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Bill Belichick and Sheldon Adelson

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We are quick to second-guess and to criticize when we think the coach makes a mistake; we should be just as willing to offer our praise when we think he's right.

Dick
Flavin

Bill Belichick deserves a medal for turning down that medal. It could not have been easy to say, "Thanks, but no thanks," to the highest civilian honor the nation has to offer.

He would have been just the second football coach in history to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the first being Earl "Red" Blaik, the legendary coach of the United States Military Academy, who was a recipient in 1986. The award would have had extra meaning because, when Belichick was a young boy, Blaik coached on the opposite sideline from his father, Steve, at the annual Army-Navy games.

It wasn't the medal that the Patriots coach turned down, though, it was the man who would have presented it. Donald Trump's standing in the country has dropped so far and so fast since Jan. 6 that he has become a toxic substance to all but his most extreme supporters -- even to Belichick. It must have pained Bill more than a little to turn away from his longtime friend. His statement never mentioned Trump by name but made it very clear that Trump was the reason that he, Belichick, demurred.

We are quick to second-guess and to criticize when we think the coach makes a mistake; we should be just as willing to offer our praise when we think he's right.

Bill Belichick did the right thing. Good for him.

When Bob Cousy received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2019, it still carried with it the full weight of its prestige. But Trump cheapened it some by pulling a political stunt in the middle of his 2020 State of the Union Address when he stopped the proceedings and had Melania present it to right-wing rabble-rouser Rush Limbaugh.

Among the first people designated for the medal by President Trump was Miriam Adelson, the wife of multi-billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who died a few days ago. Together they were the largest donors to Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, to his inaugural fund, to his defense fund in the Mueller investigation, and they would be the largest donors to his 2020 presidential campaign. It's not hard to see why Donald was so kindly disposed to Sheldon and the Mrs.

As it turns out, I have a Sheldon Adelson story of my own, which I've been dining out on for years.

About 45 years ago, the phone rang one day at my desk at WBZ-TV, where I was a news commentator. The voice on the other end introduced himself, "This is Shelley Adelson." (This was a few billion dollars before he began referring himself as Sheldon.) "I'm calling to warn you about a bad real estate deal you should get out of before it's too late. Can you meet me for breakfast?"

He wasn't yet famous, but I knew exactly who he was and what he was up to. My wife and I had been looking for a summer cottage on Cape Cod and had come across a cottage colony in Wellfleet that the owner was getting ready to convert into condominiums. The cottages were right on the beach of Wellfleet Harbor. Betsy and I fell in love with the one on the front right, but the owner explained that he was going to offer the units to his regular tenants before putting them on the open market. "Except for one," he said. "The renter of that one is a pain in the neck," he said (I'm paraphrasing his exact language here). "Oh, which one is that?" I innocently inquired. "The front one on the right," came the reply. "We'll take it!" we said. And so the deed was done.

"Gee," the owner said upon accepting the deposit check, "Shelley's going to be mad as the dickens (another paraphrase) when he finds out about this." He explained that "Shelley," the renter he didn't like, was none other than Sheldon Adelson, then a successful real estate developer in the Newton area, but small potatoes compared to what he'd become. I had never heard of him back then but made a mental note of the name.

So, we met for breakfast one morning in 1975 at Johnny's Luncheonette in Newton Centre. He was short and stocky with reddish brown hair and a pugnacious personality, but he immediately went into his charm offensive. "Order anything you'd like," he said expansively. I opted, as I remember, for a cheese omelet. He then went into his song and dance about how untrustworthy the owner of the cottage colony was, how at risk of flooding the cottages were in storms, and that the only reason he was telling this to me was that he'd seen me on television and that I seemed like a nice enough chap. I knew that the only reason he was telling me this was to get me out of the deal so he could buy that front cottage on the right for himself.

I resisted his growing pressure by bravely putting the onus on my wife. I said, "I know you're right, Shelley, but my wife loves the cottage. What's a fellow to do?" Seeing that he wasn't getting anywhere, Shelley suddenly remembered he had an important meeting, excused himself and left. He never called me for breakfast again. Do you suppose he lost my phone number?

A few years after our fateful meeting, I heard that Shelley had invested heavily in a computer expo in Las Vegas and had relocated out there. He caught the wave of an exploding personal computer market, and his show became the biggest in the industry. Then he sold his share of it for a profit of hundreds of millions of dollars. He used that money to buy the Sands Hotel, the most famous on the strip, then tore it down and built an even bigger, grander one, the Venetian, in its place along with a convention center that guaranteed the hotel's full occupancy seven days a week. The New York Times estimated that his income had grown to a million dollars an hour 24 hours a day seven days a week. He then expanded his gambling empire to Asia and his income was no longer measured in the millions, but in the billions.

I don't suppose he ever gave a second thought to that little cottage in Wellfleet, and it would be stretching a point to say that I beat him out of it. But I did beat him out of a cheese omelet at Johnny's.

- Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox "Poet Laureate" and The Pilot's recently minted Sports' columnist.



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