August 26, 1982
Remember when he showed up here to play for the Celtics, looking like a kid who had spent the winter locked in a closet with no one slipping him food under the door?
And remember the times when he got to play and never became what you were led to believe he was, or prayed he would suddenly become, because you felt so bad about the way he was struggling?
Danny Ainge remembers. Or, better still, make that remembered.
The new Danny Ainge, tanned, healthy looking, sporting a mus tache, says he has washed last year right out of his mind, a year that was the most painful of his sporting life.
"When the season was over I was really disappointed," said Ainge. "I just wanted to go away and forget about everything. I just wanted to have some time to clear my head." So Danny Ainge packed up the wife and family and headed back to Utah and Brigham Young University where he first made a name for himself.
Through the late spring and early summer he was not very social. He didn't even have the phone put back in his apartment. The only people he wanted to be near were his family and closest friends.
"My wife and I did a lot of talking," says Ainge. "We went over things and tried to sort them out. It was a very disappointing and frustrating year in terms of what I had hoped to accomplish."
Since his father started him in sports at the age of Danny Ainge had always been upwardly mobile. He was drafted as a baseball player by the Toronto Blue Jays while he was in high school and already had three years in the big leagues when the Celtics drafted him for basketball.
The story of how he had to go through court and a mass of hell before getting his release from the Blue Jays last year is well known.
"This is the first summer in a long time I wasn't playing baseball," says Ainge. "I didn't think I would miss it, but once in a while I did when I watched a game on TV. What I thought about most was the last year and how bad it was for me.
"To that point, I felt good about what I had done in Toronto. Then the way I played last year left people thinking that I couldn't have made it in big league baseball anyway. I don't feel like that. I feel I could have. But now I don't have any way of changing their minds."
Instead, he will attempt to change the minds of those who question whether he can be an outstanding player in the NBA. "I had three years in baseball, and one in basketball, but I've never had a training camp.
"That's why I am looking forward to camp this year. I feel it will make a world of difference in me. I think that if I had been in training camp a year ago, things would have been different."
Last year he arrived with the season in progress and could never quite catch up. He had a sore arm coming out of the baseball season, nursed it while waiting to get his release to go with the Celtics, and was behind in his shooting when he arrived.
"It took me some time to start to get into the flow of things. I didn't know what to expect from the players after all the things that had happened. But they were great to me. They helped me in practice. They included me in their plans off the court, like going to dinner and things like that."
However, on the court it wasn't quite as smooth as it had been in high school or college. The ball simply wouldn't fall in the hole the way it had before. "There were only a few times I got to play where I felt it was all going, where I was just playing naturally and not thinking about everything I did.
"I was confused most of the time. I would have done better if I had just been an off-guard, where you can sort of float free and don't have all of the responsibility of being a point guard. At point guard, you've got the ball, you have to move it up court, you have to call the play, you have to be concerned with everything happening on the court.
"The way you shoot is different, too. At point guard, you penetrate and shoot, or you have to develop your shots with the ball. At off-guard, you know when you are supposed to shoot, and when you're not supposed to. I never really could quite determine that . . . when I was supposed to shoot and when I wasn't."
So Danny Ainge got smart. He went home, didn't pick up a baseball or basketball for two months. For the first summer he could remember, he could actually rest. He would stop the world and get off, waiting long enough to sort out his future.
"I waited to a point where I really wanted to play again. I wanted to go into this season really excited. I think I will. I feel like I will get every opportunity to win a starting job. I'll be disappointed if I do not do well enough to play a lot more minutes and make a contribution."
During the season, Ainge had hoped for the day that Bill Fitch would walk over and tell him that he was going to be in the starting lineup for the next 15 games and play the right number of minutes, no matter what happened.
But that can't happen on a team that is competing for a championshhip - when every game in the race against Philly is important. Ainge then might have been better off with a team at the bottom of the standings which would have kept him on the floor.
"I don't feel that way. I'd rather be with a winner than a loser. I wouldn't change my first year with the Celtics for anything. I felt lucky to be with the club. People treated me great.
"I just wish I had played the way I am capable of playing."
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