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“The first part I thought I’d have to work with him on was sort of letting go of his prior life and coming to grips with what happened, but that hasn’t been a problem at all.”

There are no visible traces of Ainge’s playing days at Tennessee or with the Jets in the guest bedroom at Danny Ainge’s home, which is nestled in the quiet town of Wellesley. The room looks like that of most 24-year-old single guys _ with some clothes scattered among DVDs and CDs _ except for the soothing pictures of pink roses hung on the wall.

He ended up there after starting his recovery last summer at McLean Hospital in Belmont, and then going to a halfway house in the same part of town. Eager to stay in the area because of the progress he was making with his therapists, he spent two weeks mustering up the courage to ask his uncle if he could stay with them.

Danny Ainge, the general manager of the Boston Celtics, his wife, Michelle, and their teenage sons Cooper and Crew welcomed him six months ago with open arms.

“I’m a literally crazy, tatted-up drug addict,” said Erik Ainge, who hasn’t trimmed his hair since rehab; his once close-shaved head covered by neck-length locks. “I’m a nice guy, charismatic, polite, but if you just wrote down on paper what’s wrong with me, I could see someone not wanting me to live in their house. They had no hesitation.”

Ainge feels happy these days, something he can’t remember experiencing during the last several years. The drug abuse was a big reason for his despondency, but so was the bipolar disorder, which was recently diagnosed and is treated with mood stabilizers.

“I just felt like a crazy person,” he said. “I wasn’t educated enough to know that I was bipolar, but I just felt different. When I’d look in the mirror, I felt ashamed. I felt like there was something wrong with me.”

The hour-long therapy sessions with his psychiatrist three days a week have helped. So have the Narcotics Anonymous meetings, three nights a week.

“The way I was living, I’d have been dead at 26,” he said. “Do you know how freeing that is to be sitting here saying that? It’s like I’m living a new life, literally. I can say that. I’ve overdosed. I’ve looked at death.”

That’s why he gets a kick out of simply jumping in his truck and cranking some of his favorite bands _ Soundgarden, Audioslave, Stone Temple Pilots, Rage Against The Machine, to name a few _ and cruising around town.

“I love that, man,” he said. “It just makes me feel good everytime.”

Kind of the way his one-hour physical therapy sessions do. Ainge had a stress fracture in his right foot since high school that never properly healed. He had surgery to put two screws in his navicular bone in January and hobbles around in a bulky, black walking boot _ something he’ll have to wear for at least a few more weeks.

Ainge goes to therapy three times a week in Waltham, Mass., where his therapist, Sean Rollo, vigorously rubs the foot, ankle and calf and uses ice and heat treatments.

“I literally dream about this massage,” Ainge said while sprawled on a table a few feet away from a poster that features the 1980s Celtics with Ainge’s uncle, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and Dennis Johnson.

While Danny Ainge might not be able to walk anywhere in the Boston area without being recognized, Erik zips around town in relative anonymity. His 6-foot-5 frame stands out, but he gets more second glances because of his appearance last year in the movie “Jackass 3D” than for his football accomplishments.

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