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Danny Ainge is the king ... of Chipotle

Rich Obrey/NBAE/Getty Images

Members of the Celtics' front office read this Sporting News story about players who love Chipotle so much they eat there four times a week, shook their heads and laughed.

"Four times a week?" Mike Zarren, the team's assistant general manager, asked incredulously. "Are you kidding? That's nothing."

We all know players love Chipotle. It is the Cheesecake Factory of Tex-Mex restaurants within the NBA community. But you'd never guess the identity of the NBA's most committed Chipotle addict: Celtics general manager Danny Ainge.

"There have been weeks," Zarren said, "where we have eaten lunch there seven straight days."

Ainge will sometimes follow up a Chipotle lunch five or six hours later with dinner at the same place. "I have to admit, there are days I eat there twice," Ainge said. "I just like Chipotle."

Ainge's devotion hasn't wavered amid breakouts of E. coli and norovirus linked to Chipotle restaurants, including one Boston-area location. "The lines are shorter now," he said, chuckling. "Listen, I'm guessing a lot of chains like this have these kinds of issues. I haven't changed my routine at all. Maybe if I get sick, I will."

Ainge is a Norm Peterson-like presence in no less than three establishments: a Waltham location near the team's practice facility; a Needham joint near Ainge's home; and a Framingham Chipotle he hits on nights out with his wife. Workers at all three places now recognize him and often ask Ainge if he wants "the usual."

"Usually, the first thing they ask you at Chipotle is whether you want a bowl or a burrito, or whether it's for here or to go," Zarren said. "When they see Danny, they just pick up a bowl and start scooping things."

Ainge usually gets a burrito bowl, often with "double chicken." Some workers just plop in double chicken without asking. He sometimes mixes it up by ordering a salad, and he likes Chipotle's vinaigrette dressing so much, he slops it atop his burrito bowls, too. "He always gets two cups of that orange dressing and pours it on," Zarren said. "It makes no sense to anyone but him."

Ainge offers the simplest possible explanation: "I just like their dressing."

When they are both at the team's offices in Waltham, Zarren will typically accompany Ainge to the restaurant, regardless of how many consecutive days they've lunched there. Other members of the front office get tired after a few trips and ditch Ainge. "They know the deal," he said. "If they don't want Chipotle, they don't come."

Zarren gets more restless on the road. He and Ainge's son, Austin, the team's director of player personnel, like to seek new restaurants as they hopscotch around the hoops landscape. When Danny Ainge goes on the road, one of the first things he does is Google the Chipotle closest to his hotel. "I even know where the Chipotles are in Las Vegas," he said of the NBA's main summer league host city, "so I'm set."

He has met draft prospects and NBA free agents at the restaurant instead of at some fancy steakhouse, Zarren said. Terry Rozier, one of Boston's 2015 first-rounders, picked Chick-fil-A instead when the Celtics brought him in for a workout and let him choose, Austin Ainge said. When the Pelicans hired Darren Erman away from the Celtics to be their associate head coach, the team decided to throw Erman a celebratory farewell lunch, officials said. Erman got excited about the possibilities. Ainge announced they would go to Chipotle as usual.

Some of this reflects Ainge's low-key personality. Before he discovered Chipotle, he held some of his summer league business meetings at an In-N-Out Burger in Vegas. "You just won't find Danny at an upscale restaurant," Zarren said.

"My dad," Austin Ainge said, "is the world's most boring eater. When he goes out of town, it's like a big celebration: 'Oh, we can go someplace new to eat.' "

Chipotle displaced Panera Bread as Ainge's Waltham-area go-to for front-office lunches. "I can't even remember the last time we were at that Panera," Zarren said, "because it's Chipotle every day now."

There is a serious side, however, to Ainge's obsession: He had a heart attack in 2009, and Chipotle offers fast food that was also (relatively) healthy. He never orders sour cream, guacamole or tortillas. "It's good for my caloric intake," he said.

The rest of the front office was stunned to read that Chipotle offers "celebrity" cards to some NBA players, granting them a free burrito per day. "Look, Danny is wealthy, and he doesn't need a free meal," Zarren said. "But these players are getting a card for going four times a week, when Danny might go 10 times? That doesn't seem fair."

Austin Ainge said his dad has been urged to call the company and make a deal to appear in Chipotle ads. "He's there twice a day," Austin Ainge said. "He might as well get paid for it." Danny Ainge declined.

"The last thing he wants is to do commercials," Austin Ainge said.

Maybe he'll settle for a celebrity card.