The Ainge Reputation

Danny Ainge didn't even turn too many heads as a Toronto Blue Jays infielder, and when he was pried away to join the Boston Celtics in 1981, he simply became just another player sitting on the end of the bench.

Then, on Aug. 24, 1983, the image was shaped. The nastiest guy in the NBA, some said. The guy you most like to hate. The guy who will stop at nothing. It was a Sunday afternoon, the Celtics were hosting the tough Atlanta Hawks at Boston Garden when Ainge received an elbow from seven-footer Tree Rollins. Ainge, a scrapper from way back, laid the smackdown on Rollins, wrestling him to the ground. Under a pile of players, Rollins bit one of Ainge's fingers, opening up a six-stitch gash.

Ainge's life was never the same. From that point on, while most of the free world mistakenly assumed that it was Ainge who bit Rollins, the 6-5 Celtics guard was a marked man. He was suddenly scrutinized and vilified. He was the guy who'd stop at nothing. Yet he was still a second-stringer on a very good team.

Ainge is viewed as a guy who'll stop at nothing to succeed in his new job. It's an attitude borne out of his early days in the NBA. Ainge wouldn't back down from anybody in those days, and to make a mark on a team that featured the Big Three, he had to lay on the hustle and the desire that he did as a youngster getting pushed around by older brothers Doug and David. A week after the Rollins incident Ainge caught up to a breaking Sidney Moncrief of the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference playoffs, unintentionally decking him. It nearly created an international incident. Bucks coach Don Nelson went on to call the Celts guard a "cheap-shot artist, a dangerous player who could cause serious injury."

He got involved in well-publicized scrapes with New York's Darrell Walker and Philadelphia's Sedale Threatt and Maurice Cheeks. After Ainge caught Cheeks from behind, fouling him hard, Cheeks said, "C'mon Danny, you do that all the time." "I do it to my brothers every time, too," Ainge said. "I'd do it to my wife if she were going for a layup."

If the fans didn't respect him, certainly most of his opponents did. Said Hawks assistant coach Willis Reed: "He's the type of guy that nobody likes but everyone wants on his team." Former Lakers coach Pat Riley: "He's an effort player. If you don't play him with effort yourself, he'll kill you. He's the prototype of work ethic. If you don't come ready to play he'll make a monkey out of you." Former Lakers guard Michael Cooper: "He's like one of those gnats you hear buzzing around when you're on the front porch."

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