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The remarkable run of Danny Ainge

Former BYU star joined Celtics’ front office in 2003 following stellar career as an NBA player and coach

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Boston Celtics basketball general manager Danny Ainge laughs during a news conference, Monday, June 24, 2019, in Boston.

Boston Celtics basketball general manager Danny Ainge laughs during a news conference, Monday, June 24, 2019, in Boston, to introduce the team’s 2019 draft players. On Wednesday, Ainge resigned from his post with the Celltics.

Elise Amendola, Associated Press

The story goes that when the Boston Celtics were looking for a president of basketball operations in 2003, Red Auerbach, the legendary coach and team executive, offered this advice to the team owners: “Go with Danny Ainge. He’s just lucky.”

Like Forrest Gump, Ainge seemed to be in the right place at the right time and/or things just seemed to happen around him.

First-team high school All-American in three sports. The college player of the year award. The magical coast-to-coast layup to beat Notre Dame in the Sweet 16. The switch to a Major League Baseball career. The switch to the NBA and landing on the most storied franchise in sports. Falling backward onto a team loaded with future Hall of Famers, most notably Larry Bird. Winning two NBA championships. Serving as a head coach for three successful seasons.

The Celtics took Auerbach’s advice. They made him general manager. He built a team that won the franchise’s 17th title, but the only one in the last 35 years.

This week Ainge announced he is stepping down as general manager of the Celtics, a post he has held for 18 years, which followed three-plus years as an NBA head coach, which followed 14 years as an NBA player.

BYU’s Danny Ainge drives past Notre Dame’s John Paxson in NCAA Sweet 16 game in Atlanta, March 20, 1981.

BYU’s Danny Ainge drives past Notre Dame’s John Paxson in NCAA Sweet 16 game in Atlanta, March 20, 1981. Later in the game, as the seconds on the clock wound down, Ainge went coast to coast to score, delivering the Cougars to the Elite Eight.

Associated Press

Who knows if this is the last we’ll see of the 62-year-old Ainge in the NBA — he could wind up accepting a front-office position somewhere (with the Utah Jazz?) — but if it is the end, if his 40 years in the NBA are finished, if a half-century of competitive sports is over, then what a run it was.

Referring to Auerbach’s comment about Ainge’s luck, owner Wyc Grousbeck told The Ringer in 2016, “That’s a high compliment from Red. Sometimes things just happen, other times you make your own luck.”

Somewhere in the mix there was talent. How many other athletes can claim All-American honors in three sports? None. Ainge starred in football, basketball and baseball.

The magical ride was just starting. As a senior at BYU, Ainge was the college basketball Player of the Year. He scored 2,467 points while playing in an era without the 3-point shot. During the school break each summer, he played minor league baseball.

Then he turned up at second and third base in the Major Leagues in a much-publicized switch to another sport. He played three seasons for the Toronto Blue Jays.

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Boston Celtics guard Danny Ainge (44) and guard Dennis Johnson battles Los Angeles Lakers guard Byron Scott for control of the ball during NBA Championship series play on Thursday June 7, 1985 at the Forum in Inglewood.

Steve Dykes, Associated Press

Then he changed his mind and decided to join the NBA. The Celtics and Auerbach thought so highly of Ainge’s talent (and luck?) that they were willing to wage a legal battle that enabled them to buy out Ainge’s baseball contract.

He averaged a modest 11.5 points per game during his NBA career, but that was because he played eight years for Celtics teams that were loaded with Hall of Famers. He averaged 20.3 points and 6.7 assists per game when he played for the Kings in 1988-89 and 17.9/6.0 the following season. He scored 45 points in a game twice, once while still with the Celtics. He also made an NBA-record 148 3-point shots while with the Celtics, smashing the previous record of 92, and was always among the NBA’s most accurate free-throw shooters.

He played two seasons for the Trail Blazers and three years for the Suns, and played in two more NBA Finals, both against Michael Jordan’s Bulls, coming within one win both times of collecting two more NBA titles.

There might never have been an athlete with Ainge’s range of skills (he also sported a 5 handicap on the golf course at one time).

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Former Boston Celtic and head coach for the Phoenix Suns Danny Ainge shouts instructions to members of his team during game between the Suns and Celtics in Boston Sunday, Jan. 5, 1997.

Steven Senne, Associated Press

He became an assistant coach when he retired as a player. In 1996, after Cotton Fitzsimmons quit as head coach of the Phoenix Suns following an 0-8 start, Ainge was hired as his replacement and took the team to the playoffs that season and the next two seasons before he suddenly resigned early in his fourth season to spend more time with his family (“My wife has just one husband and my children have just one father. Some of you may think I’m jumping ship. I don’t believe I’m jumping ship. I’m diving overboard to save my family.”)

Ainge offered similar reasons this week when he explained why he was resigning as the Celtics GM. Per NBA.com, Ainge said he began reconsidering his future after having a heart attack two years ago — “You’re surrounded by your six children in the hospital and they say, ‘Hey, you need to stop doing this,’” he said. “I don’t know what my future holds. I don’t have any plans … “

Time will tell if he can stay away from the game this time, but no matter what happens he has had a remarkable run.