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Celtics icon and legend Tom Heinsohn dies at 86

Liz Roscher
·3-min read

Tom Heinsohn, the legendary Boston Celtics player, coach, and commentator, has died at 86.

Heinsohn wasn’t just a Celtics legend, he was an icon who played a part in every single one of the team’s 17 NBA titles. He was an enthusiastic, irrepressible, passionate basketball lifer who was inducted into the Hall of Fame both as a player and a coach, something only three other people have ever accomplished.

Heinsohn, a New Jersey native, graduated from Holy Cross in 1956 as the all-time leading scorer. He began his Celtics career later that year, racking up eight titles in just nine years during the team’s golden age. He was an All-Star six times, and as a player he was known as a “no-holds-barred net-ripper.”

In 1957, he was named Rookie of the Year, beating out his teammate (and fellow legend) Bill Russell. He played a key part in the franchise’s first-ever NBA title, scoring 37 points and grabbing 23 rebounds in a hotly contested double-overtime Game 7 against the St. Louis Hawks.

From player to coach to broadcaster

Retiring from basketball in 1965 due to a foot injury, Heinsohn sold insurance for three years before returning to the Celtics in 1969 as coach. The Celtics had their worst record since 1950 (34-48) in his first season, but won NBA Coach of the Year in 1973 when the team went an astonishing 68-14. He led the Celtics to two championships in 1974 and 1976.

Hall of Fame Celtic and broadcaster Tom Heinsohn is pictured at TD Garden. (Photo by Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Hall of Fame Celtic and broadcaster Tom Heinsohn is pictured at TD Garden. (Photo by Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Heinsohn was let go after the 1977 season and transitioned into broadcasting, first calling Celtics games on the radio and then joining Mike Gorman on TV broadcasts in 1981. A whole new generation discovered Heinsohn, whose on-court exuberance followed him into the broadcast booth. He was excitable and enthusiastic, and he simply didn’t care what others thought about him and his style.

“One thing I learned a long time ago is that there’s no control over what people think of you,” Heinsohn once said via the Boston Globe. “Some people said of me, ‘Hey, it’s great to see somebody with enthusiasm’. Others said I was a screaming ass.

“And all I can say is, ‘That’s me, pal.’ I’m involved, and when I’m involved, I let it all hang out. I don’t worry about my image.”

Heinsohn and Gorman would become the longest continuous broadcasting duo in the history of professional sports, and they would call seven Celtics championships.

Heinsohn’s No. 15 was retired by the Celtics shortly after he retired in 1966, and Holy Cross retired his No. 24 in 2008. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986 as a player and in 2015 as a coach.

“He’s Mr. Celtic,” his former Holy Cross and Celtics teammate Togo Palazzi told the Telegram & Gazette in 2017. “They should name the Garden after him, he’s been there for 60 years. He’s been a player, he’s been a coach, he’s been a TV announcer.”

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