Happy Birthday to Tommy Heinsohn who turns 78 today!! If you are a Celtics fan, you love Tommy for his absolute love of the Celtics and he hides it from no one. When I do the Comments from the Other Side columns, almost every one includes comments on how much they hate listening to Tommy because he broadcasts in the only way he knows how, 100% pro Celtic. But, every Celtic fan loves Tommy and would rather listen to the Celtics broadcast than any other announcers.
Since 1981, Tommy Heinsohn has been the color analyst on the Celtics' television broadcasts. Tommy bleeds green and sees everything through green colored glasses. He is part of the longest running broadcast team with Mike Gorman that has been calling Celtics games together for 31 years. Mike is one of the best play by play guys in the league and balances Tommy's color commentary perfectly. Tommy has also written a couple of great books about his experiences as a Celtic: Give 'em the Hook, and Heinsohn, Don't You Ever Smile. They are both fun reads and I recommend them highly for you to put on your reading list. Here is an excerpt from Heinsohn, Don't You Ever Smile just to whet your appetite and as a tribute to Tommy, the author. In this part, Tommy describes his early broadcasting experiences.
"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 stop 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 known for my speed even when I wasn't racing with a handicap. It think my only flub 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.
Tom Heinsohn is a true representative of Boston Celtics' pride. Known for his hard-nosed style of play, yet possessing a superb shooting touch and good body control, Tom Heinsohn was a vital cog in the Boston Celtics' dynasty of the 1950s and 1960s. Chosen as NBA Rookie of the Year in 1957, he helped the Celtics win eight NBA titles during his nine-year playing career. He was named to the All-NBA Second Team for four years, and was an All-Star for six years. His number 15 was retired by the Celtics in 1966.
But Tommy's time with the Celtics didn't end with his playing career. In 1969, three years after Red Auerbach retired, and the season after Bill Russell retired as player and coach, Tom Heinsohn was offered the post of head coach of the Boston Celtics. In what he called "guerrilla warfare," his teams kept the pressure on opponents at all times, controlling the tempo of the game and playing with great intensity.
During Heinsohn's eight full seasons as coach, Boston won five Eastern Division titles in a row, won two NBA Championships and compiled a 416-240 record. Heinsohn stepped down as head coach at the start of the 1977-78 season. Tom Heinsohn has won 10 NBA championship rings, second only to his teammate Bill Russell's eleven.
And, Tommy still wasn't done with the Celtics after his coaching career ended. In 1981, the now-retired Heinsohn joined Mike Gorman as color commentator in the Celtics' TV broadcasts; they have been delighting Celtics fans with their commentary ever since. . Tommy was enshrined in the Hall of Fame on May 6, 1986.
Before Walter McCarty was traded, at least once or twice a game, you would hear Tommy shout out "I love Waltah!!!" And since McCarty's departure, he has been heard shouting "I love Perk!" or "I love Delonte!" or "I love Rondo." And you truly believe that he does love every player on this team.
When the referees make a call against the Celtics, you will hear Tommy yell, "Go home to your mother!!" or tell them in no uncertain terms that they have erred in their judgement. And if they do make a questionable call against the Celtics, Tommy will always feel that his beloved Green team has been robbed. Even if the replay shows differently. Maybe not quite as bad as Red in Tommy's story above, but still, the Celtics are always the team in the right.
Tommy loves the Celtics. You can hear it in every broadcast and every word he speaks about the team. I am sure the man lives on green koolaid. Like Johnny Most before him, he sees little wrong in this team and is enthusiastic about all that he sees from them on the floor. I know when I get the other teams' feeds on League Pass, I miss Tommy. I miss his enthusiasm for his Celtics. I don't like watching any other announcers. It's just not the same.
Today, along with Celtics fans everywhere, I wish Tommy Heinsohn a very happy birthday and a Tommy Point or two, and I also wish him many, many more to come. I...love... Tommy!!!!!