Danny Ainge has fashioned one of the most successful careers in the annals of sports, and his legacy still has a few chapters yet to be written. Currently, he is the President of Basketball Operations for the Boston Celtics, a promotion he received in 2008 after the team won its 17th World Championship. He was also named the NBA Executive of the Year. Ainge, now 54, is best known, of course, as the Celtics star guard who, in 1981, joined Larry Bird and an All-Star cast, went to the finals four times, and won the last two Celtics World Championships in 1984 and 1986 before the 2008 victory.
After the Celtics, Ainge played for the Sacramento Kings, the Portland Trail Blazers, and the Phoenix Suns before retiring in 1995, but he returned to the Suns as head coach for three years, 1996-1999. He entered the Celtics front office in 1993. Ainge will always be remembered for his unrelenting, in-your-face defense and his deft, nothing-but-net three pointers.
Ainge is also well known for his basketball prowess at BYU where he won the John Wooden and Eastman awards in his senior year as the nation’s best college basketball player. Not as readily remembered is that Ainge played second base for the Toronto Blue Jays for three summers while at BYU before opting for the NBA.
A native of Eugene, Oregon, Ainge began his impressive sports accomplishments at North Eugene HS, where he was named a high-school first-team All-American in football, basketball, and baseball, the only athlete in the nation to this date to be so honored. Danny Ainge and his wife Michelle live in Wellesley and have six children and 11 grandchildren. I met Ainge at the Deutsche Bank Championship Pro-Am where he was playing with Jordan Spieth, new Celtics Coach Brad Stevens, team co-owner Steve Pagliuca, and former host of the DBC, Seth Waugh.
NEGM: Did you enjoy the Pro-Am?
DA: Yes, a great day, especially playing with Jordan, such an up-and-coming star. What a great ball striker! Coach Stevens, Steve, and I had our moments, too, and it was a pleasure to play with Seth Waugh, an excellent golfer.
NEGM: How did you get into golf?
DA: I became serious about the game at 16 when I started caddying at the Eugene CC. I received my first real golf lesson there—from Peter Jacobsen, then an All-American at the nearby U of Oregon. He gave me tips that I have remembered and utilize to this day, and he got me excited about the game. I have been a golf fanatic ever since, and Peter and I later played together a number of times.
NEGM: Where do you play most of your golf now? Evaluate your game. New England golf courses that you like?
DA: I am a member of Wellesley CC, but I don’t get to play there as often as I would like because of my busy schedule and frequent travel. I now have a 4.0 GHIN Index, and over the last 25 years, it has fluctuated from 0 to 5. I like to think that one of my strengths is my driver, which I usually hit straight and about 270 yards. I hit my irons well enough, hitting my 5-iron around 195 yards. Other strengths are my scrambling ability and short game. A few of my favorite courses are Boston Golf Club, the Country Club, Kittansett, Old Sandwich, Newport CC, and Turner Hill.
NEGM: Besides Jake and Spieth, name some other golf professionals and celebrities that have been fun to play with.
DA: Billy Casper, Phil Mickelson, Johnny Miller and his sons Andy, Scott, and Todd, and Mike “Radar” Reid. I also played a lot of golf with teammates Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Rick Robey. I still say in touch with Larry and Kevin. I played often with Michael Jordan, sometimes in Boston and sometimes in Chicago. I played frequently with Phoenix teammates Dan Majerle and Charles Barkley. Believe it or not, Charles was a mid-80’s player in those days and swung without a hitch.
NEGM: Who would you include in your Dream Foursome of today? Of any time period?
DA: Phil Mickelson, Johnny Miller, and Jack Nicklaus. Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Lee Trevino, and Arnold Palmer.
NEGM: With what charities are you involved?
DA: I am involved in a number of charities, but there are two in particular. The Forever Young Foundation of former 49’er QB Steve Young, which focuses on serving youth through sports, education, and technology. And the Shamrock Foundation of the Boston Celtics, a multifaceted program that directly benefits children in need.
NEGM: Your 1985-86 World Championship year is arguably the best Celtics team (67-15) ever. What will you always remember about it?
DA: The unwavering belief that we had in each other. Larry Bird and Kevin McHale were at the very peak of their games. Dennis Johnson and Robert Parish played with All-Star intensity. The bench additions of Bill Walton and Scott Wedman, and with me just coming into my own peak, all these components served to make us confident in our ability to win. We knew how good we were.
NEGM: From your playing days, what non-Celtics would be your All-Star starting five?
DA: Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Isiah Thomas, and Dominique Wilkins.
NEGM: That 2007-08 Championship season (66-16) was also a remarkable team that you put together. What will you always remember about it?
DA: I remember how exciting that year was for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen. All three had been on lottery teams the year before [the Celtics went 24-58]. Paul told me after the 2007 season that the game was just not as much fun anymore. Getting “The Big Three” together on the same team was electrifying, and they all hit it off right from the start. To have everything fall into place and win the Championship was absolutely spectacular. For me, it was a more fulfilling feeling winning the World Championship as an executive than as a player. As a player, you are really happy, but, basically, you are most aware of how it affects you as an individual. As an executive, the Championship was more gratifying for me because I could see how it greatly affected the many other people who had contributed to the team’s success—the fans, the front office, marketing, ticket sales, concessions, media, etc. I could see how much joy that Championship brought to so many.
NEGM: With the 2013-14 Celtics new coach and new look, what can we Celtic fans expect to see on the parquet floor?
DA: I think the fans will watch a young, athletic team play with a lot of passion. A team that will play together, play hard, and surprise a lot of folks. I’m excited about this season and looking forward to it.