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Dan Shaughnessy

Danny Ainge says he wasn’t pushed out by the Celtics when he ‘retired,’ and other picked-up pieces from the sports world

Danny Ainge spent 26 years in the Celtics organization.Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

Picked-up pieces while listening to Mitch Miller and the Gang singing Christmas carols (why do they sound so angry?) . . .

I had an enjoyable “exit interview” with Danny Ainge Thursday, one day after it was announced that he was taking a position in the front office of the Utah Jazz.

Why did he abruptly “retire” from the Celtics in June?

“I just felt like I needed a break, well before the playoffs started,” said Ainge. “And I also felt like the team was in great hands. When I decided to walk, I didn’t think that Brad [Stevens] would take over my spot. I thought that Brad would still be coaching. I just wanted to get away from the game for a while, and I’ve done that for seven months and I feel reenergized and I have a unique opportunity to work with a good friend [Jazz owner Ryan Smith]. This is a much different role [than in Boston]. It’s a much lesser role. It happened quickly, over a period of a couple of days when I finally showed a little interest with Ryan.”

When Ainge “retired” he was asked about perhaps working in Utah down the road and answered, “Nothing is going on there . . . I honestly haven’t thought about what’s next. I don’t have any urgency or anything planned.”

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On Thursday he said, “I honestly didn’t know back then. I was prepared to be done for good and find something else. I’ve had other opportunities. I just really haven’t been willing to listen until just recently.”

At this point in our conversation, I felt a need to address local speculation that Ainge might have been nudged by Celtics ownership when he “retired” after the team was routed by the Nets in the playoffs.

“Just for the record, were you pushed out of Boston?” I asked.

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“No,” Ainge said with a laugh. “Are you serious? Do you seriously think that, or is that just like some commentary?”

(Our little back and forth was mildly reminiscent of Larry King’s infamous dustup with Jerry Seinfeld when King wanted clarification that the “Seinfeld” series ended on its own and was not “canceled.”)

Ainge gave the Celtics 26 years of his basketball life — eight as a player (two championships) and 18 as president of basketball operations (one championship). If he were going into any Hall of Fame, he would identify himself as a Celtic. The only executive who put in more years running the Celtics is Red Auerbach, who drafted Ainge when Ainge was a Toronto Blue Jay in 1981 and traded him to the Sacramento Kings in 1989.

“I always loved Red,” said Ainge. “I never talked with Red once after he traded me — there were no cellphones or anything. I just would say hi when I saw him, but he was the one who told the [Celtics] owners to hire me. He made a lasting impression on me just because of who he was and how he dealt with people. He was a master at managing people and personalities.

“There are so many relationships that I have from this. I’ve watched every single minute of every Celtics game so far this year, including exhibition games. Those relationships don’t die, when you invest that much time in people. Maybe there’s a time down the road where I won’t do this, but I still follow Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo and still stay in touch with them.

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“I think today’s Celtics have a very bright future. I think those guys are special people and special players. They need the right guys around them and they need help. They’re not going to be able to do it alone.”

Memo to Wyc Grousbeck and Steve Pagliuca: This would be a good time to retire Ainge’s No. 44 to the rafters.

▪ Quiz: Name six NBA players who scored 50 or more points in a game while playing for at least three franchises (answer below, you’ll never get one of them).

▪ Feels as if it’s about time for the NHL to bite the bullet and tell the world that its players won’t be participating in the Winter Olympics in Beijing. Time to pull the plug and make it easy for everybody. The rise of COVID-19 should be the last straw for an event that has been plagued since it was awarded to China.

▪ Anyone who loves baseball should raise a glass and toast longtime executive Roland Hemond, who died this past week. Hemond was from Central Falls, R.I., and worked in baseball for more than a half-century.

▪ The news that Super Bowl LVIII will be played in Las Vegas is the latest evidence that professional sports — which once shunned gambling — are happy to get in bed with the bookies as long as there is cash to be shared.

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▪ Kemba Walker is not the only disappointing ex-Celtic guard with the Knicks. New York gave Evan Fournier $78 million and the Knicks are getting the same underwhelming results the Celtics got last season.

▪ Congrats to Hunter and Parker Henry, who welcomed a son to the family over the bye week: John Ace Henry.

▪ I’m told that there are folks at LSU who have gone back over videos and determined that Pistol Pete Maravich would have averaged 53 points per game had there been a 3-point line when he played college basketball. Maravich averaged 44 points in his three seasons at LSU.

▪ Dream Teamer/Hall of Famer John Stockton is the latest to register in the nitwit anti-vaxxer club. In an interview with the DNP-CD Sports Podcast, Stockton applauded Kyrie Irving’s stance, urged the Nets guard to “hang in there,” and confirmed his certainty that COVID vaccines are harmful, stating, “I can see it on the Internet. And I know people. So indisputable.”

▪ USA Today reports that Mickey Marotti, the strength coach for Ohio State football, makes $801,150 per year. The paper lists 10 other college football strength coaches making $500,000 or more. Strength coaches, people.

▪ Stop the presses! The UConn women’s basketball team has slipped to No. 7 in the nation, its lowest ranking in 14 years. The Huskies are going to be without star Paige Bueckers (left knee surgery) for about eight weeks.

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▪ Speaking of UConn women’s hoop, coach Geno Auriemma must have been envious when he saw the score of Monday’s 133-15 Georgia Southern win over Carver College. Carver is a Christian College in Atlanta. A crowd of 2,568 attended the game in Statesboro, Ga. According to USA Today, the crowd was made up of “mostly grade school and middle school students from Bulloch County.” Evidently, this was a teaching moment for Georgia Southern coach Anita Howard.

▪ Winchester High School will honor former hometown great Bob Bigelow during its holiday break tournament. Bigelow starred at Penn before he was a first-round NBA draft pick in 1975. Folks in Winchester are retiring his No. 44 at halftime of the Winchester-Medford game at 4:30 on Dec. 28. A committee is at work to name the Winchester town basketball courts in honor of Bigelow, who died in August 2020.

▪ Congrats to Newton’s Chelsea Simmons, a member of Tampa University’s 2021 Division 2 national volleyball champs. Simmons won two Division 1 state titles while playing at Newton North. Her older sister, Tess, was on North’s first state championship team, and younger sister Katelin played for the North team that lost the Division 1 final to Needham last month.

▪ The Marblehead and Harvard communities were saddened to learn of the sudden death of former star athlete Brian Buckley, who died in his sleep Dec. 1 in Boca Raton, Fla. Buckley was a legendary lefthanded quarterback at Marblehead High, featured in Sports Illustrated’s Faces In the Crowd when he was in the ninth grade. He also starred in baseball and basketball at Marblehead before playing a season at Exeter, then Harvard. Buckley was offensive MVP of the Blue-Gray Classic in 1980, and drafted by the Patriots in 1981.

▪ Best of luck to longtime Red Sox director of public relations Kevin Gregg, who is going home to take over PR for the Phillies.

▪ The Revolution kick off their 2022 season Feb. 15 and I’ve got the schedule taped to my fridge.

▪ Quiz answer: Wilt Chamberlain, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Moses Malone, Bernard King, Jamal Crawford.


Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at daniel.shaughnessy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy.