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Dick Harmon: Turnaround season a surprise even to Danny Ainge's dad

Published: Friday, May 16 2008 12:03 a.m. MDT

Don Ainge always knew his son Danny had athletic talent, a knack for achieving extraordinary things on the court and field, but in his wildest dreams he never envisioned his son would one day be honored as the NBA Executive of the Year.

"Something like that never entered my mind.

How could it?" said Don Ainge, who now lives in San Jose.

"When he was a little tyke, we just hoped he'd be able to get through school and be a good citizen. We knew he was a good athlete."

The Sporting News this week named Danny Ainge, basketball operations and general manager of the Boston Celtics, as the NBA's Executive of the Year, an honor voted on by his peers in the league. He received 18 of the 47 votes cast, edging L.A. Lakers general manager, Mitch Kupchak (14 votes) and New Orleans Hornets general manager Jeff Bower (12).

Don has watched his son earn high school All-American honors on the same team (1977) as Magic Johnson, witnessed his son earn the John Wooden Player of the Year Award in college basketball and enjoyed seeing his son play and coach in the NBA.

"But the thing I'm most proud of is that he's become a great father, husband, and his daughter just gave birth to his sixth grandchild just before Game 5 when the honor came out and he was a little conflicted over the entire thing," said Don.

Coupled with the Celtics' battle with Cleveland in the playoffs, the honor is on the back burner for Danny Ainge right now, said his father.

Still, stacking up all the criticism his son has received in Boston the past three years for drafts, trades and acquisitions, the father said the NBA executive honor does kind of deliver a big-time satisfactory redemption to him and his family.

"I know pride can be a bad thing," said Don, "But I am very proud and pleased for him because he's had to go through the refiner's fire in Boston for years. For years, he was a bum. Sports Illustrated and others called him stupid for getting all these young players. But what they forget is of the 19 players he evaluated and drafted, 18 of them are still playing in the NBA and two of them helped win that last game."

His father commented that accomplishments after your playing days seem almost more wonderful that those you get on the court. "He works hard. As a player, he was away from the family 24-7 and he got out of playing and coaching because of it. This is a job he really didn't want to take, but they convinced him to take it, and I think it was the right move for him.

"That this honor came from his peers in the business — really says it all."

Ainge is the second member of the Celtics to receive the Executive of the Year Award since its inception in the 1972-73 season. Legendary Red Auerbach received the honor in 1980.

Praise for Ainge has echoed around the NBA this week.

"He orchestrated a stunning and record-setting turnaround of a struggling team with two great trades and various other roster acquisitions," said Bryan Colangelo, president and general manager of the Toronto Raptors and the 2007 Executive of the Year.

Pat Williams, senior vice president of the Orlando Magic, added, "Ainge was the architect of the most dramatic NBA turnaround ever."

Since last off-season, Ainge acquired Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and rookie Glen Davis via trade and also signed free agents James Posey, P.J. Brown, Sam Cassell and Eddie House. Boston won an NBA-best 66 games during the regular season and had the largest turnaround (42 games) in league history from one season to the next.

Don Ainge said he and his mother always wanted Danny to have balance in his life. "It turned out the balance was football, basketball, baseball, track, golf and tennis. But he's done a fantastic job with his family."

One son, Austin, is an assistant basketball coach at SUU. Another son, Tanner, is a businessman in Salt Lake City and speaks five languages including Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese.

Maybe his biggest accomplishment, said the father, not intending to pour on too much saccharin, was marrying Michelle Toolson while in college at BYU.

"We all marry up, but she's been amazing. She has supported him at every turn and in everything he's done. She pulled up and moved from Arizona to Boston after they'd pretty well settled down. She has been an outstanding wife and mother to his children and I don't know if he could have succeeded if it were not for her."

Danny Ainge, age 49, a man still on top of his game.


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com

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