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Aron Baynes swims with sharks, battles the bigs, and loves playing in Boston

Celtics big man Aron Baynes at the wheel.Stan Grossfeld/globe staff/Globe Staff

(An occasional series in which the Globe commutes with a Boston athlete)

When new Celtics center Aron Baynes went apartment shopping in Charlestown, the 6-foot-10-inch Australian quickly found out he didn’t fit in some of the old Colonial-type homes. But his bruising style, rebounding, and won’t-back-down attitude are making him a good fit for the Celtics.

His nickname is Big Banger and he drives a Hellcat with a Hemi engine.

“Oh, I have fun,” he says.

Back in October, the Globe rode shotgun with the 30-year-old veteran from Celtics practice to his new Charlestown home.

Q. Is it true that you swam with sharks?


A. Yes, this summer.

Q. Does Danny Ainge know?

A. [Laughs] Yes, yes, yes, yes.

Q. What did he say?

A. I mean, not much. He asked me how my summer was and what my highlight was and I told him swimming with sharks and he said, “That’s cool.”

Q. So tell me the story.

A. Growing up around Cairns, we have the Great Barrier Reef, so every chance we got, we were out on the reef, doing whatever we could — swimming, diving, fishing. You see some sharks, but I was almost a little timid with [them]. I was susceptible to the media and what they say about sharks — you know, sharks are going to hurt humans.

There was a boat trip [in Hawaii] where you can swim with sharks. There were three women leading us, they were all 5-foot-nothing,

We pulled up and there were about 20 or so of these sharks coming up and snapping around the boat. They were a little bit agitated because the boat was making some noise. The women said, “Look, these sharks don’t want to touch you. You’ve got to think of them as, like, a 2-year-old.” At the time, I had a son who was nearly 2, so I could relate to what they were saying. He’s inquisitive, and that’s what they were saying sharks were.


And we hadn’t even stopped and one of the ladies jumps in the water and I’m like, “What the hell? That’s crazy.” I’m like blown away. I’m like there’s no chance I’m not getting in there right now. If she comes up and she’s been bitten, we still got to go in and get her.

Fortunately for us, as soon as we got in the water, I’ve never been so calm. Everything she told us about the sharks was spot-on. It seriously was a life-changing moment for me. I was, like, this is awesome, to share their environment with them while they are just hanging out and they will not bother you. There’s no other predator that you can do that with.

Q. What about swimming with the great whites off of Chatham on Cape Cod? Is that next?

A. That’s probably at the top of my list. I told some of the guys I might try to go down and blend in with the seals. But I don’t know if that’s the best plan of attack. I might take it a little bit slower than that and dip my toes in the deep end before I fully dive in.

Q. What would Brad Stevens say about that?

A. I don’t know. Just come back, I think. Hopefully he wants me to come back. It’s cool. It’s one of those things you can’t put into words.


During training camp, Baynes rehabbed a knee injury, in part, with pool workouts (minus the sharks). stan grossfeld/globe staff

Q. What about Dwight Howard — is he a shark?

A. [Laughs] No, I wouldn’t say that.

Q. You guys have some history.

A. It’s fine. It’s a whole lot of fun. He gets to hit me, I get to hit him. At the end of the day, we both get to have a good laugh.

Q. I think you endeared yourself to Celtic fans when you were mixing it up with Dwight in that first exhibition game. You got a bigger hand than Kyrie Irving. Did you realize that?

A. I did not realize that. I’m pretty locked in at the time. I know what’s buttered my bread everywhere else to get to this point, so I’m not going to shy away from doing it anymore. I know I have to go out there and play my style of game, and that will help our team at the end of the day, so that’s all I want to do. I want to keep bringing it the right way. If the crowd likes it, then I’m really thankful for that and hopefully I can keep on doing what they like.

Q. Tell me about being a rugby player as a kid and how your older brother got you into basketball.

A. Ever since I can remember, whatever my brother did I wanted to do as well. He started playing rugby and I was the little pesky brother running up and down the side of the field playing with my mates and annoying his mates. So I started playing rugby as well and I continued playing rugby until I was 15. No basketball. I thought basketball was the softest sport you could ever play when I was growing up. I didn’t know who Michael Jordan was.


My brother went off to university to get a teaching degree and he got a placement in a high school. There was a basketball coach there that asked him if he wanted to play on his rec league team. Somehow it came up that he had a younger brother still in high school. So the coach of the high school team said, “Bring your brother down. I want to see if he can play.”

