Danny Ainge has lived his life in the sports spotlight since he was a highly recruited three-sport standout in high school. At BYU, a coast-to-coast layup at the buzzer led BYU to the Elite Eight, permanently etching Ainge’s name in NCAA tournament history. He went on to win three NBA championships with the Boston Celtics, two as a player and one as an executive. But Ainge says he is still a believer in balance, and credits his church callings as one thing that keeps his life on track and in balance.
The following excerpt has been edited for clarity.
Morgan Jones Pearson: Let me ask you this. You are a man of faith. Over the course of your career while working in demanding jobs, you've held callings that [were demanding]. Anybody that serves in the Church knows that callings can take a lot of time. I know a lot of you will say there is no such thing as balance, but how have you managed to prioritize?
Danny Ainge: Well, I think there is such thing as balance. But we're all not perfectly balanced. But I think we learn in Luke that Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and favor with God and man, and I've always applied that in my life. Those are lessons I learned early in life from my father. He used to always talk to me about balance and say, "You can't be a basketball player your whole life, you need balance." And I said, "Dad, I do have balance. I play baseball, basketball, golf, and track." He wasn't talking about that balance, obviously. But I always did and always have and always still try to seek balance.
It's not ever been and I'm not sure it's ever perfect. I still work on it. But I think that we can try to find balance in our life. I think callings helped provide balance. I mean, they compel me to do home teaching, compel me to teach a lesson or to be a bishop of a ward and help people and to serve. I needed that. I feel like I need to be compelled to do it even though my heart is always wanting to do it. It's like this assignment is giving me that "I need to do it" because I'm a person that wants to do what I'm supposed to do. So I love callings; they've given me those responsibilities.
Right now I'm serving in the priests quorum, and I love it. We have 18 priests and it's so much fun. But through the busiest times, again, I was being surrounded by just so many great people. I'm sure every bishop would say that like, "Oh, yeah, my Relief Society president was amazing. My counselors were incredible." I was just surrounded by really good people that allowed me to serve in the small part that I was doing, and the bigger parts that they were doing. So I'm just grateful that my whole life, I've been surrounded by good people.
Morgan Jones Pearson: In terms of being a man of faith within a world—I would imagine that the sports world is not squeaky clean. And so how have you managed to maintain your standards? And also, have you had opportunities, either as a player or as an NBA executive, to talk about your faith with those that you're around?
Danny Ainge: Yeah, I think in mostly a non-denominational way of talking about faith and talking about God and talking about balance and finding something else in your life. I've had many conversations with teammates, players I coached, players I managed, most of them don't really want to hear about me or my life or my experiences, but there's been players along the way that have said, "No one's ever talked to me that way before." So I've had some really good experiences that way.
And I feel like more than anything, I think my people that I've worked with, from my teammates all the way through my career, I think they know that I've lived my faith. And I think that they've respected it, even though they've made fun of this or that. Because I've been able to further my career and go on and have teammates in times of trouble reach out to me and seek some advice or counsel, I feel like my faith has led me to different opportunities in life. But more than anything, Morgan, I'm just happier. I don't have to deal with so many of the things that I've seen other people deal with, and not just in sports. I mean, I know sports is not a squeaky-clean world but the world isn't in any job. The temptations are out there in any profession, but having a good marriage and a strong wife and, like I said earlier, I was surrounded by lots of good people early in my life, I think has helped me stay the course.
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