Although it’s been 40 years since Danny Ainge had real direct ties to basketball in the state of Utah as a star at BYU, he has remained a notable figure in the Beehive State hoops conversation, for better or worse.
Now Ainge will once again have a large influence in Utah, as he was named on Wednesday as the alternate governor and CEO of the Utah Jazz.
Here’s a look back at Ainge’s basketball history in Utah.
1977-1981: A native of Eugene, Oregon, Ainge starred at BYU in Provo in the late 1970s-early 1980s. As a senior in 1981, Ainge won the Wooden Award, which is given to the nation’s best player (Ainge also played Major League Baseball from 1979-1981).
1981: Made what is still considered one of the most memorable plays in NCAA Tournament history when he took the ball coast to coast for a layup to beat Notre Dame in the Sweet 16. It marked the last time the Cougars made it to the Elite Eight (where they lost to Virginia).
“I wasn’t that worried. If they were pressing us, we were simply going to give Danny the ball and say, ‘Do your thing.’ Great coaching, huh?,’” then-BYU head coach Frank Arnold told Sports Illustrated.
Ainge told the Deseret News in 2002, ““I feel like we underachieved that season. We should have beaten Virginia. I’m still mad we didn’t beat them. We were a Final Four-quality team.”
1992: As a member of the Portland Trail Blazers, helped beat the Jazz in the Western Conference Finals before falling to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals.
2003: Ainge’s BYU No. 22 was the first number retired by the program.
2017: The longtime executive basketball decision-maker of the Boston Celtics (he had joined the front office in 2003) was a central figure in the dramatic departure of Jazz All-Star Gordon Hayward to the Celtics in free agency. The way in which the deal transpired on July 4 left a very sour feeling among many Jazz fans toward Hayward, as well as toward Ainge to some extent after Utah and Boston could not agree to a sign-and-trade deal, which would have gotten the Jazz at least something back in return for losing Hayward.
Dec. 15, 2021: Named CEO of the Jazz after stepping down from his role with the Celtics in June. Although Ainge has titles that no one has ever held with the Jazz, there was a logical opening in the front office when former Jazz executive vice president of basketball operations Dennis Lindsey stepped down a few weeks after Ainge left the Celtics.