Did Danny Ainge Bite Tree Rollins During a Playoff Game?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about basketball and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the basketball urban legends featured so far.

BASKETBALL URBAN LEGEND: Danny Ainge once bit Tree Rollins during a playoff game.

A good deal of legends revolve around the “telephone” effect, which is where the legends spread just like the game “telephone,” where a group of people sit in a circle and the first person whispers a phrase to the second person who whispers it to the third person and so on and so forth and you see if the last person hears the phrase exactly the same way the first person said it.

However, it’s rare to see the telephone effect distort something as dramatically as it has regarding the time Tree Rollins and Danny Ainge had an altercation in the 1983 NBA Playoffs, an event which eventually ended up having the player who was bitten being blamed for biting the OTHER guy!!

Danny Ainge had an unusual road to the National Basketball Association. While still in college, he was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in 1977 (he was 18 years old). He signed with the Blue Jays and played for them while still in college in 1979.

After three fairly middling years in the Major Leagues, Ainge decided he wanted to pursue basketball (he was an excellent basketball player in college, winning the John R. Wooden Award for the best collegiate player in the country).

Because whoever drafted him would have to buy him out of his Major League Baseball contract, he fell all the way to the end of the Second Round of the 1981 NBA Draft, where he was picked by the Boston Celtics.

After a bit of a rough start, Ainge soon became a key figure in the great Boston Celtics teams of the 1980s.

In the First Round of the 1983 NBA Playoffs, in a match-up with the Atlanta Hawks, Ainge had a memorable altercation with Atlanta Hawks center Tree Rollins.

The two tussled, reportedly because Rollins called Ainge a “sissy” after Rollins hit Ainge with an elbow (inadvertent or not) and Ainge took issue. Whether Rollins called him a sissy or not, Ainge tackled the much larger man (Ainge was six feet four inches while Rollins was over seven feet tall). During the tangle, Rollins bit Ainge on Ainge’s hand. Standing up from the fight, Ainge reportedly (according to his teammate Larry Bird) said “That big sissy bit me!”

The next day, the Boston Herald had the headline “Tree Bites Man.”

However, within a couple of years, Ainge (who by then had gotten the reputation as a bit of an annoying player for opposing players) has suddenly become the one who was accused of biting Rollins!

In a 1985 Sports Illustrated article, Ainge said:

The booing bothered me at first, but now I just expect it. I know a lot of it comes from my personality. I was booed in high school and college. I’ve just always showed a lot of emotion and played aggressively. Everywhere I go, people think I’m the dirty little guy who bit Tree Rollins’ finger.

So let’s recap – Ainge did not bite Rollins’ finger, Rollins bit Ainge’s finger.

The legend is…


Thanks to Alexander Wolff for the great Ainge article!!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com

One Response to “Did Danny Ainge Bite Tree Rollins During a Playoff Game?”

  1. Now I have to re-think my whole fascination with Tree Rollins. Because this is pretty disappointing. I’ve always thought about him as the-guy-who-grabbed-rebounds-and-outletted-the-ball-to-‘Nique.

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