Sometimes, Danny Ainge's life seems full to the point of chaos.
He has gotten a base hit in Yankee Stadium and a three-point jump shot in Boston Garden.
He has knocked UCLA out of the NCAA tournament with 37 points, then come back the next night to dribble the ball end-to-end in the last five seconds to beat Notre Dame by a point with a basket at the buzzer.
He has signed a major league contract for half-a-million dollars, then, after accepting $300,000 of it as a bonus not to play pro basketball, he has escaped that contract, jumped leagues and signed for three times that much in the National Basketball Association.
He has been the central protagonist in a lawsuit between a major league team and the current NBA champions. The tug of war over him has caused a feud between former Toronto president Peter Bavasi and Boston Celtic President Red Auerbach. Bavasi, who has since left the organization, called the Celtics "a floozy and interloper in our (Blue Jay) family." When Toronto won a court decision, Bavasi taunted Auerbach by lighting up a Red-style victory cigar. "Yeah, but Bavasi lit it too soon," says Celtic Coach Bill Fitch. "Now, we've got the kid and Bavasi's in the soup line."
In recent days, a half-dozen NBA teams have cried foul, claiming the league never should have allowed him to sign with the rich-get-richer Celtics. "A lot of people in the league think he deceived them," says Dallas Coach Dick Motta. "At the time I talked to him, he strongly indicated that he was not interested in basketball, and I took him at his word."
"I don't think that's fair. I wasn't being deceitful," says Ainge. "I just changed my mind."
"Sour grapes is one thing, but when you question this kid's integrity, it makes me sick," says Fitch. "People change their minds more than they change their underwear. Even priests and nuns can walk away from their vows now and it's not a sin . . . We (Celtics) just had the good common sense to foresee that he might change his mind. We gambled on it and won."
Whenever Ainge is mentioned, there is intense debate.
Would he have been a big-league star if he had given himself half a chance?
Could he, as he has said, polish his golf game and do well on the PGA tour?
Is this 6-foot-5 consensus all-America, who scored 25 points a game for Brigham Young, destined to be the next great Celtic guard? Will he help turn them from a one-season champion into a dynasty like the Bostonians of old?
After all, Auerbach says, "He knows he can play in this league."
Fitch says, "He can do some of everything . . . he's an old-fashioned guard."
Even Chris Ford, 32, the veteran who may lose his starting job to the kid, says, "In time, he'll be capable of being the back court leader on a Celtic champion."
Or will he be remembered as the fellow who failed as lamely at basketball as he did at baseball, a sport he limped away from after hitting .187 in 1981?
So far, in 10 days in a Celtic uniform, Ainge has scored 33 points in 71 minutes -- completely inconclusive statistics. He seems confident, can shoot from long range and has court sense, a passing eye and poise. But he's skinny, and has trouble shooting in traffic or driving. He doesn't dominate opponents at either end yet. Despite his could-be-a-great-one pedigree, he may lack the NBA charisma to rise above being a competent third or fourth guard. "He must get stronger," says Auerbach. Is he more like John Havlicek or Larry Siegfried? Nobody knows.
This fellow has had a full life. He has gone the whole baseball route, from phenom to flop. He has set the precedent of having the Celtics pay the Blue Jays $500,000 as a gentleman's indemnity so Toronto would free him from a binding baseball contract that had two seasons to run. He has signed a five-year, $1.5-million basketball deal. He has a college degree, a wife, two children and fame.
However, one fact about Danny Ainge should be remembered before any other.
He is just 22.
On Friday, as the Celtics formed layup lines in Capital Centre, Ainge, about to play the fifth game of his NBA career, paused at press row. Casually, with a kid's grin on his cherubic face, Ainge stuck his hand into the popcorn box of a courtsider, mischievously purloined two kernels and flipped them into his mouth.
Four years ago, he became the first person to take advantage of an NCAA rule that allows a collegiate athlete to be a pro in another sport. Now, everyone who looks at him sees all-American success. Yet nothing Ainge has touched -- with the exception of the contracts he's signed--has yet panned out properly.
