In this final part of our look into Heinsohn, Don't You Ever Smile? by Tommy Heinsohn, let's start with a great story about Tommy's relationship with Wilt Chamberlain.
"Hey you," snarled Wilt Chamberlain. "If you get in my way one more time, I'm gonna kill you." "Oh, yeah, big baby," I replied in my bravest tone. "Give it a go whenever you're ready." Damn that Red Auerbach. Always getting me in trouble. Now he had Chamberlain, the world's strongest man, threatening to tear me apart. Why did it always have to be me when it came time for Red to choose a whipping boy? Wilt and I weren't exactly the best of friends from the last picture. We had come close two or three times the season of 1959-60, and it was only his first year in the NBA. I already had established somewhat of an image as a fighter in my pro basketball career, which began in 1956, but Chamberlain was not what I had in mind to further that reputation. There was no avoiding contact with him in those days. In Chamberlain's rookie year, everyone was in awe of him. He was some physical specimen. King Kong in sneakers. Seven foot two, three or whateve. He was bigger than he claimed, which was seven-one. He certainly looked much bigger to me. He was a powerful man. A tremendous offensive player. His biggest weaknesswas he couldn't shoot fouls. Everyone in the league played percentages. If he got the ball in low, and you let him wheel into the basket, he had two points. What we did on the Celtics was to force the man with the ball down the sidelines and pressure him. Bill Russell would sneak out and place himself in front of Wilt so they sould have to lob the ball. That would give one of us a chance to steal the pass or, as he was catching it, foul him. Everyone in the league did that to Wilt. It ran through all the forwards. Of course, you used up all the fouls, but it was the strategy. Wilt was a mild mannered individual. He was no angry man. He was strong, he no doubt was concerned that, if he hit someone, he would hurt him. It was miraculous the way he controlled himself in view of the punishment he took. He could have ruined the strategy if he had been capable of making his foul shots. There would be no reason to yank his arms or punch the ball or sometimes tackle him to keep him from powering to the basket for easy points. I was the lucky Celtic grabbing him most times, and sometimes I wondered if he might just lift me up with the ball and jam both through the hoop. He got to know Tommy Heinsohn very well under the circumstances, and I suspected it was a matter of time until he lost his patience. It finally happened one night in Philadelphia during a regular season game. A fight started and for some illogical reason Wilt went after me. I had no idea of what I intended to do or what he intended to do to me, but my life flashed before me. Why did Auerbach have to ask me to do his dirty work against someone so big? Why couldn't I give a foul to little Guy Rodgers or to Normie Drucker, a small referee? Anyway, there I was, waiting for last rites as Wilt came at me. He grabbed me in front of the Philadelphia bench and dug his fingers into my reinforced shoulder straps and ripped out a handful of uniform. That's like tearing the Manhattan phone book apart. You've got to be strong to do that. Right there and then I made up my mind I'm never going to get too involved with Mr Chamberlain. I would do what I was told to do because no one should ever accuse me of being a coward, but I would be cautiously brave where Wilt was concerned. This man was capable of dribbling me. The season progressed and there was another occasion when we were under the boards and bouncing off each other - me more than he, naturally. He looked at me and I stared at him. He looked down, of course, and I looked up. We glared at each other so long I got a stiff neck, but nothing really happened. I got his message though. He was telling me he was tired of my being a nuisance. It would behoove me to go to the recored book and look up the statistics: Wilt Chamberlain, 7-1 (and more), 250 pounds; Tommy Heinsohn, 6-7, 218. I understood what Wilt had in mind, but I also understood what Auerbach had in mind. Red wanted Chamberlain sent to the foul line instead of scoring baskets and, despite the lurking danger (to me), Auerbach kept urging me to attack as no risk to him. It built up all season. I could see it in Wilt's eyes. He exploded in the playoffs because of a favorite play we employed to exploit Wilt's slowness making the transition from offense to defense. He was not the fastest person in the world though he ran the quarter mile in high school and could cover ground once his long legs got moving. We would ship the ball into Bob Cousy after a foul shot, and Bill Russell would take off for two easy points. Wilt just couldn't get up the floor with Russ, especially if Bill had a quick start. Wilt was not dumb. Besides his obvious physical qualities, he had a sharp basketball mind. He began to catch on to the play. We would beat Philadelphia by ten or twelve points and get nine or ten points on this play alone. When we reached the playoffs, Auerbach decided he had to do something else to Wilt. We were in the fourth year of