Celtics Legend Tommy Heinsohn Passes Away at 86
Boston Celtics legend Tommy Heinsohn has passed away at the age of 86.
Heinsohn had been a part of the Celtics family since he was a territorial pick in the 1956 NBA Draft, having won eight championships as a player, two as a head coach, and was part of the broadcasting team for four more championship seasons.
"This is a devastating loss," Wyc Grousbeck, Steve Pagliuca and the Celtics ownership group said in a joint statement. "Tommy was the ultimate Celtic. For the past 18 years, our ownership group has relied hugely on Tommy’s advice and insights and have reveled in his hundreds of stories about Red Auerbach, Bill Russell, and how the Celtics became a dynasty. He will be remembered forever."
“Tommy Heinsohn’s remarkable contributions to our game bridged generations and personified the Boston Celtics for more than 60 years," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. "He was synonymous with success, winning eight NBA championships in nine seasons with Boston as a player and two more as its coach, which led to his rare distinction of Hall of Fame status in both capacities. Tommy was equally renowned as an NBA broadcaster who made his mark on both the national and local stage. Celtics games will not be the same without Tommy, and he will be dearly missed by those who share his fervor for basketball. We extend our deepest sympathies to Tommy’s family, his friends and the Celtics organization.”
During his playing days, Heinsohn was a six-time NBA All-Star, and was Rookie of the Year in 1956, also winning the NBA championship in his rookie season. In 1965, his No. 15 was retired and raised to the rafters of the Boston Garden.
In 1969, Heinsohn took over as head coach of the Celtics, a season after former teammate Bill Russell led Boston to an NBA title. Heinsohn oversaw a rebuild in his first two seasons, before leading the Celtics to a league-best 68-14 record in the 1973-74 season, earning him Coach of the Year honors. Heinsohn went on to win championships as a head coach in 1974 and 1976.
In 2015, he became one of only four men inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a head coach.
In 1981, Heinsohn became the analyst for Celtics television broadcasts, alongside play-by-play man Mike Gorman. The duo continued calling Celtics games for the next four decades, until back issues began to limit Heinsohn’s ability to travel and he would only provide color commentary for home games. Heinsohn also called NBA and college games for national broadcast on CBS in the 1980s.
Heinsohn’s Celtics broadcasts were known for his bombastic style, his outright favoring of Boston, his second-guessing of any call that went against the Celtics, and his liberal distribution of what he called “Tommy Points” for players that went above and beyond in terms of hustle and grit.
Even stronger than his love for the Celtics was his love for his late wife, Helen, whom he always affectionately referred to broadcasts as “The Redhead in Needham.” Helen Heinsohn predeceased her husband in 2008.
Here's the official statement from the Boston Celtics:
It’s hard to imagine the Boston Celtics without Tommy Heinsohn. There isn’t a generation of Celtics fans for whom Tommy’s presence hasn’t been felt. He is the only person to be an active participant in each of the Celtics’ 17 World Championships, an extraordinary and singular legacy.
His career with the Celtics had an auspicious start, as he earned NBA Rookie of the Year honors in 1957. Even more notably, he was the best player on the floor in the decisive Game 7 of that season’s NBA Finals against the St. Louis Hawks, leading the team with 39 points and 23 rebounds as the Celtics delivered their first championship banner. Dominant performances and championships were no mere opening act; they would come to define his NBA playing career (1956-65), in which he was named to six All-Star teams and won eight NBA Championships, the team’s leading scorer for four of those title runs.
Red Auerbach named Tommy the team’s Head Coach in 1969. Like his playing career, Heinsohn's coaching tenure was punctuated by prosperity, as he directed the 1974 and 1976 squads to World Championships, won five Atlantic Division crowns, and was picked the league's Coach of the Year in 1973 during which he won a team record 68 games.
Tommy was honored on multiple occasions as a player, a coach, and a broadcaster. Among those honors, his number 15 was retired by the Celtics in 1965, and he was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as a player in 1986, and then as a coach in 2015. He is one of just four people to be inducted as both a Player and Coach, joining former teammate Bill Sharman, John Wooden and Lenny Wilkens.
For all of his accomplishments as a player, coach, and broadcaster, it is Tommy’s rich personality that defined the man. A loving father, grandfather, and husband. A talented painter and a lively golf partner. Unofficial mentor to decades of Celtics coaches and players. A frequent constructive critic of referees. Originator of the most “Celtic stat” of them all, The Tommy Point. And a boundless love for all things Boston Celtics, a passion which he shared with fans over 64 years.
We take this time to celebrate his life and legacy, and to share in the sorrow of his passing with his family, friends, and fans. As long as there are the Boston Celtics, Tommy’s spirit will remain alive.