Last December, Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge was in Salt Lake to catch a BYU game at EnergySolutions Arena. He stopped off in the press room prior to the Cougars' contest against nationally ranked Michigan State.
"How are my Utah media friends?" he said to a couple of writers he knew.
Pretty good, they said.
Maybe not as good as him, but let's be honest, who is?
That's pretty much been his story since the beginning. Just a few minor professional detours. How many people play two professional sports? (He spent three seasons in Major League Baseball and 14 years in the NBA.) How many get selected college player of the year?
Even so, when the inevitable subject of the Celtics rolled around, he was cautious, saying they hadn't done anything yet.
He knew the formula: Get the championship and everyone else will do the talking for you.
Ladies and gentleman, start your motor(mouth)s.
In a career of honors, Tuesday night had to rank among Ainge's best, even though he wasn't in uniform. His Celtics obliterated the Lakers, 131-92, to win the NBA championship. After executing some off-season hocus-pocus, he was back on top. In the process, the Celtics gained their first championship in 22 years.
Somewhere along the line, this Golden Boy thing started to be a habit.
So chalk another one up for the former BYU star's legacy.
Two NBA titles as a player, with Boston, of course. Six Finals appearances. He played in more playoff games (193) than all but two others. A few weeks ago he was named NBA Executive of the Year by The Sporting News.
In 1996, he was named a head coach in Phoenix after just eight games. He compiled a respectable 136-90 record, then resigned, saying he wanted to spend more time with family. He did commentating on TNT, but that wasn't enough competition.
Soon he was calling the shots in Boston's front office.
Ainge's latest moment was one of his most convincing. The Celtics didn't just beat the Lakers, they evacuated them. Ushered them out like wedding crashers. Punished them for having the temerity to even extend the series to six games.
Isn't that the way the Big Three of Bird, McHale and Parrish would have liked it?
By the way, you can now officially add "Big Three" to Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. They've been waiting on that. After acquiring Garnett and Allen in off-season deals, Ainge told anyone who would listen that they hadn't yet earned the title and wouldn't until they won a championship.
Good timing. After all, a year ago, even Ainge was losing his luster. Media were predicting he would soon be fired. But just as he did 27 years ago, when he took the ball court-length to give BYU a win over Notre Dame in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, he figured out a way to get to the rim. In the off-season he talked golfing pal and former teammate McHale, his counterpart in Minnesota, into trading Garnett for a bushel of unimportant players and future draft picks. A month earlier he had convinced Seattle to send former All-Star Allen to Boston in a trade that involved forward Wally Szczerbiak and guard Delonte West.
That was riskier than the Garnett deal, but probably as important.
In hindsight, the past year makes Ainge look like he pulled a shell game on everyone. Boston went from the second-worst record in the league (24-58) to the best this season (66-16).
Sure, he knew something that afternoon in Salt Lake. He just wasn't saying.
Now he can sit around for the summer and try not to be smug though heaven knows he has good reason.
As Garnett who got his first championship thanks to Ainge's trade howled on ABC-TV immediately after the game, "Anything's possible. Anything's possib-l-l-l-l-le!"But of course anyone who was around to see Ainge 27 years ago already knew that.
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