our dynasty. We won the first championship in Celtics history in 1957 - the rookie season for me and Russell - then lost to the St. Louis Hawks in 1958 and beat the Minneapolis Lakers in 1959. Philadelphia and Chamberlain were to be the opening opponents in our 1960 title defense, so Auerbach called a strategy meeting. "Anytime a foul shot is taken," he told us, "the man who is taking the foul shooter is going to step in and pick off Chamberlain so Russ can take off." Fine. Good strategy. Wilt will turn to head up court and a Celtic will impede his progress. But which Celtic? Red didn't tell us right away. He waited for someone to volunteer. Who in his right mind would sacrifice himself to get in Wilt's way? That's like asking someone to step in front of a subway train to slow it down so a friend can get off. There were no volunteers. Who got the job for a change? Why, old whipping boy. "Heinsohn," said Red, "you will do this." I looked at him. "We're going to play seven games," I said assuming the series would go seven, "and I've got to do this against this guy? What's the matter with you?" Frank Ramsey didn't want to do it because he was too small. Jim Loscutoff, our muscleman, wasn't playing enough at that late stage of his career to be on the floor to do it. I was the logical lamb. On every Philadelphia foul shot, I blocked the shooter and then jumped in Wilt's way. After Wilt took a few steps, he had a good head of steam going. I got in his way and he ran into me. There were awesome collisions throughout the first game, which we won in the Boston Garden, 111-105. Wilt got 42 points and 29 rebounds in his first playoff game, an exceptional performance for a rookie. We knew Wilt was unhappy. I knew because I felt the heat from the big dragon every time I embarrassed him by picking him off so Russ could break away on foul shots. Russ knew because he blocked at least half a dozen of Wilt's shots. What we didn't know was what, if anything, Wilt would do about it in the second game, which was played on his court in Philadelphia. Auerbach made sure to remind me of my special assignment, and Wilt quickly reminded me I would be a lot safer taking my wife to a movie. He advised me what would happen if I got in his way once more. It was a choice between Auerbach and Chamberlain, and for some stupid reason Red won. I kept bumping Wilt, and each time he hit me harder. In a situation like that, you get cute. I figured Wilt would continue to retailiate so why not alert the referee and get a foul called on Chamberlain? I turned to Arnie Heft, one of the officials, and told him to watch Wilt because he was pushing me all night. I assumed Wilt would get caught on the second action and my picking him off would be tolerated under the rules. I picked him off at the foul line and he finally hit me from behind so hard, I ended up at halfcourt. He ran up to finish me off. Here comes this seven one monster pounding up the floor at me: glomp glomp. He wound up to throw a punch just as I was scrambling off the floor to defend myself. I was about halfway up when Tommy Gola ran between us as a peacemaker just as Wilt let one go, hitting Gola in the back of the head. Wilt cracked his hand and was standing there in obvious pain, helplessly. With great courage and glee, I assumed my best James J Corbett fighting stance and pelted the giant with lefts and rights but he didn't even know I was hitting him. There was a picture in the paper the next day that showed Wilt down and me standing over him. I didn't know how he hit the floor. It certainly wasn't from any of my punches. That's probably where Muhammad Ali got the idea for that part of his act where he fakes being knocked down. They took Wilt to the hospital and taped his hand so he could play the third game, in Boston. It was his right hand - the shooting hand - and it was heavily bandaged, but to his credit he insisted on playing. Auerbach was equally insistent we follow the same strategy. That meany little old me picking off big old Wilt on foul shots again. Red figured Wilt had another hand, so go get him, baby. Sometime in the third gam, they lobbed the ball over Russell's head and I couldn't possibly get to Wilt before he went into the act of shooting. The pressure was on me. There was only one thing to do. I swung at the ball, hoping to punch it from his hands. He was so strong, there really was no way you could take the ball from him. I ended up punching him on his bandaged hand. He went through a series of wierd steps that reminds me of today's dances. They charged me with a foul, and Wilt glared as he walked to the line in pain. I said to myself: "Oh,no. If this guy comes after me again, what am I going to do now?" I stared at him and he stared at me. And that was the last time Wilt Chamberlain and I had any kind of problem. He thought I was nuts. He probably said, "This guy's crazy. He broke my hand and then goes and punches me on the broken hand. I better leave him alone."
Finally, here is a story about Tommy's initial broadcasting experiences. If you think a broadcasting team of Mike and Tommy is a bit biased toward the Celtics, how about a Tommy and Red team. Now, that is one I wish I could have heard.
