "He was manipulated." Stanley claims that Shaw was without representation at the time he signed the Celtics pact and was "bullied" into signing.
Volk denies that Shaw was pressured, and he points to the fact that the Celts have won every legal challenge that Shaw has brought. At this point even Stanley and Laura L. Carroll, Shaw's Boston-based attorney, concede that their legal arsenal has been depleted and that, barring a trade, Shaw must play for the Celtics in '90-91 or not play at all.
In any case, the chain of recent events has tarnished the image of those once imperious kings of the NBA. The roster is aging, and management does not seem able to make the moves that would turn it into a contender once again.
"We've received countless letters about the Celtics," says Dario Colombo, editor of Giganti del Basket, the top-selling basketball magazine in Europe. "Five years ago they were a legend. Now? I don't want to use the word 'joke,' but people over here are wondering what has happened to this once great team."
People over here are wondering the same thing.