On November 10th, Boston sports legend Tommy Heinsohn passed away at the age of 86. Heinsohn had been a part of the Boston Celtics organization since he was a rookie forward in the 1956-1957 season.
HOF Player; Tommy Heinsohn
Along with fellow rookie Bill Russell, Heinsohn contributed to bringing Boston their first NBA title. Over his 9 seasons in Celtic Green, Heinsohn would help raise 8 championship banners over the hallowed Boston Garden parquet floor.
Heinsohn was an exuberant competitor who brought a fiery spirit to Red Auerbach’s ball-club. He earned the nickname “Tommy Gun” for not only his offensive productivity but also for his proclivity to fire up shots. He averaged 18.6 points a game for his career on a hefty average of 18 shot attempts per contest.
Heinsohn also served another purpose on the team. Auerbach used to wear him out in practice, knowing Heinsohn could handle the criticism. That way players who were more sensitive to critiques, like Sam Jones, did not feel Auerbach’s rath as much.
Also, having Heinsohn take a lot of the tongue lashings allowed Russell to not be under so much stress during practice. The last thing he needed during practice was to be under more pressure to perform.
After 9 seasons in the league, racking up 8 rings, and 6 All-Star nods, Heinsohn retired after winning one more title in 1965. The Celtics retired his number 15 to the Garden rafters in 1966. Heinsohn officially became a basketball Hall of Famer in 1986.
He immediately became the Celtics radio broadcaster. He would call 3 more Russell and company Finals victories in 1966, 1968, and 1969.
HOF coach; Tommy Heinsohn
After Russell retired from his role as player/coach in the spring of 1969, Heinsohn took over head coaching duties in Boston. Leading the lost great era of Celtics basketball, the mid-1970’s, Heinshon would raise 2 more banners to the rafters. Lead by John Havlicek, Dave Cowens, and Jojo White, Boston would reign supreme under Heinsohn in 1974 and 1976.
From 1970 to 1978, Heinshon posted a record of 427 and 263. In 2015, the Basketball Hall of Fame honored him again, this time for what he did on the sidelines. He joined John Wooden, Lenny Wilkens, and Bill Sharman as just the 4th person to be selected to the Basketball Hall of Fame on 2 occasions.
Tell us how you really feel, Tommy
In 1981, Heinsohn returned to broadcasting where began his phenomenal run with partner Mike Gorman. The two had terrific chemistry, despite their announcing styles being vastly different.
Heinsohn never left in doubt who he wanted to win. He would routinely berate officials and claimed the Celtics were always getting the short of the ref’s stick. No matter what era of Celtic basketball he was calling; the dominant Bird Era, the agonizing Pitino Era, the rejuvenated Pierce Era, or the underdog Isaiah Thomas Era, Heinsohn’s passion never faltered.
Even though he was no longer calling every home broadcast, his energy, charisma, and knowledge never wavered the past few seasons. He would stay up to date on the players coming into the Garden that night. Heinsohn never let the Celtics’ record influence how he called a game.
To some fans, he would occasionally focus too much attention towards the refs. However, his frustration always felt genuine. It never appeared that he was exaggerating for the broadcast. He genuinely bled Celtic Green. Even other teams fans listening to him call a Boston game could appreciate that element.
A resume unlike any other
Boston is fortunate to have watched truly iconic sports figures perform throughout the decades. Revered names such as Williams in the ’50s, Russell in the ’60s, Orr in the ’70s, Bird in the ’80s, Bourque in the ’90s, Ortiz in the ’00s, and Brady in the 10’s. However, not even those greats are as tied to one organization as Heinsohn is to the Celtics.
A 70-year-old Boston sports fan only knows Celtic basketball with Tommy Heinsohn. He had been a part of the origination for 64 years and, incredibly, all 17 championship seasons. Nobody, not even Red, can lay claim to that accomplishment.
Basketball fans all over the world will surely miss Heinsohn. Whenever a referee makes a bad call against Boston or a Celtic comes through with a clutch play in the 4th quarter, it will be strange not hearing Heinsohn weigh in. He was a true icon who gave everything he had to the Celtics and then even more.
Rest in peace Thomas William “Tommy” Heinsohn.
August 26th, 1934 – November 10th, 2020.
Story by Chad Jones