Amateur basketball and professional baseball career
Talented in multiple sports, Ainge starred in high school on his football team and led North Eugene High School to back-to-back state basketball championships in 1976-77, earning all-state honors both years. He also was named to the 1977 Parade Magazine High School All-America team.
Ainge played basketball at Brigham Young University, and was selected in baseball's 1977 amateur draft by Toronto. He made it to the major leagues with the Blue Jays in 1979 while still in college, but amassed only modest numbers for the team for parts of three years. In 1981, after receiving the John R. Wooden Award as college basketball player of the year, Ainge was chosen in the 1981 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics, who had to buy out Ainge's contract from the Blue Jays after enduring a legal battle over the rights to it.
Not everything went well for Ainge in basketball at first. According to Larry Bird in his autobiography Drive, Celtics players used to make fun of Ainge's initial shooting percentage, some joking that his batting average of .220 was better than his shooting percentage on the basketball court. But Ainge became one of the important pieces of the team that won the NBA title in 1984 and 1986, and a major contributor of the mid to late 1980s Celtics teams.
In 1989, Ainge was traded to the Sacramento Kings for young center Joe Kleine, whom the Celtics saw as a possible substitute to the aging Robert Parish. Ainge quickly became weary of losing as the Kings could not make it to the playoffs and demanded a trade.
In 1990, Ainge was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers. Being a native of Oregon, he was considered a hometown favorite by Blazers fans. He helped the Blazers reach the 1992 NBA Finals, only to succumb to the Chicago Bulls in six games. He tied a record in this series: On June 5, he scored nine points in the extra period to tie an all-time NBA record for most points in an overtime during a finals game.
After the 1991-92 NBA season, Ainge became a free agent. He had stated in media interviews that he ideally wanted to stay in Portland, and would contact Blazers management before seriously entertaining offers from other teams. On July 1, 1992, however Ainge signed a contract with the Phoenix Suns on his first day of free agency. The news came as a surprise to the Blazers front office, as Ainge had not contacted them first and subsequently led him to fall out of favor with Blazers fans.
The Phoenix Suns were a team looking for a new identity. They inaugurated a new home (America West Arena), hired a new head coach (Paul Westphal) and a new superstar (Charles Barkley). The team also redesigned their logo and uniform when they signed free agent Ainge prior to the 1992-93 NBA season, figuring that his experience would help the team during the playoffs. Ainge responded by scoring 11.8 points per game as the Suns went 62-20 that year, only to lose to the Bulls in six games.
Ainge retired after the 1994-1995 season.
Post-basketball playing career
While a player with the Suns, Ainge opened a national chain of hat stores which he has since sold. He has volunteered his time at a number of charitable organizations and has held a number of jobs since retiring, including head coach of the Suns, broadcaster for TNT, and, since 2003, Executive Director of Basketball Operations for the Celtics. His resignation from the Suns coaching job was a sudden one; citing a need to spend more time with his family. He was replaced by Assistant Coach Scott Skiles.
Ainge has been controversial in his role as a Celtics executive, trading popular players such as 3-Time All-Star Antoine Walker and having personality conflicts with head coach Jim O'Brien that led to the departure of O'Brien to the Philadelphia 76ers (a job he would also depart from a year later). Walker later returned to the team, but was traded again. The Celtics have gotten younger but the Celtics have not improved in the win column. However, Ainge kept the support of former head coach Red Auerbach, who was employed by the team as a "senior assistant" until his death in October 2006, and the current ownership group.
- In an early 1990s episode of Married... with Children, light mockery was made at Ainge's expense: At a fictional All-Star basketball game attended by the Bundy family, the public announcer said Welcome to the game of the NBA stars and Danny Ainge!
- Danny Ainge is also discussed during the 1999 movie Mumford (film), where several of the characters are very impressed by him being both a professional basketball and baseball player, and one names her dog after him.
- Ainge, a second baseman with the Blue Jays, hit .220 in his baseball career, with 2 home runs. As a basketball player, on January 18, 1994 he became the second man ever to hit 900 three-point shots in NBA history (he made 1,002 three pointers for his career), and he scored 11,964 points for an average of 11.5 points per game, 2,768 rebounds for an average of 2.7, and 4,199 assists, a total of four per game.
Ainge and his wife, Michelle, currently make Wellesley, Massachusetts their home; they have six children. His son, Austin, currently plays basketball at BYU and was an Honorable Mention at the All-Mountain West Conference during the 2004-05 season. His nephew, Erik Ainge, is a rising athletic star as well who, as a junior, is the starting quarterback on the football team at the University of Tennessee.