"Hey," said Red Auerbach, during the summer of 1966, "we're going to be televising road games this season on Channel 56. Are you interested in doing the play by play?" I gulped. I had never minded going one on one with Chamberlain or Lovellette or Maurice Stokes, but doing play by play made me apprehensive. "I've never done anything like that, Red," I said, skeptically. "Play by play is a tough job." He assured me I could do it and shouldn't worry about it. Once more I was being advised to belt Wilt because it wouldn't hurt Red. He had the strategy all worked out, naturally. "What we'll do is get Marty Glickman and have him break you in," he said. "He'll train you for a few games. He's agreed to do it. Give it a shot." I was shaken but grateful because it was ideal therapy after my unfortunate experience that year with withdrawal pains. Marty broke me in for three or four games. I acquired the feel of the microphone, the pace of the game, the commercials, and the entire mechanics. I borrowed the Celtics' videotape equipment and practiced at home games. Fred Cusick, the sports director of Channel 56 would sit alongside and review my homework after the Boston Garden games. I practiced as often as I could until they finally decided I was ready for Marty to leave me on my own. I had no color man, nothing. I did every commercial, every lead in, and the halftime interviews without a problem, which made me feel great - like the night I scored 47 points in Seattle. Only this time, a star was born in Baltimore. I sweated frequently that first show but I drank enough Cokes to cool me off. That led to the discovery of an occupational hazard of TV announcers. It is called the relief stoop by truck drivers and other patrons of the highways. It is called something more descriptive by ballplayers when they go to the dressing room at half time. Anyway, I discovered that if you drink lots of liquids, and commercials ran about a minute and you were the sole announcer, there was no time left for other things. I was quite uncomfortable for a while until experience provided the answer, as it generally does. "Folks," I would say, "we're going to pause now for station identification." Those turned out to be the longest station breaks in history. They had to keep it going until I ran to the men's room and got back to the mike - and I was never know for my speed even when I wasn't racing with a handicap. It think my only fluff the night of my first solo flight involved the lead in to the Friday night movie: Yankee Doodle Dandy. "Make sure you remain tuned in immediately following the game," I said, for Yenkel Doodle Dendy." Then I said: "Of course, that's a Jewish movie." I was proud of myself. Howard Cosell couldn't have ad libbed like that - and probably wouldn't have. Whenever I made mistakes, I would have more damn fun doing it. I had learned about mistakes, remember? Still, it was a tedious, difficult one man job for an amateur Johnny Most. I kept telling the people at the station that they must send someone with me for at least half time. Help me. I had to as least go to the men's room. Triple spot the commercials because it was way up on the second floor. That's how Boston's version of Huntley and Brinkley or the Frick and Frack of the airways developed. Despite great expense and with little concern for me, they gave me Auerbach as color man. He didn't do all the games, which indicated the people at the station had some compassion after all. The new broadcasting team worked the games in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York, primarily. I did others by myself. If Thomas Edison had known his inventive mind might lead to Auerbach and Heinsohn on television, he would have gone into medicine. Red loved peanuts almost as much as Chinese food and was forever eating them during the telecasts. We were working a playoff game in Philadelphia and he dropped the bag on the floor. As Red reached for the peanuts, Chet Walker drove toward the hoop and was leveled by Larry Siegfried. Everyone in the arena and watching television at home had seen the play except Red. He had been involved with a more important matter. Walker was stretched out when Red finally looked to the court. "What's he doing?" he screamed into his mike. "Is he pulling that same old jazz about twenty seconds?" Red was referring to the unlimited automatic timeouts NBA players had been known to take and fake for one reason or another. Each team now is entitled to only one twenty second "injury" time out a half with no questions asked, and some players, such as Bill Russell and Walt Frazier, made a career out of the opportunity to rest. "he's not hurt," Red told the home audience. "He wasn't even in on the play." I'm sure the viewers must have flipped the dials to see what game Red was watching. I knew he had made a mistake because of the peanuts and I had to say something to cover. "Red," I said informatively, "He was driving toward the basket and Siegfried hit him." A normal person wouldn't have touched that with a ten foot pole, but Red was not one to give up that easily. He could take any side of a debate and argue vigorously, and convincingly. He had chosen to say Walker had not been in on the play, and everyone was stuck with that. "He wasn't involved in the play," he said, brusquely. Now he had me on the hook. How do I get out of that one? It had become a battle of wills. A one on one confrontation and I had the ball. Walker was still on the floor, and the great television debate continued. "Siegfried knocked him down," I said, lowering my voice and hoping Red would take the hint. "He was not in the play!" insisted Red, his voice rising. "Okay, Red," I finally said. "Have it your way. He was not in the play, but would you settle for this - he was in the movie?" I'll say this for Red - he had me thinking all the time as to how to escape his situations. He was totally undisciplined and uninhibited. He told it like it was - as long as it favored the Celtics. But it was fun and some times funny.
This is the end of our series on Heinsohn, Don't You Ever Smile? I have only skimmed the surface of the great stories that you will find in this book. I highly recommend it for any Celtics fan. Next, I will bring you some stories from Red Auerbach On and Off the Court.