Ainge Biding his Time

1981-82 Boston Celtics

You can get Paul Harvey or Johnny Cash just about anywhere on the radio dial, and when you make the breathtaking drive from Salt Lake City to Provo, a tempting sign beckons you to "Tour Osmond Studios."

The toughest thing to find is a mixed drink - unless you're foolish enough to ask for the latest issue of Playboy. The easiest thing to find is Danny Ainge. That's him right down there on the Mariott Center courtside, coaching Brighham Young's junior varsity basketball squad.

Danny Ainge says he can't talk about anything. His attorneys advised him to do a Steve Carlton imitation.

But the more he talks about not being able to talk, the more he says about coming to Boston to play for the Celtics. By the time your faithful correspondent is ready to leave, Ainge is on his feet commanding "go back to (Celtic owner Harry) Mangurian and (coach Bill) Fitch and tell 'em I'm ready to play. Tell 'em you saw me play and that Bird and I would be a great combination . . . and McHale, too."

Ainge may be ready, but a court ruled that he still belongs to the Toronto Blue Jays baseball club. Unless the Celtics open their vault to pry him away, Ainge will sit out a year and go into the NBA draft again next summer.

"I'm anxious to go out and play and I'd like to play with Boston," Ainge says. "I think everybody that knows me knows that . . . but if it comes to January and there's still no deal for me, since it would take a month to get ready at that time, I'd have to say at that time I might have to wait until next year. It doesn't make any sense otherwise. And it's not going to get any easier to for Boston to sign me in January. I would think that if they're going to make a deal they would make it in the next couple of weeks. If not, just forget about it."

These are not the happiest of days for Ainge. Instead of taking outlet passes from Cedric Maxwell and Robert Parish, he's trimming the BYU junior varsity squad from 140 to 10. Being cut by Danny Ainge might be the career highlight for many of these Mormon students, but this isn't exactly what Ainge had planned when he first thought about quitting baseball after the game's midsummer strike.

"Danny's not a coach, he's a player," says BYU varsity coach Frank Arnold. "We're glad to have him back as a graduate assistant, but he's very discouraged by what's happened. He wants to play. I don't let him play with the kids on the varsity, I don't think he should. It's their turn."

Meanwhile, Ainge coaches and waits. He enjoys being home with his wife Michelle and their two children (the Ainges live in a condominium two miles from the BYU campus) and he's comfortable back on the Cougar campus, safely surrounded by the majestic Wastuch mountains.

"Everybody's been nice to me," Ainge says. "At first, before people heard my side of the story, I think some people thought this kid is trying to break a commitment - another spoiled brat,' but now I think everybody understands."

Not everybody. Dan Tingey, a sports correspondent for the Salt Lake Tribune says, "It used to be that if you'd bring up the name of Danny Ainge, people would say he's great.' Now they don't know what he is and he doesn't know what he is. I guess he's in a transition period, but it's a little late for that.

"What he's done is uncommon for the people of Utah. Religiously, it's always been taboo to back out of something like that.

"Danny's a great guy. I know him because he used to date my sister. But he's kind of turned around and become self-centered. People around here don't idolize him the way they used to."

Ainge's feelings toward the Toronto Blue Jays? "I was pretty upset with Toronto after the trial," says the 6-foot-5 guard/third baseman. "I had a miserable time in court. It was kind of frustrating and depressing. But I guess they've got a job to do as businessmen, just as Boston's people have jobs to do. I'm just stuck in between and there's not much I can do."

Ainge says he considered playing basketball in Italy after the trial. But he's sticking with his dream to play in the NBA.

"I want to play and I feel I'm going to be playing in the NBA by next year. Sure, I'd like to play with the Celtics. Boston's got outstanding players like Bird and McHale and Maxwell. It would be great to learn from them. I think it would be an ideal situation to go into.

"I don't know how complex the Boston system is, but I feel I could be ready in a week if I started today. I had a bad shoulder after the (baseball) season ended. It was a little tendinitis. But I've been running to keep in shape and I've worked out here. I don't think I could start in the NBA right this second, but I think I could play in a week."

Arnold, who's kept a low profile since Ainge changed games, says, "I feel he'll struggle in the NBA, just like he did in baseball. If he goes to Boston, people are going to expect him to be just as good as he was here, but he's just not going to be that good right away. I know one thing. He's a decent kid and he gave baseball four years. People forget that he gave it four years."

Ainge stands by his decision to leave the summer game. "I think it will all work out in the near future," he said. "In my heart, I feel I'm a better basketball player and until I give basketball a shot, I'll never have any second thoughts about it."

He is watching the World Series and claims he never struck out against Rich Gossage. "I only faced him twice," says Ainge. "I grounded out to shortstop and flew out to left. At least I didn't strike out. But then again, the only thing I could hit up there was fastballs."

That's OK, Danny. The Goose probably can't go to his left.

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