As I read Heinsohn, Don’t You Ever Smile? I kept thinking, "This reminds me of something. What the hell is it?" Eventually it hit me – Instant Replay – The Green Bay Diary of Jerry Kramer. I read the latter at least four years ago, but after some thought there are numerous similarities.
1. Though Heinsohn’s book came out in 1976 (8 years after Instant Replay) his playing career roughly coincided with Kramer’s. As professional athletes from the same era, albeit of different sports, they had similar experiences and outlooks. Both books are an odd mix of self deprecating humor, ego (see #3), attempts to explain their sports to the uneducated masses, discussions on the struggles athletes face, and financial concerns, which are odd in hindsight given how much money today’s athletes make. Different times.
2. Both played for legendary, overbearing coaches that built mystiques while dominating their respective sports.
3. Both Heinsohn and Kramer were overshadowed by teammates and that comes through. On the Packers Ray Nitschke, Bart Starr, and Jim Taylor were more recognizable while Bob Cousy and Bill Russell dominated the Celtics. At the time of both publications people did not know Kramer would miss out on the Hall of Fame and Heinsohn would make it. Yet their respective egos were definitely present. In fact they both played up big performances in key moments – Kramer’s block on the winning TD in the Ice Bowl and Heinsohn’s ridiculous Game 7 of the 1957 Finals, which helped Boston win its first title.
Check out past book reviews below, book review guidelines here, and an entertaining photo from the Celtics parade. And don't forget to click “Continue Reading This Post” for more on Heinsohn.
The Last Shot
Let Me Tell You a Story
Fall River Dreams
Those Who Love The Game – Glenn “Doc” Rivers on Life in the NBA and Elsewhere
Don’t You Ever Smile? came out in 1976. That’s before Larry Bird (2:20 mark), Heinsohn’s induction in the Hall of Fame, Tommy Points, “I Love Waltahhh!”, the greatest offensive Celtic of all time, his second ring as a coach, and so much more. As a result I'll focus on the following:
Status as Auerbach's Whipping Boy
Some Reminders that it was a Different Era
Ack Ack and the Cooz
Stuff I Didn’t Touch Upon But Was Gold Nevertheless
Heinsohn made a lot of references to his temper, disagreements with officials, and aspects of his personality. He alternated between joking about it and being at the very least annoyed at how people viewed him. Along those lines he relayed a story about how he learned he was rookie of the year.
"It was standard procedure, even then, for me to get notices from the NBA about my technical’s. I went through my mail and found the letter from the league office. Russell looked over and began cackling like only he can cackle. ‘Whatcha do, get another fine?’ he asked. ‘Well it looks like it,’ I replied.” Heinsohn/Lewin 91
In reality Heinsohn received $300 for winning Rookie of the Year. However, his tendency to accumulate technical fouls as well as his detailed negative interactions, which included glares and a variety of faces, made me wonder if he was the Rasheed Wallace of his era. Of course Heinsohn rarely let his behavior get in the way of winning and all he did was win championships. In fact I may be banned from blogging about the Celtics for even brining this up. Moving on…
Yet the greatest insight into Heinsohn’s demeanor came from his interactions with Tom Meschery, who actually looked up to Heinsohn and hoped to mimic his game. The two had an ugly exchange during their Meschery’s rookie season that went as follows:
1. Heinsohn complained incessantly to the referees about a missed call.
2. Meschery questioned whether or not Heinsohn would ever stop “bitching”.
3. Heinsohn responded in an infuriating fashion, which he did not repeat in the book. Regardless he angered his opponent.
4. Meschery knocked Heinsohn into the basket support, sending him to the foul line as a result.
5. Meschery tried to sucker punch Heinsohn prior to his first foul shot. Heinsohn saw it coming out of the corner of his eye, dodged, and threw a punch in return that led to 7 stitches over Meschery’s eye.
Following the game Meschery had not cooled down:
"My only regret is that I missed the punch. Heinsohn’s constant complaining to the refs all season long about being fouled and the way he smirks at you and some things he says have been bugging me. We had a few words, again, and I just got tried of taking his guff. The guy is like no one else in this league. I can take guys that rough you up as long as they don’t throw it back in your face. I figure if a guy is going to give it out he should know how to take a little in return and keep his mouth shut. But not Heinsohn. You foul him and he moans to the refs the rest of the game. They say he’s an alright guy off the court but I only know him on the court and don’t like the way he acts. I admire the guy as a player. He’s a great one. But his whole personality leaves me with a great distaste.” (Heinson/Lewin 113).
Critics of Heinsohn’s work as a color commentator agree with Meschery’s take, which does apply to his broadcasting. Yet I still love Heinsohn’s work. He has a combination of hysteria and smugness that I’ve come to appreciate. And for the record the man found ways to get excited throughout the 2007 season. That was no small task.
I’m convinced that a player can’t make it in the NBA unless he has an ego. It get’s complicated when a guy goes from being the best player on every team he has ever played for to a team with a different alpha dog. That happened to Heinsohn when he arrived in Boston. Still his ego comes through on numerous occasions:
1. Repeated use of the third person.
2. One encounter with Dick McGuire,
"My first game was an exhibition against the Knicks, and I took a hook shot from the dressing room. ‘Are you kidding?’ said Dick McGuire…’You can’t get away with that stuff in this league.' I told Dickie he hadn’t seen anything yet. He never forgot that. Me, a rookie, popping off like that in his first exhibition game. He went home and told his wife, Terry: ‘There’s a kid on the Celtics who is the cockiest kid I’ve ever seen.’” – Heinsohn/Lewin 49
3. His take Boston clinching its first title:
"You know what Cousy and Sharman were thinking. They were going to win this one if it killed them. They wound up almost killing us. They wanted the game with a passion, and they chose the final one to play the worst ever. Their shooting was horrible. They were five for forty in their biggest game. They were the real pros. They were supposed to carry the Celtics under pressure but, modestly, a rookie named Heinsohn saved it for them by hitting seventeen of his thirty-three attempts and three foul shots for thirty-seven points.” Heinsohn/Lewin 71.
