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Why did Danny Ainge join the Utah Jazz and return to the NBA?

After retiring from his position with the Boston Celtics it sounded like Ainge was done with the NBA, but now he’s back

Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith looks at Danny Ainge
Danny Ainge, left, and Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith, speak about Ainge’s new role as CEO of Utah Jazz Basketball at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Back in June, when Danny Ainge stepped down from his post with the Boston Celtics he said that it was a move he’d been thinking about for a couple of years, since he’d suffered his second heart attack.

“I started thinking about what I was doing with my life,” Ainge said at the time. “When you’re surrounded by your six children in the hospital and they tell you that you need to quit doing this, that’s when I started thinking about it. The last two years were tough, with the bubble, COVID protocols, it hasn’t been as much fun.”

At the time he was unsure what the future would hold, but seemed pretty sure that it wouldn’t be as a lead executive. Over the summer, he said he already knew that Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith was interested in bringing him on board, but that he wasn’t ready.

That changed in recent weeks though, and once the two started talking about details of the job and expectations, they started to really iron things out on a deal. The result was Wednesday’s announcement that Ainge was the new CEO of Utah Jazz basketball and alternate governor for the Jazz.

“I got the sense that Ryan was wanting me to come on board at some point later in the summer, but we really didn’t talk much about it,” Ainge said at his introductory press conference. “I think he knew that I was not in the mindset of doing that. I really wanted — I needed — time away.”

Ainge had explored other opportunities over the last few months, including those outside of the basketball world, but he started to feel something pulling him back toward the NBA. His friendship with Smith and familiarity with Utah certainly made things easier. But Ainge didn’t know that he was going to eventually be taking on such a large role.

“I needed a break from Boston,” Ainge said. “There was a possibility that I would step away forever. My wife and I had discussed that many times.”

While being away from the game, Ainge said that he would watch games — that he’s watched every one of the Jazz’s games this season, in fact — but that he missed the interaction and the collaboration of being close to the game. That feeling of needing to be away was subsiding.

“I’m excited about it now,” Ainge said. “Probably wouldn’t have been excited about it months ago but now I’m anxious to get back at it. Just being around the team today, my juices are flowing. I’m ready to go.”

Ainge still cherishes the time he spent with the Celtics and said that his time with that team as a player and as an executive were the thrill of a lifetime. But now that he’s with the Utah Jazz, he’s hoping he can make new memories and be part of the Jazz building toward something just as thrilling.