Many younger Boston Celtics fans knew Tommy Heinsohn as the team’s passionate, longtime color commentator. However, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker still remembers him as a “dervish” of a player.
“The guy was all heart,” Baker said.
Heinsohn, the 86-year-old former Celtics player, coach, and commentator, died Tuesday. The news, which broke Tuesday afternoon while Baker was holding one of his regular COVID-19 press conferences, caught the governor off guard.
“Oh my god, really?” he said. “Oh, man, that is a shame.”
Baker recalled Heinsohn as a player in the 1960s, but struggled to come up with a modern-day comparison for the 6-foot-7 Hall of Famer. A 6-foot-6 former Harvard basketball player himself, Baker noted that Heinsohn’s bruising brand of power forward was mostly extinct in the current NBA.
“I mean, the guy would get 20 points a night and 15 to 20 rebounds, and he would always cover the other team’s best offensive player,” Baker said. “And he was one of those guys who no one ever wanted to cover and no one ever wanted to play against, because he came out on such a frantic intensity with respect to the way he played.”
Of course, Baker was also familiar with Heinsohn’s infamous, if also beloved, style of calling games.
“He was right up there with Johnny Most in terms of being so profoundly committed to the home team that, if you were watching the game and listening to him at the same time, you would swear he was watching a different game than the one you were watching, because every single call against anybody on the Celtics was a bad call, and every single missed call on the other folks was also a bad call,” the governor said.
Off the court, Baker also noted Heinsohn did “tons and tons of charitable work” in the area.
“He was such a special piece of our sports fabric here in Massachusetts,” he said, later adding that “2020 has just been a crummy year all the way around, and there’s one more great example.”
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