4. His explanation of how the Celtics clinched the 1964 title. Check it out.
5. According to Heinsohn he gave Auerbach the idea of naming Russell player/coach.
Status as Red Auerbach’s Whipping Boy
Based upon his personality and team dynamics Heinsohn emerged as Auerbach’s whipping boy. It had to be someone and there was no chance that it would be Cousy or Russell – they would not put up with that. Meanwhile, Ramsay, Sharman, and others couldn’t hack it. Insert Heinsohn:
1. Read the book for the explanation of one of Auerbach’s earliest strategies for guarding Wilt Chamberlain. It simultaneously makes Don Nelson’s innovations look mild and Heihnson appear certifiable.
2. Before Heinsohn was even a Celtic Auerbach bad-mouthed the Holy Cross alum in the paper for being lackadaisical and lacking aggressiveness, hustle, the right attitude and the proper temperament (Heinsohn/Lewin 40). Ouch.
3. The C’s often played three-on-three, full court games in training camp. Losers stayed. Auerbach assembled the teams in such a way that Heinsohn always lost. Doc Rivers might want to consider this for Glen Davis.
4. Even Russell got in on the act. He once told reporters, “
What they ought to do with Heinsohn is run him until he drops and throw a bucket of water over him and run him more.” Heinsohn/Lewin 92.
As you probably pieced together Heinsohn’s weight and conditioning were often issues, which he addressed in the book.
5. The Celtics organization failed to recognize his 10,000-point. This story was eerily similar to what happened to Kevin McHale close to 28 years later. Although I don't recall the exact milestone. As a side note there are some Heinsohn/McHale parallels. Both were excellent players who wanted to win, but it did not consume them. They had great sense of humors, were often yelled at by coaches (in McHale’s case it was Bill Fitch), and were never treated quite like an exalted teammate – Cousy and Larry Bird.
Some Reminders that it was a Different Era
- As a child Heinsohn was bullied to the point that he refused to leave his house. Eventually his father rounded up a bunch of kids and had them fight young Tommy one-on-one. He won some and lost some but ultimately started going outside again.
- While in high school he played semi-pro under assumed names. This would be a really big deal today. And not in a fun, Michael Jordan commercial type of way.
- Imagine what would happen if Doc Rivers punched Jerry Buss in the mouth before game 4 of the Finals. Well Auerbach did just that to St. Louis Hawks owner and former employer Ben Kerner.
- Several of the Celtics beat the hell out of a fan in their huddle.
- Auerbach and a bunch of the guys engaged in a high-speed apple war as they drove down the highway and threw the fruit back and forth between two cars.
- Clyde Lovellette followed a referee to his hotel room and fired blanks at him from a couple of six-shooters.
- Heinsohn described the stories at post championship celebration dinners as follows, “
They may not sound funny to you but, remember, when you have just won a championship and the drinks are flowing, a reading of Mein Kampf would be humorous." Heinsohn/Lewin 128
That type of stuff is a much bigger deal today.
Long story short, it was a different era. And there were plenty more examples.
Ack Ack and the Cooz
Before we go any further can everyone agree that Ack Ack is one of the greatest nicknames of all time? And yet I imagine few people even know Heinsohn ever went by that.
When thinking about Heinsohn and Cousy it’s important to remember that the Cooz is 6 years older. Though they both went to Holy Cross, their time in Worcester did not overlap, and they only really met shortly before Heinsohn joined the Celtics. While on the Celtics they spent a lot of time together commuting to Boston from their respective homes in Worcester. There’s a lot of ways to go from here but I want to talk about their on air interactions. It’s just an odd dynamic. The outgoing, colorful Heinsohn defers to the Cooz who clearly knows less about the league and its player at this point. Furthermore, Cousy came off like a bitter cynic up until this season (not that I blame him) while Heinsohn somehow talked himself into rooting for the Celtics in general and several players in particular. Read the book for more Cousy/Heinsohn info.
He was put in an extremely difficult position. For starters up until the first day of training camp there was still a chance that Russell would show up to play/coach. On top of that Heinsohn had to coach some of his ex-teammates and on several occasions Auerbach undermined him in spectacular fashion. Now that wasn’t Auerbach’s intention but it did not help his new coach’s standing. However, the Celtics struggles on the court were by far the biggest problem of all. The mighty franchise fell hard in his first year on the sidelines. Over the time the C’s slowly got better and during his stint at coach Heinsohn won two championships. Now I rarely if ever think of him as a coach. He’s a player and color commentator to me. But how many guys have won two rings in the NBA as a coach? Red Auerbach, Chuck Daly, Alex Hannum, Red Holzman, Phil Jackson, K.C. Jones, John Kundla, Gregg Popovich, Pat Riley, Rudy Tomjanovic…Heinsohn. Worth noting.
Stuff I Didn’t Touch Upon That Was Gold Nevertheless
1. Paul Seymour’s three attempts to knock out Heinsohn. It goes well beyond comedy.
2. Heinsohn on his teammates. Some great insight. I particularly enjoyed the Bill Russell info.
3. His role as President of the Players Association and the threatened All Star game strike.
4. The Celtics trip abroad, which included the abuse Heinsohn took in Poland and his ill-fated revenge attempt in Egypt that involved a complete underestimation of Arab-Israeli relations. Hint – Auerbach was Jewish
5. His thoughts on Dave Cowens both on and off the court.