“This is a devastating loss,” the Celtics ownership 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 have reveled in his hundreds of stories about Red Auerbach, Bill Russell and how the Celtics became a dynasty. He will be remembered forever.”
A popular and respected Beantown legend, Heinsohn won eight titles with the Celtics as a player — including seven in a row from 1959-65 — and two more behind the bench during the 1970s. He is one of only four people inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach.
Heinsohn partnered with Mike Gorman in 1981 to begin a Celtics announcing team that spanned four decades. He still was providing commentary on their home games as recently as 2018-19. “It has been the privilege of my professional life to be the Mike in Mike & Tommy,” Gorman wrote on Twitter today.
Roughly 2800 times I sat down with Tommy to broadcast a game. Every time it was special. HOF player…HOF coach…HOF partner. Celtics Nation has lost its finest voice. Rest In Peace my friend. It has been the privilege of my professional life to be the Mike in Mike & Tommy.
— Mike Gorman (@celticsvoice) November 10, 2020
A national audience would get to know Heinsohn from his years as a lead color commentator on CBS’ NBA coverage during the league’s 1980s heyday. Often paired with Brent Musburger or Verne Lundquist, he worked four consecutive NBA Finals from 1984-87 — three of which pitted the Celtics against their Showtime-era uber-rival Los Angeles Lakers. Fans of the latter, and other teams that played the Celtics when Heinsohn was the color guy, often would bristle at his perceived homerism. But his work was good, and the ratings were huge.
Heinsohn remained with CBS though the decade, working more on NCAA telecasts in the later years.
A 6-foot-7 power forward, Heinsohn was drafted by the Celtics out of Holy Cross in 1956 and was named the NBA Rookie of the Year for the 1956-57 season — over his legendary teammate Bill Russell. Their teams coached by Red Auerbach dominated the league into the mid-’60s. Along with his dual Hall of Fame inductions, Heinsohn made six NBA All-Star teams, was the league’s 1973 Coach of the Year, received the 2009 Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award from the NBA Coaches Association, was a key early leader of the NBA players union and had his No. 15 jersey retired by the Celtics after they hung ’em up in 1965.
The only other people inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and coach are John Wooden, Bill Sharman and Lenny Wilkins.
“For all of his accomplishments as a player, coach and broadcaster, it is Tommy’s rich personality that defined the man,” the Celtics’ statement continued. “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.”
Here are some tributes to Heinsohn posted on social media today:
Boston Celtics Hall of Famer, Champion, & legend Tommy Heinsohn passed away today. I will always remember Tommy & Dick Stockton calling my Showtime Lakers & Larry's Celtics games on CBS. RIP! Cookie and I are praying for the entire Heinsohn family and all of his loved ones.🙏🏾
— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) November 10, 2020
40 years ago Tommy Heinsohn and Mike Gorman broadcast their first game together.
Today Celtics legend Tommy Heinsohn has passed away at age 86.
Rest, Tommy.🏀☘️ pic.twitter.com/IHLv2TaXH0
— Rex Chapman🏇🏼 (@RexChapman) November 10, 2020
R.I.P. Tom Heinsohn, NBA legend. For me I will always think of him as the color analyst on CBS's NBA coverage during the 80's, but his contributions throughout his career were too many to count.
— Steve Kerr (@SteveKerr) November 10, 2020