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The Celtics threatened to file a $100M lawsuit against the Wall Street Journal, reporter Ron Suskind and the Journal's parent company, Dow Jones & Co. over an article in yesterday's paper which alleged that cocaine use might have caused the death of Celtics star Reggie Lewis. Celtics Chair Paul Gaston said he was "appalled and outraged" at the article, which he called "an example of gutless journalism, yellow journalism based wholly on a complete disregard for the truth." Gaston appeared at a news conference with Celtics Exec VP Jan Volk, Celtics GM M.L. Carr and Lewis' widow, Donna Harris-Lewis. Not present was Celtics Senior VP Dave Gavitt, who was featured prominently in the Journal piece as the team's point man during the time Lewis was diagnosed (Peter May, BOSTON GLOBE, 3/10). Journal Managing Editor Paul Steiger: "We remain confident that the article was fair and accurate" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 3/10). NEW PROBE? The MA Chief Medical Examiner's office will conduct a review of its investigation into Lewis' death (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/10). GLOBE columnist Dan Shaughnessy writes that "gutless, yellow" journalism "isn't consistent with the 106-year history of the Wall Street Journal. On the other hand, what was consistent yesterday was the Celtics' refusal to answer any questions about their involvement in Lewis' care. ... Gaston had better be right. His charges against the Journal will unleash a new series of investigations. Ditto for Donna Harris-Lewis, who said Reggie never did drugs. Here's a bet the suit is never filed. The Celtics and Lewis will want no part of the legal minefield of discovery and deposition" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/10). ANSWERING SPECIFICS: The Journal article claimed that the Celtics may have avoided the issue of drug use because of insurance liability and ongoing business pursuits of the Celtics' publicly held partnership. But Celtics Vice Chair Steve Schram told the GLOBE "that the insurance company was obligated to cover Lewis' policy regardless of how the player died. There was, he said, no stipulation that the policy would be canceled if Lewis was found to have died from drug abuse" (Peter May, BOSTON GLOBE, 3/10). Volk said he only learned there is no exclusion for drug use in the policy "a couple of days ago" after being contacted by the Journal reporter (Steve Bulpett, BOSTON HERALD, 3/10). DID HE REFUSE A TEST? On her way out of the interview room, Harris-Lewis was asked if her husband refused to take a drug test. Harris-Lewis: "He didn't refuse. No. Reggie did not use drugs, contrary to public belief. He was an intelligent and wise man. This is the way I will remember him" (Mike Wise, N.Y. TIMES, 3/10). But in an interview with the L.A. TIMES, Jerome Stanley, Lewis' agent and friend, confirmed the JOURNAL's assertion that Lewis refused a test: "His denying it wasn't enough. Why couldn't they eliminate drugs? Because they thought he was a liar. I think he just rebelled" (Elliott Almond, L.A. TIMES, 3/10). NBA'S REACTION: Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik released the following statement in reaction to the article's claim that the NBA's drug policy played a role in the tragedy: "It's obvious to any reader that this article is based entirely on speculation and has no factual basis. Furthermore, there is no conceivable way that the NBA's anti-drug program had anything to do with the issue of whether Reggie Lewis was tested or could have been tested upon his admission to the hospital" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/10). OPINION ROUND-UP: BOSTON HERALD's Michael Gee: "If the Journal's allegations are true, the Celtics are sitting on something worse than the Black Sox scandal, and the paper is in for a Pulitzer. If the Journal's allegations are not true, then the paper is lower than whale manure for maligning the living and the dead, whether or not it's libel" (BOSTON HERALD, 3/10). In Baltimore (Reggie Lewis' hometown), Ken Rosenthal quotes Lewis' mother, Inez Ritch (herself a reformed cocaine addict): "It's not true. Reggie was not a drug user. I don't give a damn what people say. If anything was being covered up, it was the fact he had a heart condition" (Baltimore SUN, 3/10). ESPN's Jackie MacMullan, who covers the Celtics regularly: "My feeling is that [the Celtics] never had anybody tell them, 'I did drugs with Reggie Lewis' or Reggie Lewis never said to them, 'Yes, I did drugs.' So it became one of those things like, 'Well, what we don't know won't hurt us. We believe he's a good guy. We believe he didn't do drugs and we're going to operate under that assumption'" ("SportsCenter," 3/9).
Nashville Mayor Phil Bredesen said yesterday that he met with Devils Owner John McMullen, but that the team's "long term lease is preventing talks about a move to Nashville," according to this morning's TENNESSEAN. The city of Nashville has been trying to land an NHL team to play in their $120M arena under construction. Bredesen said that McMullen has visited Nashville and has met with him, but Bredesen said the "city is not ready to talk with any team that is not 'legally, morally, and ethically' in a position to move" (Mark Ippolito, The TENNESSEAN, 3/10).
NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue will notify all 30 teams today "that he is recommending a vote against the Rams' proposed move to St. Louis," according to Bill Plaschke in this morning's L.A. TIMES. A league source who spoke to Tagliabue said the recommendation "was not final and could be changed" during the owners' meeting that begins Sunday in Phoenix. If eight owners follow Tagliabue's recommendation, the move would be blocked. But the Rams "will be given a chance to sway" owners by promising to pay a relocation fee and a cut of the $70M raised by the sale of PSL's (L.A. TIMES, 3/10). Tagliabue "concedes" that the Rams haven't shown significant operating losses for over a "sustained period of time," one of the NFL's guidelines in approving a move (Gordon Forbes, USA TODAY, 3/10). IN THIS CORNER: Plaschke writes that Tagliabue's recommendation "sounds much like a bargaining chip." If he recommended a yes vote, team owners would lose all leverage in collecting financial fees from the Rams. If the team does move, L.A. would become "the leading candidate for an expansion team in four of five years" and owners hoping for better stadium deals will still have "leverage with their local city officials." One NFL exec: "While we are losing a big market in the short run, we are gaining a lucrative expansion market in the long run" (L.A. TIMES, 3/10). Another possible factor in the Rams' favor is the 49ers proposal to reduce the number of votes necessary to pass NFL legislation from 23 to 21, which could be voted on before the Rams vote. The Rams and St. Louis officials have also "laid the groundwork" for suing the league if owners reject the move (Jim Thomas, ST. LOUIS POST DISPATCH, 3/9). SAVE THE RAMS: Save the Rams, the civic group trying to keep the team in the L.A. area, will present their case to NFL owners early next week. Possible speakers include CA Gov. Pete Wilson and perspective team buyers, former Mariners Owner George Argyros and banking executive William Foley (Gordon Forbes, USA TODAY, 3/10). HELLO PETER, THIS IS AL: The Raiders have been "carrying on a discreet flirtation with Baltimore" according to USA TODAY's Gordon Forbes (USA TODAY, 3/10).