Danny Ainge belongs to that rarest of species: the two-sport athlete who can call his shots. Right now he's playing baseball for the Toronto Blue Jays, but who's to say he won't change his mind someday and switch to basketball? The Boston Celtics, who drafted him recently, obviously haven't ruled out that possibility, selecting him even though his baseball contract prohibits him from playing pro basketball.
That Boston was willing to take a chance on the 6 ft. 6 in. Ainge (rhymes with range) at all says a lot about his basketball ability, which speaks for itself. He earned All-America honors at Brigham Young, won this year's Kodak award as nation's outstanding player, and electrified millions with a length-of-the court drive and last-second basket that beat Notre Dame in the NCAA's East Regional.
Alinge signed with Toronto right out of high school in 1977, but didn't play in the Blue Jays' system until three summers ago. The past two seasons he split time between Syracuse, a minor league affiliate, and the parent club, retaining his college basketball eligibility under a rule that permits an athlete to go pro in one sport and not another.
This season, fresh out of BYU, Danny was installed as the Blue Jays' starting third baseman. For all intents and purposes, he had ruled out an NBA career, that is until the Celtics opened upon some doubts by drafting him. "Had any other team but Boston drafted me," he said, "there would be zero chance of me playing basketball. . . . Boston has the style and the mystique that appeals to me. But I still don't think this is the year."
Maybe not, but it's not surprising he should harbor second thoughts. For one thing, he's had trouble hitting major league pitching, judging from his .176 batting average. With the strike, there's been plenty of time to dwell on the slump. Bound to give him further pause is the contrast between the Blue Jays, a perennial cellar-dweller, and the Celtics, newly crowned NBA champions.
Boston will soon need backcourt help, too, since starting guards Nate Archibald and Chris Ford are nearing the ends of their careers. And if any team has an affinity for two- sport pros it is Boston, which, over the years, has placed three major league baseball players in Celtic uniforms -- Johnny Simmons, Chuck Connors (later of TV western fame), and Gene Conley.