After his freshman year at BYU, the adolescent Mormon, already a three-sport high school all-America, signed a pro baseball contract with Toronto. Typical of his innocent manner, Ainge let his father be his "agent." He hasn't stopped being pulled in all directions since.
Ainge never will truly know whether he could have made it in baseball because he never was given -- or gave himself -- a square shot. Every year, he missed spring training, arrived during the season and started off behind the pitchers. In 785 at bats in AAA, he hit .237. In the big leagues, his career average ended at .220. On defense, he was decent everywhere, excellent nowhere, moving from second to short to third to left field to right field.
At every stage, the horrid Blue Jays, desperate for a blond box-office savior, rushed Ainge before he was ready. His double-edged reward for two humble partial seasons at Syracuse was to discover himself a starter at second base in the majors just weeks after his 20th birthday.
In '79, when the Jays played in the Seattle Kingdome, the park closest to his idyllic Eugene, Ore., hometown, Ainge hit two home runs with his family in the stands.
"Had to hit 'em for my folks," he says.
He never hit another.
Does he remember who the pitchers were?
"Well, Joe somebody-or-other and John Monticky, I think."
"Yeah, that was him," says Ainge. "I don't really remember them."
Ted Williams claimed he could remember the pitcher, the place and the exact pitch of his first 300 major league home runs, Ainge is told.
Ainge grins. "Maybe that's why I didn't make it in the majors."
And maybe it's because he always started with two strikes; this season Ainge was in the starting lineup opening day, one week after reporting to camp on the heels of a draining and heroic NCAA tourney performance.
Ainge's head was spinning. Consider his identity-twisting progression:
In July '79, Ainge said, "Basketball has always been my first love."
However, by September '80, Ainge had seen so many of his Western Athletic Conference teammates and opponents fail in the NBA that he revised his estimates of his basketball skills downward. So he locked himself into a three-year contract with the Blue Jays.
Finally, in the days before the June '81 NBA draft, Ainge was in a complete muddle, and his basketball-versus-baseball scales tipped dramatically again.
"I upgraded my opinion of my basketball ability based on my senior year," he said. Curve balls were revising his baseball reputation. As Fitch says, "Nobody told the pitchers how good Danny thought he was."
"Before the (NBA) draft, I had decided to play basketball . . . in my own mind, I wanted to play basketball, not baseball," said Ainge this week. "But, I thought I was bound to a (baseball) contract, and that's what I told all the NBA clubs who contacted me."
Still, several NBA clubs -- Dallas, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Portland and Utah -- are in a funk. If we had known he wanted to play basketball, we would have drafted him, they all say.
Had Ainge been free, he almost certainly would have been in the first five NBA picks. Instead, after 30 picks, nobody had touched him. In the second round, Auerbach took a symbolic swing with an imaginary baseball bat: "Gimme Ainge."
When Ainge went public with his freedom wishes, the talk started in the NBA. Did crafty old Auerbach have inside info? Had sneaky stuff transpired that should invalidate the Boston pick and put Ainge back in the draft?
When the Blue Jays gave the kid his release, the NBA talk turned to screams.
What did the Celtics know and when did they know it? That's what the NBA wants to know. Give them a smoking gun and they'll point it at Auerbach.
After his years of confusion and indecision, Ainge may finally have landed in the right spot. "I've always been a Celtics fan," he says. "I believe in that deep unselfishness and togetherness they've always represented . . . The fact that I was drafted by the Celtics made me even more persistent in my decision to quit baseball."
Throughout his career, Ainge has carried the burden of too great expectations. "I always had to be the big scorer. Now, I can show I'm a passer, too," he says. "It's fun to play with four equals."
In baseball, Ainge was rushed constantly. Now, he can take his time. "We won a world title without him," says Fitch. "There's no hurry. Eventually, he may be a point guard who can run the team, but, for now, we need him to be the shooting guard, fill a lane on the break. He'll have to bring more than one glove to the park for a while.
"I just have to be careful of one thing," says Fitch. "I can't scratch my nose while Danny's in the game. He still thinks it means 'bunt.' "