I’ve been gearing up lately for the start of the NBA season, mostly by watching the hand-picked greatest games of Larry Bird on a 2-disc DVD I bought for my dad a few Christmases ago. In all three games Bird does some amazing things, but it’s really not Bird that makes the games electric. He was a brilliant player, don’t get me wrong, and I was at one of the games on the DVD and he was amazing. But it’s the whole atmosphere that excites me: the Boston Garden; the old Hawks teams with Rivers, Wilkins, Willis, Webb, Antoine Carr and Randy Wittman; Tommy Heinsohn in the booth for CBS trying very hard to remain neutral in his commentary; and the other Celtics players and how despite them not having much of a bench after McHale, how good they were. Four out of the five starters on the 1985-6 Celtics are in the Hall of Fame (or should be) and the fifth player is none other than the weak-hitting third baseman for the Toronto Blue Jays, Danny Ainge.
So what if Red Auerbach had never gone to court and Ainge never ended up in a Celtics uniform? Who would’ve been the starting shooting guard for those classic Celtics teams? My guess is Auerbach would’ve somehow landed Ricky Pierce, Dale Ellis or Eddie Johnson (who was available when the Celts drafted at #23 in the 1981 draft).
No Ainge means no trade with the Kings at the end of the 1980s, and no trade with the Kings means no Ed Pinckney and no Joe Kleine, which means no frontcourt support for the ailing Bird, McHale and Parish. And no frontcourt support for the Big Three means having to rely on great draft-day decision making and orchestrating lopsided trades, both of which were not the Celtics’ strong suits at the time. So without Ainge (and not being able to determine who would’ve filled his spot), it’s fair to say that the Celtics would’ve fallen apart a lot faster than they actually did. And what does it say about the Celtics’ front office situation today? No Ainge just means more M.L. Carr, or worse, Rick Pitino.
So here’s to you, Danny Ainge. Thanks for a lifetime batting average that’s barely over the Mendoza Line. And all those timely three-pointers.