Heinsohn was a six-time NBA All-Star as a player with the Celtics from 1956-1965, winning eight NBA championships during that span. He coached the team from 1969-1978. He is one of just four people to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach.
The Celtics released a statement Tuesday afternoon following Heinsohn’s death.
We take this time to celebrate Tommy Heinsohn’s 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.
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) November 10, 2020
Current basketball fans know Heinsohn from his broadcasting career. Since 1981, Heinsohn has done color commentary on Celtics television broadcasts alongside play-by-play partner Mike Gorman. Known for his bombastic style, tendency to root for the hometown team, and his liberal gifting of “Tommy Points,” Heinsohn became as much a part of fans’ experience of the games as the players themselves.
“One thing I learned a long time ago is that there’s no control over what people think of you,” Heinsohn told The Boston Globe’s John Powers. “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.”
A native of New Jersey, Heinsohn played at Worcester’s Holy Cross from 1953 to 1956, becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer at the time with 1,789 points. The Celtics chose the 6-f00t-7-inch forward as their regional pick in 1956. The team retired his No. 15 in 1965.
In a lengthy interview with Boston.com in 2016, Heinsohn waxed poetic about his favorite playing style (“We ran! We ran whenever we could! We wore ‘em out,”) defined Bill Russell’s greatness (“He changed what you thought you could do. You can’t underestimate the importance of that. Everything he did was geared to winning,”) and reflected on what he liked about the current Celtics organization.
“I’ll tell you, one of the many things I love about Brad [Stevens] is that he doesn’t embarrass anybody,” said Heinsohn. “He promotes people, they know where they stand. [Steve] Kerr does that too with the Warriors; he’s smart enough to trust smart players. Whenever I hear a coach start to complain about his players, I say, ‘Forget about it. It’s all over.’”
In that 2016 interview, Heinsohn was humble about what he thinks his legacy will be.
“Well, Mike [Gorman] put it best. There’s a generation – it’s an old generation, my friend, but it’s a generation! – that remembers me best as a player. There’s a generation that remembers me best as a coach. There’s a generation that thinks of me as a broadcaster. And kids, they think I’m Shrek! I’ll tell you what, I’ll take all of it!”
On Twitter, Gorman shared his reaction to the news.