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Celtics legend Tom Heinsohn passes away at age 86

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Heinsohn was connected to the Celtics for 64 years as a player, coach and broadcaster

Miami Heat v Boston Celtics Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

Boston Celtics legendary player, coach and broadcaster Tom Heinsohn has passed away at the age of 86.

For Celtics fans as far back as 1956-57, when he won Rookie of the Year, Tom Heinsohn has been a part of the franchise. He played for the Celtics for nine seasons and was named an All-Star during his final five seasons. During his nine-year career, Heinsohn won eight NBA championships, missing out on nine-for-nine only when Boston lost to the St. Louis Hawks in six games in 1957-58.

Heinsohn was born in 1934. He became a New Jersey high school basketball standout at St. Michael’s in Union City. Following his high school career, Heinsohn would enroll at Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. This began a 67-year relationship with Massachusetts basketball.

Heinsohn excelled at Holy Cross and graduated as the school’s all-time leading scorer. In 1956, Heinsohn was drafted by the Celtics as a territorial or regional draft pick. Heinsohn would go on to win Rookie of the Year (over teammate Bill Russell) and an NBA title in his first season. Nothing but success on the court followed with seven more titles and several All-Star games.

One of Heinsohn’s greatest successes was helping lead the NBA players towards free agency. At the All-Star game in 1964, Heinsohn was one of the players who threatened to strike if the players weren’t granted free agent rights.

After retiring in 1965, Heinsohn stayed connected to basketball and the Celtics. In 1969, he was named Boston’s head coach replacing player-coach Bill Russell, who retired following the 1969 NBA Finals. In 1974 and 1976, Heinsohn led the Celtics to two more championships.

In between his playing career and coaching career, Heinsohn took on the broadcasting role he is most known for today. Heinsohn did play-by-play for three seasons before becoming the Celtics coach.

Heinsohn was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame, first as a player in 1986, and then as a coach in 2015. He’s one of just four people to be elected as both a player and a coach. Heinsohn was also elected to the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006 for his career at Holy Cross.

Following his coaching career, Heinsohn would return to the broadcast booth. In 1981, Heinsohn linked up with Mike Gorman to start a nearly 40-year run as the Celtics broadcast team.

For a generation of Celtics and basketball fans, Heinsohn was known as the curmudgeonly Boston homer. Heinsohn was regularly quick to criticize the referees, but even the Celtics couldn’t escape his ire. If Boston played poorly, or without what Heinsohn considered to be an acceptable amount of effort, the Hall of Famer would let them know. And he would do so loudly and without regret.

Heinsohn was also known for showering love on his favorite Celtics. It was often said that if Heinsohn gave you a nickname, you knew you made it in Boston. And if you made a particularly good play, you would be bestowed “Tommy Points”, which was Heinsohn’s way of recognizing the effort.

In recent years, Heinsohn’s workload had lessened. First, he began sitting out west coast trips. Then, Heinsohn started working only home games in Boston. He would still appear as part of the Celtics studio show.when Boston was on the road

During the 2019-20 season, Heinsohn missed most of the team’s broadcasts with various illnesses. Gorman would regularly pass on updates during games, including letting viewers know where Heinsohn thought the Celtics were falling short on the court.

Heinsohn became an accomplished painter off the court. Several of his paintings have been featured in galleries across New England over the years. In 2008, Heinsohn’s wife, whom he lovingly referred to as “The Redhead in Needham” passed away after a nearly six-year battle with cancer. The couple had three children.