SBD/10/Franchises

CELTICS THREATEN TO SUE JOURNAL OVER REGGIE LEWIS ARTICLE

     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).
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