Tommy Heinsohn, a member of the Boston Celtics organization since the 1950s, has died. He was 86 years old. The news about his death was confirmed by the team on Tuesday.
“This is a devastating loss,” the team’s owners said in a statement. “Tommy was the ultimate Celtic. For the past 18 years, our ownership group has relied hugely on Tommy’s advice and insights and has revealed in his hundreds of stories about Red Auerbach, Bill Russell, and how the Celtics became a dynasty. He will be remembered forever.” So far the cause of death is still a mystery.
Thomas William Heinsohn, who was born Aug. 26, 1934, grew up in Union City, N.J., where he attended St. Michael’s High School before enrolling at Holy Cross.“My mother bought me a brand-new suit for going away to college,” he recalled. “We were poor, but she wanted me to have that. It was a powder-blue suit with pegged pants — you know, skinny at the bottom. I think I made quite an impression with that.”
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His poverty stricken life never pulled him back from his dreams and goal. He was eponymous in making a more enduring impression on the court, where he was the Crusaders’ captain and a first-team All-American. He scored a school-record 51 points against Boston College at the Garden and helped lead the Crusaders to the National Invitation Tournament title in 1954 as well as two NCAA postseason bids.
Boston Celtic Legend Tom Heinsohn bids adieu!
Before the Celtics selected him as their territorial choice in the 1956 draft, Mr. Heinsohn considered playing for the Amateur Athletic Union team in Peoria, Ill., and trying out for that year’s Olympics in Melbourne, where he would have performed alongside future Boston teammates Russell and K.C. Jones on the US gold-medal team.
As far as his legacy is concerned, he is forever tied to the Celtics, where he played a part in all 17 of the franchise’s championships — from player to coach to color commentator. He took the name as the team’s leading scorer in four of the championship seasons. The six-time All-Star was also the 1957 Rookie of the Year and a four-time All-NBA second-team honoree.
In 1969, Heinsohn was named head coach of the Celtics and he served in that role until 1978. He won coach of the year in 1973, and under his leadership, the Celtics added two more championship banners in 1974 and 1976. He finished his coaching career with a record of 427-263, which trails only Red Auerbach for most wins in franchise history. Later he got retired in 1965 with totals of 12,194 points and 5,749 rebounds.
Soon after Heinsohn got inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach in 2015. Along with his Hall of Fame honors as a player in 1986, Heinsohn is one of only four people — along with Bill Sharman, John Wooden, and Lenny Wilkens — to be in the Hall as a player and coach.
In 1981, Heinsohn, who had previous TV experience, partnered with Mike Gorman to create a Celtics broadcasting tandem that lasted decades. Although Heinsohn’s role diminished over the years, he was still calling home games into the 2018-19 season and working as a studio analyst when the Celtics were on the road.
“For all of his accomplishments as a player, coach, and broadcaster, it is Tommy’s rich personality that defined the man,” the Celtics said in a statement. “A loving father, grandfather, and husband. A talented painter and a lively golf partner. Unofficial mentor to decades of Celtics coaches and players. A frequent constructive critic of referees. Originator of the most ‘Celtic stat’ of them all, The Tommy Point. And a boundless love for all things Boston Celtics, a passion which he shared with fans over 64 years.We take this time to celebrate his 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.”