In the Paint: Honoring Mr. Celtic

In the Paint

Last Monday, the NBA and the Boston Celtics came together to mourn the loss of Tommy Heinsohn, who died at 86. Tommy dedicated his entire professional career to the league, specifically the city of Boston, as a player, coach and broadcaster — earning himself the title of Mr. Celtic. 

As we celebrate his accomplishments and contributions to the Celtics, we must go back more than 60 years to 1956, when he was drafted by Boston out of the College of the Holy Cross. In that season, Tommy won his first championship with the Celtics — the first of many in his career as a player. He was named NBA Rookie of the Year and was given his first NBA First Team and All-Star nods. Playing alongside Bill Russell, Tom accumulated eight championship rings in a span of nine seasons and was named an All-Star six times. He played the power forward position, averaging 18.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per game throughout his career, on 40.5 percent and 79 percent success on field goals and free-throws respectively. 

Tom Heinsohn ended his career as a player in 1965 at age 30 with his number 15 jersey retired, but that was just the beginning to his partnership with the Boston Celtics. In his time as a coach, Tom won another two NBA championships, in 1974 and 1976, and was named NBA Coach of the Year in 1973, despite not winning a ring. In that year, he led the Celtics to a league-best record of 68–14 before being upset by the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference finals. Heinsohn ended his coaching career in 1978 with a 690–427 record and was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame again in 2015 for his success as a coach. 

Tommy’s personality and insights into the game of basketball will also be missed in broadcasting, where he devoted much of his time in between his years as a player and coach, and after retiring as a coach. He was known for awarding “Tommy Points” to good teammates and hustle plays as well as the “Tommy Award” for outstanding performances. 

Through and through, Tommy Heinsohn was passionate about all aspects of basketball and was a true Celtic. In a statement addressing his death, the team said, “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.”

Players, coaches and fans also joined in to commemorate Tommy on social media. Bill Russell wrote a touching tribute, tweeting, “We were rookies together and friends for life. In life there are a limited number of true friends, today I lost one. RIP Heiny.”

Tommy’s love of the sport shone through in his time on the court as a player, on the sidelines as a coach and in the booth as a broadcaster. Although we will miss Mr. Celtic, the league and fans will always remember Tom Heinsohn for his dedication, insight and humor.


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