Ainge, the headliner at the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame's 20th annual induction ceremony, used humor and humility Saturday night among one of the hall's best classes in years.
Ainge, poking fun at his .220 average with the Toronto Blue Jays before beginning his 14-year NBA career, acknowledged the accomplishments of fellow enshrinee Jack Dunn, a longtime Portland State baseball coach who influenced the career of Dale Murphy and other major leaguers.
"I wish I could have met you about 20 years earlier," Ainge said. "Maybe I wouldn't have swung at all those split-finger fastballs off the outside corner."
Others inducted were former Portland Trail Blazers play-by-play announcer Bill Schonely, boxer Tom Moyer, Masters athlete Robert "Mac" MacTarnahan, American Indian athlete Reuben "Rube" Sanders, the 1948-49 Oregon State basketball team and former Portland parks director Dorothea Lensch.
The event, held for the first time at the plush Portland Center for the Performing Arts, was a homecoming of sorts for Ainge, who led North Eugene High School to state basketball titles in 1976 and 1977, but angered many fans in the state when he chose Brigham Young University over Oregon and Oregon State.
"When someone asks me who my favorite athlete of all-time is, I have an Oregon bias. My favorite athlete was Steve Prefontaine," Ainge said, nodding to the late distance runner's parents in the audience.
Ainge's sentimental speech was a highlight of the 2-hour-plus ceremony, but former Celtics teammate and Blazers great Bill Walton nearly stole the show. Mocking his own over-the-top broadcasting style, Walton introduced with a hyperbole-filled speech, as Schonely stood nearby shaking his head and checking his watch.
Walton also took ribbing from Cliff Crandall, the Oregon State All-American who led the Beavers to the 1949 NCAA Final Four. Crandall recalled how his team beat Walton's UCLA coach, John Wooden, three out of four games that season, Wooden's first with the Bruins.
"You may find this hard to believe, Bill, but there was a time when John Wooden's teams weren't unbeatable," Crandall said.
Schonely, who called 2,506 Blazer games between 1970 and 1998, was emotional as be became the first broadcaster among the nearly 300 people enshrined in the Hall.
"Why me?" he asked. "I'm not an athlete. I didn't perform on any court or field. I just describe. I'm a broadcaster who tried to tell the story of whatever event I was assigned to describe. I just tried to do my job."
Another touching moment was Sanders' son Robert and grandson Gary talking about Sanders' long-overdue induction. Sanders, who played football from 1895-1917 and later coached at the Chemawa Indian School in Salem, was regarded as nearly as fine an American Indian athlete as Jim Thorpe - better, according to his family.
"Maybe Jim was a close second," Gary Sanders said. "This is a well-deserved dream come true."
The most lighthearted speech was that of MacTarnahan, a seemingly ageless athlete who has won more than 50 Masters gold medals. MacTarnahan, who has a beer named after him in Portland, came dressed in full Scottish regalia, with a bagpipe player preceding his walk to the podium.
MacTarnahan talked about running on a treadmill recently intending to run a 9-minute mile, but setting the computer for a 6-minute pace. Comparing the machine to a "belt sander," he raised his kilt to reveal bandaged raspberries on both knees.
"Stay in there and work out," Sanders said. "That's the name of the game."