I was just getting comfortable in my seat — 4F.
I took a deep breath and exhaled, waiting for takeoff. AirPods
in, waiting for the cabin door to close.
Since the pandemic began, I’d only gotten on a plane a few
times, but it would be nice to get away from the noise for a couple
hours. Then, I clicked the in-flight entertainment system over to
Danny Ainge is stepping down.
The flight attendants hadn’t started handing out headsets yet,
and since the flight to Tampa was less than two hours, I didn’t
bring any cabled headphones. I had to resort to lip reading.
Even though I couldn’t hear what was being said, my mind
starting racing. It’s impossible for me to see or hear the name
“Danny Ainge” without recalling one of the best things that'd ever
happened to me in my basketball career. If he and Doc hadn’t
welcomed me to Boston and believed in my ability to help bring a
championship to that city, I would have missed out.
(We probably could’ve gone back-to-back if they brought me back
after the 2007-08 season, but that’s a different story for a
different day. Ha.)
But what I took from my experience in Boston is this: putting on
that Celtics jersey and taking the floor at TD Garden, it just hit
different. The history, those retired numbers staring down
at you from the rafters, the championship banners, the
expectations… I’d never experienced anything like it.
And after 18 years, Danny decided that it was time for him to
move on. All I can say is: Mission Accomplished.
Even though I won championships in Miami (in 2006) and Cleveland
(in 2016), for some reason, I feel like I’m recognized a lot more
for my contribution to the 2008 Celtics. People are going to look
back at the “Big Three” era in Boston and say the team should’ve
won more, and they’ll probably even look at the Celtics over the
last five years or so and wonder why all those talented pieces
couldn’t get it done. Me, personally? I know how hard it is to
succeed in the NBA and what you have to have in your favor — luck,
health, talent, chemistry — so when I look back at Danny’s tenure,
I think “success.” Period.
They’ve just been mostly unfortunate to not always have those
elements at the same time.
So yea, criticize him for not winning more, if you want. But by
being proactive about the demise of the core (KG, Pierce and Ray),
Ainge helped prepare the Celtics for the future and ended up with
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Those guys are building blocks, for
sure. Danny is leaving the franchise with one more banner than it
had when he took over and with much more hope for a brighter future
than when he accepted the position in 2003.
Back then, it had been 17 years since Boston won a championship.
I can tell you from experience that trying to live up to the
expectations of a franchise with such a storied tradition can be
scary. In a place like Boston, you know that the expectations are
championship-or-bust; anything less isn't acceptable. And not
everyone is cut out for that kind of pressure. Danny dove in,
To make things even worse, the New England Patriots, Boston Red
Sox, Boston Bruins each have had success. You don’t want to come
into that type of scenario and end up being the only team
in the city that doesn’t win. We face that as players, and members
of the front office deal with that external pressure, as well.
Even though I only spent one year there, I learned a lot about
what it meant to carry on that kind of winning tradition. I felt
like I helped to establish that in Miami — in 2006, we won the
franchise’s first championship. But in Boston, I felt like I was
joining a special fraternity.
As I continue to learn about the game and develop as a coach, I
have a newfound appreciation for the kind of dedication and
resilience it takes to deal with the expectations that a franchise
like the Celtics has of its coaching and front office staff.
I don’t know Brad Stevens on a personal level, but I do know
that for eight seasons, he gave it his all.
Most people would probably agree that he can vacate the coaching
spot with his head held high. He’s a Celtic and he knows what it
takes to succeed in Boston. Over the years, injuries and a lack of
chemistry seemed to be issues, and to an extent, the coach has to
take accountability for those shortcomings, but for the most part,
he had his team playing the right way and had them playing inspired
basketball. As he takes on a new role in the front office, I know
that he’ll be able to bring the experience of the past eight years
on the bench with him.
The next coach that comes into Boston needs to know a thing or
two about those expectations, but more importantly, he’ll have to
be able to get Tatum, Brown and the rest of the team to understand
that winning requires real sacrifice. Stevens faced a challenge in
getting buy-in from his roster at times because he had young
players who were trying to prove themselves while a few of his
veterans were trying to establish themselves as superstars. It was
a difficult situation to manage, but I know they’ll head into the
future being wiser about how they reconstruct themselves into a
As far as what lies ahead, when guys like me decide to pick up a
clipboard and get into coaching, we do so with dreams of drawing
plays in a huddle with an arena full of fans. We also dream of
doing so for a franchise that puts winning above all and one that
has a proud tradition.
The Lakers, Spurs, Heat and Bulls all get maximum respect from
But at the end of the day, there’s only one Boston.
After 18 years on the job, it’s safe to say Danny Ainge did it