Tommy Heinsohn, basketball Hall of Famer, passed away today at the age of 86. Some of you reading this might remember Heinsohn from his days as a member of the Boston Celtics, both as a player and a coach. But the younger crowd, in which I am included, will remember Heinsohn for his 40-plus years spent broadcasting Celtics games.
Heinsohn and longtime play-by-play partner Mike Gorman were a perfect pairing, a true fire-and-ice tandem. For every one of Heinsohn's over-the-top rants about referees, Gorman was there to bring him back to Earth. Heinsohn would bring the grumbling and complaining that all fans engage in during games, and Gorman brought the light-hearted optimism that served as a perfect counterweight on a television broadcast.
I will remember Tommy Heinsohn with a deep fondness. In between insane segments like comparing Greg Stiemsma to Bill Russell or describing, unprompted, how he saw Aron Baynes in the shower one time, Heinsohn would slip in tidbits of basketball knowledge that only a lifer could have to offer. The man grew up in New Jersey, but you couldn't tell just by listening to him. Heinsohn adopted the Boston accent like he spent his whole life there. Which, basically, he did.
Heinsohn was a part of the Celtics' very first championship team in 1957. He was, in some way, involved in every championship since. He won with Bill Russell, he coached John Havlicek, and he called both Larry Bird and Paul Pierce. He was, in essence, Celtics basketball.
It's going to be hard when basketball comes on next year and Heinsohn's familiar rasp isn't there to welcome Celtics fans. For me, he was the perfect color commentator on an RSN. Nobody tunes in to the local broadcast to receive impartial analysis, and Heinsohn never once pretended to do so. He ragged on the refs just like a grandpa sitting on the couch in Southie with a beer in hand might. On the rare occasion, he would abandon any attempt to formulate a complete thought and simply yell in celebration with the rest of the crowd. Heinsohn never saw a call against the Celtics he thought was fair-- just like many of us.
The term gets thrown around a lot nowadays, but Heinsohn was and will forever be a treasure in the hearts of Celtics fans. Just like the Celtics, he was a constant companion for millions of people over the decades, always there no matter what was happening. The Celtics remain, but Tommy is gone. We will miss him.