When he took three in a row last season and didn't make at least two, he got yanked. Despite Boston's title, Ainge suffered. He had been a starter, though rarely a finisher, under coach Bill Fitch in 1982-83, his first full NBA season. But his average minutes per game fell from 26 to 16 in '83-84, and during one stretch he watched Jones use forward Scott Wedman and even Bird in the backcourt. After two dispiriting outings in Los Angeles and Phoenix, Ainge resolved to devote the summer to improving his game.
He plunked down $1,500 of his own money, most of it for an insurance premium, and signed on to play in the Southern California Summer Pro League. Then he moved on to a pro-am league in Salt Lake City. In each, Ainge averaged roughly 25 points, 10 assists and, most important, 40 minutes a game. For the first time since fifth grade, he had been able to give himself to a sport during its off-season. When he was growing up in Eugene, Ore., his football, basketball and baseball seasons segued into one another. At BYU, basketball or academics kept him so busy he usually missed spring training. And a bad shoulder curtailed his summertime play after his first two NBA seasons.
No one came to the Celtics' camp last fall in better shape than Ainge. During the preseason one of the incumbent starting guards, Gerald Henderson, was holding out, and Ainge played well. When the Seattle SuperSonics offered a No. 1 draft pick for Henderson, it was too good for the Celtics to pass up. "It was like the two-quarterback situation in Dallas," Jones says. "Once we made the deal, I said nothing to Danny. He just continued to play as he had been."
Ainge exceeded Henderson's 1983-84 stats in scoring, rebounding, field-goal and free-throw percentage, steals and assists, although it must be said that he averaged 7.5 more minutes a game than Henderson had. But Ainge committed fewer turnovers despite logging that extra time. What's more, Ainge can now shoot without worrying about missing a few in a row. "Sometimes Danny's own worst enemy is himself," McHale says. Adds Kite, "He's definitely a guy who needs to be able to shoot his way out of a slump. I remember a game during his senior year with North Texas State. We were behind 13 at the half, and he'd shot something like 1 for 10. He came out in the second half and went 13 for 15."
As a Celtic, he is not expected to shoot like that. His role is scratching and clawing and clutching and grabbing, the sort of thing he did against Maurice Cheeks during one play in Game 5 of the Philadelphia series. The Sixers' guard had broken ahead of the field for a layup when Ainge ran him down and wrapped him up in a hug.
"C'mon, Danny, you do that every time," Cheeks said, shaking his head as he toed the free-throw line.
"I do it to my brothers every time, Maurice," Ainge replied, referring to pickup games with his siblings, Doug and David. "I'd do it to my wife if she were going in for a layup."
There it is. That's his style, and by golly, he is gonna follow it, no matter how many enemies it makes him. Will no one point out that Ainge amiably agreed to pose for that pie-in-the-face magazine cover? Or that he jokes about checking into a Wailers Anonymous clinic for rehabilitation? Emotionalism is a disease for which there is no cure. Or that while most of us try to keep our emotional flare-ups under control, Ainge flaunts his in the playoffs, on national TV, right out in the open, for everyone to see and so many to seethe at.
So go ahead, make faces at Danny Ainge. But he'll keep making them right back at you.