Ainge Still in Limbo

1981-82 Boston Celtics

Danny Ainge, retired from baseball but prevented by contract from pursuing a professional basketball career, has a new job as a part-time basketball coach - a job he wishes would end right away.

The former All-America guard from Brigham Young and erstwhile Toronto Blue Jay third baseman is coaching the junior varsity at his alma mater.

Ainge would rather be in Boston in the NBA, donning Celtic green.

"I think the longer this thing goes on, the less chance I have of being with Boston this year," Ainge said.

A federal court jury two weeks ago upheld Toronto's claim that its management had not rescinded a three-year contract Ainge signed in September of 1980. The contract contains a clause that prohibits Ainge from playing professional basketball.

So for now, the 22-year-old Ainge must cool his sneakers while hoping Boston and Toronto can reach an out-of-court settlement allowing him to play for the Celtics.

But Celtic president Red Auerbach, who drafted Ainge in the second round of the NBA draft in June, says no talks have occurred between the two clubs since the jury's Oct. 2 decision.

"We're just letting things ride for a while and we'll see what happens," Auerbach said. Asked to expand on Boston's plans, he said, "I just don't want to discuss it."

Ainge said Toronto wants $1 million from Boston for his services. Before the verdict, the Celtics reportedly were willing to pay only the $300,000 bonus the Blue Jays had given Ainge to sign.

The only certainty in the tug-of-war, says Ainge, is that he won't play baseball anymore. The voice drops for emphasis and the eyes flash when he says, "Nope. No chance."

If no agreement is reached, Ainge said, he may play basketball next year in Europe, where the court's decision would not apply. That's if Toronto doesn't make a deal with another NBA club after Boston's right to sign Ainge expires with the 1982 college draft.

"Right now, I just plan on coaching, waiting and keeping in shape and hope that something does work out between Boston and Toronto. If it doesn't, you know I still have Toronto's $300,000 that I don't plan on giving back if they don't let me out of the contract," Ainge said.

Toronto president Peter Bavasi said after the trial he didn't expect to make a deal with any NBA club until he is convinced Ainge is serious about retiring from baseball.

When he chose baseball over basketball last year, Ainge said he did so because - all things being equal - the major league schedule was less strenuous and the style of play less physically demanding.

"But everything is not equal. I was playing for a last-place Toronto Blue Jays team. I wasn't that successful (hitting .187). Those things I said were better in baseball I still believe are better in baseball, but my heart is in basketball . . . where I think I could become more successful right away and in the long run," Ainge said.

Despite his anemic batting average over five years of professional baseball, Ainge believes his plate performance would improve with spring training, most of which he missed because of basketball at BYU.

When asked what he thought he was capable of hitting, Ainge replied, "I don't want to embarrass myself because I think I have a higher expectation of myself than anyone. So I'd rather not say."

Ainge's basketball talents are less questionable. BYU basketball coach Frank Arnold says Ainge, who averaged 24.4 points per game last season and was phenomenal in the NCAA playoffs, would fit in beautifully with the Celtics. "He has an innate instinct about the game," Arnold said.

Boston wants Ainge to be "their playmaking guard, which I think he can handle from the mentality standpoint as good as or better than most anybody," Arnold said. "But from the standpoint of ball handling and passing, I don't think that's Danny's best suit."

Auerbach was asked about Arnold's assessment. "All I can tell you is this: We like him as a player. That's all that counts. He's a heckuva nice kid. He fits into the Celtic image, the Celtic mold, and we like him."

Ainge is trying to remain positive about his sojourn in limbo.

"I think the only time I think about it is each day when I'm working out, when I'm running and trying to get myself in shape. But it's not to the point where I'm getting discouraged," Ainge said.

What about a month from now, when the NBA season is well under way and he's still coaching? "Maybe. I don't know. I think I've prepared myself for the worst so I think I'll be able to handle whatever happens."

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