On Tuesday Boston lost a man who gave his entire adult life to the city and had one of the greatest impacts on one of the world’s most famous sports franchises. Former Boston Celtics player, coach and broadcaster Tommy Heinsohn passed away at the age of 86 on Tuesday. He was a part of the Celtics in some fashion during each of their 17 championships, the first coming in 1957. Heinsohn may be gone, but the imprint he left on the franchise and on the city is something that will live on forever.
Longtime broadcast partner Mike Gorman had nothing but kind words to say about Heinsohn. After 39 years under the headset with Heinsohn, Gorman shared some of his fondest memories with his broadcast partner on Tuesday afternoon.
“Tommy’s in a better place now. It was a tough couple of months for him going down the stretch,” explained Gorman. “I think there’s a certain sense of relief.”
He even made a joke that Heinsohn will be able to rest easy as long as they keep him away from any referees. Heinsohn made a name for himself as a broadcaster with his homer mentality and his disdain for the officials.
Former Celtics head coach Doc Rivers also explained the impact that the legend had on the franchise. While Bill Russell has the championships, and Larry Bird may have been the greatest player to don the uniform, Heinsohn was the embodiment of the franchise according to many.
“I don’t think there’s anybody who symbolizes what being a Celtic is more than Tommy Heinsohn,” said Rivers. “He bled green; it was in his heart.”
Rivers joked that when he accepted the head coaching job for the Philadelphia 76ers – longtime Celtics rival – they asked if anybody in Boston was mad at him for taking the job.
“One person,” Rivers joked, “Tommy Heinsohn. He hated Philadelphia!”
Heinsohn was drafted to the Celtics in 1956 out of Holy Cross. He played in Boston for nine seasons before he retired at the age of 30. During his career he averaged 18.6 points per game, 8.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists. Heinsohn was described as one the best offensive rebounders of his time by former teammate Bob Cousy. The forward ended his career with 12,194 total points.
Heinsohn was named the 1957 Rookie of the Year along with being named to six All-Star teams in his short career. He was crowned an NBA Champion eight separate times as a player, the only year his Celtics didn’t come out on top was the 1957-58 season.
A few years removed from his playing career he eventually took the job coaching his former team after being the team’s radio broadcaster for three seasons. He took the job in 1969 at the age of 35 and coached until 1978. During that time Heinsohn added two more championships to his resume giving him a grand total of ten.
In his third and final act of his professional career Heinsohn became the Celtics color broadcaster alongside Gorman in 1981. He was a part of the TV broadcast in some capacity up until the most recent season. His workload lightened by end as he was only working the home games and former Celtic Brian Scalabrine took over for road games.
Heinsohn was around the organization in some way for each of the team’s 17 titles. Eight as a player, two as a coach and seven as a broadcaster. Celtics fans of all ages have felt the impact of Heinsohn in some form.
Few will leave the impact across so many generations that Heinsohn did. His legacy has been engrained into Boston for 64 years and will certainly live on forever.
PHOTO COURTESY STUART CAHILL