Tommy Heinsohn: Boston’s Cool Uncle


Losing an Uncle

When Tommy Heinsohn passed, it felt like an uncle died. It’s almost like departing with two uncles in one week. Losing both Heinsohn and Alex Trebek, two constant voices coming through TVs in New England most evenings, is quintessential 2020.

Unlike other local color guys, Tommy felt different as he was a local hero. At Holy Cross, he became an All-American and won an NIT Championship, back when the NIT was equal to the NCAA. (This author’s dad went to Holy Cross about 15 years after Heinsohn left. He discussed how his presence still loomed large and that Heinsohn was comparable to what Steph Curry did for Davidson).

The Boston Celtics selected Tommy in 1956, and he played his entire nine-year career at the Garden. In those nine seasons, Heinsohn and Bill Russell created a formidable front line. The duo produced eight Championships in nine Finals appearances.

After hanging up the Converses, he picked up the whistle. He helped oversee the transition from the Russell/Auerbach era into the next chapter of Celtics basketball with two more championships.

Tommy, never one to stray too far from the ranch, then picked up the mic and started announcing Celtics games. He had a stint on national TV with CBS, but ultimately came back.

What made Tommy great and so beloved was his role as the voice of the fan. As a coach, he was the Earl Weaver of basketball, never finding a ref he liked. The adage can’t teach an old dog new tricks applies here, and Tommy continued his ire at the pesky refs even from the booth.

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Ready To Battle

Even outside of sounding like a Celtics fan when a ref makes a questionable call, he also wasn’t one to bite his tongue when talking about disliked adversaries – namely a kid from Akron named LeBron James.

During some of those heated series, it almost felt like Tommy was ready to get back on the parquet and guard him.

Tommy’s endearing legacy will always be his passion and genuine love for the Boston Celtics, a franchise he worked with for seven decades. Watching local broadcast games felt like you were watching and learning the game with your uncle, one who could tell the most fantastic basketball stories and also paint you a masterpiece. Probably the coolest uncle in the world.

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