So from the first moment I stepped on the court, I fell in love with basketball. I was horrible. I could barely catch the ball. I didn’t know what a dunk was but I was able to dunk it.

Q. You’ve played for teams in five different countries [Lithuania, Germany, Greece, Slovenia, United States]. What was the worst?

A. Germany. The coach was into small ball and I didn’t play. End of the day I was really happy to get out of there.

Q. And the high point has to be winning the world championship with San Antonio in 2014.

A. That was definitely one of those magic moments for me. When I first started playing basketball, I was told to watch Tim Duncan and emulate anything he does. I was lucky enough to not only emulate what he did, I was able to learn from him every day and be blessed to win a championship. I am really thankful for that opportunity and hope to bring some of that here as well.


At the Celtics’ training facility in Waltham.stan grossfeld/globe staff/Globe Staff

Q. What was it like to bring the Larry O’Brien Trophy to Australia?

A. Yes we were lucky we brought the Lazza — I call it that — to Australia. It was the first time it had actually been overseas. [Spurs teammate] Patty Mills and myself had a good time with him, and Lazza had a few beers with us. He might have been covered with a little bit of beer here and there, but he had a minder with him as well. A chaperone.

Q. The Celtics need rebounding. You’re a bruiser and that will play well in Boston.

A. Hopefully it does. I’m excited to be here. I’ve always understood the history since I started playing basketball and what being a Celtic is and the legacy that they have going on here. I don’t take it for granted. I just want to add to it. I’ve had some championship experience. If I can add that little bit that’s needed to get back and try and experience that again, I’ll just put everything I can into doing that.

Q. Do you want to be the starting center?

A. I mean, anyone who’s in the NBA wants to have a bigger role. It would be nice to start, but you want to be on the floor to help the team at the end of the game when it really counts. I think that’s more important. Everyone on our team would rather be on the floor at the end of the game than the start of the game because we know that’s when the money time is and that’s when it really counts.

Q. Would you rather have played in the ’80s when the game was more physical?

A. It could have been fun, but it’s still pretty physical. Nowadays everybody works on their bodies. It’s so hard to judge generations and styles.

Q. There were a lot of elbows and grabbing shorts and tricks like that back then.

A. They’re still used today. It’s still all that. I mean, you saw Dwight and I flailing around. There’s still hitting going on.

Q. But the game has changed. There’s more 3-point shooters, big guys like Al Horford standing out there and taking the three and not following their shots.

A. But that’s the evolution of statistics as well. You’ve seen that following your shot is not the best thing. If you’re in good position, go get a rebound, but if you’re not, get back. Getting an offensive rebound is really good, but stopping transition, that’s how you break a team over the course of a game.

Q. How’s the vibe on the team?

A. There’s a great vibe. The guys that we have are all really good workers. For us older guys, we don’t need to be super vocal because they are so good at taking it on themselves. They see how hard we work and they emulate that.

Q. Is it hard for you to drive in America because in Australia you drive on the other side of the road?

A. It’s not hard. You drive closest to the middle no matter where you are. In Australia, if we were driving, we’d be on the other side. You guys say you drive on the right side of the road of the road over here. I say you drive on the wrong side of the car box. So there’s rightness to both sides.

Getting physical is a big part of Baynes’s game.jim davis/globe staff/Globe Staff

Q. What about the Boston drivers? Some people say they are the worst in the country.

A. I’d have to agree, overall. There have been so many near-misses here, especially down on Storrow. I’ve been nearly taken out so many times I said, look, I’m just going to get a dash cam so I have a little bit of insurance for myself. It will save me if something ever comes up. Hopefully I’m in the right and I’ll have video evidence. There are bad drivers wherever you are in the world, but I’ll try and relax a lot more. I discovered audio books. I kind of chill out and listen to audio books.

Q. Tell me something about Kyrie that nobody knows. All you hear over and over is that he believes the world is flat.

A. I think that’s just a talking point for him. I’m not too sure that he believes that. That’s one of those ice-breakers. I call it the “pink drink.” When I used to go out into the clubs, I’d get a drink that pretty much looked pink and it would be a conversation starter. So I think Kyrie’s talking about a flat earth is just his pink drink.

Q. I heard you are a BBQ aficionado.

A. Haven’t had any. We’re in the Northeast now. Better seafood.

Q. Who cooks in your house?

A. I used to cook but you know what they say? The sensei always wants their pupil to be better. She’s better.

Stan Grossfeld can be reached at grossfeld@globe.com.