1981-82 Boston Celtics
He fidgeted. He sat on the stage for a while, his legs hanging over the edge, that expectant "me-coach?" look of the benchwarmer on his face, but when the call never came, Danny Ainge fidgeted.
He jumped off the stage. He walked to the corner of the Hellenic College gym. He stood on a little wooden platform for a while. He stepped off the platform. He went back to the stage. He fidgeted.
For the first time in a long, long while, basketball was being played in front of his eyes and nobody was giving him the hurry-up call. Nobody was shouting "Ainge is on our team." Nobody seemed to notice him. Nobody seemed to care. He was the newcomer to the neighborhood.
He was on the job for the first day, playing basketball for money in the National Basketball Assn. He was working for the Boston Celtics yesterday morning.
"Why isn't anyone paying any attention to him?" forward Kevin McHale was asked. "Why does he seem so alone?"
"Nobody knows him," McHale replied. "When a new guy moves onto the block, do you run over with milk and cookies? I don't know him from Tom, Dick or Harry.
"It's the same with everybody. I came here late, too. My first day, I played basketball, took a shower and went home to rest. I didn't know anyone either."
The future may be grand for Danny Ainge. He may be (pick one) the new Jerry West or Doug Collins or Hell On Wheels. He may not. Whatever happens, the future is the future and the present is the present. He will have to flounder for a while.
The Celtics are a bus on the move. They were turning a corner from back- to-back games yesterday, practicing about 13 hours after Larry Bird's sideline jumper dumped the Detroit Pistons, 115-114. They will play the Philadelphia 76ers tonight in a rematch of all those theatrics in the spring that ended with another flag for the Garden roof. Danny Ainge will have to run a bit to reach the Celtics' speed.
"He's got a long way to go," coach Bill Fitch said. "Regardless of your credentials, you can't just step in here in one day and play with All- Americas. Nobody can. For his first five or six or seven days, everybody said, Larry Bird can't pass the ball the way we thought he could.' It's the same for everyone. It takes time."
"How's his defense?" someone asked.
"Right now his defense is a lot like Cedric Maxwell's defense was when he came here," Fitch said. "Not much at all."
Even during the warmup drills, Ainge was learning. He was the new Rockette in the line. He didn't know exactly what to do. His eyes always were on what way the rest of the people were going, which toe they were touching, which way to move in the middle of the three-man fast break. He usually was a half-beat behind, the slow man in Simon Says.
"Hey, don't look at Larry," Maxwell shouted at Ainge during stretching exercises. "He's a bad influence."
When the five-on-five basketball arrived, the new man sat. He sat on the stage for the half-court drills. He fidgeted on the floor during the scrimmage. He sat. When the television set was dragged to a corner of the gym and Dick Stockton's voice described the last meeting with the Sixers to the sitting Celtics on the gym floor, Ainge stood. The rest of the team was in this campfire circle around the screen, exploring the places where Andrew Toney likes to take a jump shot. Danny Ainge was on the side.
"I'm not part of this," was his thinking. "The rest of the team is perparing to play Philadelphia. I'm just preparing to play basketball."
His time came during the traditional scrub time. Most of the starters were gone, into the shower. Bird was gone. Robert Parish was gone. McHale was eating doughnuts. Maxwell was talking into microphones. Ainge now was able to play.
He and M.L. Carr, who is returning from a broken leg, worked against rookies Tracy Jackson and Charles Bradley. Two-on-two. Ainge guarded Jackson. The games were physical, Jackson and Ainge bumping and pushing, going hard. Jackson flew past a few times. Jackson's team won five of five games.
"I just don't want Danny to think this is terminal," Bill Fitch said afterward. "This was just a good eye-opener for him. He's been shoved around by the little guys. Now he can be shoved around by the big guys."
Fitch said his target date for Ainge to be a member of the team still was Dec. 9, next Wednesday against the New Jersey Nets at the Garden. There still is a lot of work to do, plus some moves to be made. Someone asked what those moves might be.
"Do you like to eat worms?" Fitch replied.
"No," the guy said.
"Then don't open up a can of 'em in front of me."
Danny Ainge dribbled in the background as the words were spoken. He was all alone, dribbling from one end to the other and taking shots. The court was his. The future had begun with the usual shaky first steps in the present.
The new guy was on the clock.
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