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June 23, 2011

Basketball to brushes: Celtics great Tommy Heinsohn shows his artistic side

Rockport gallery hosts exhibit of his paintings

Tommy Heinsohn, a key player in the historic Boston Celtics dynasty, has developed another talent he possessed as child, trading in a basketball for a paint brush.

And this weekend, he's putting that talent on display at The Mosher Gallery in Rockport.

A plein air painter for more than 30 years, Heinsohn's interest in art began to emerge when he was a student in Catholic grammar schools in Union City, N.J.

"I used to be the one to draw the Christmas scenes in colored chalk on the blackboard for the nuns," Heinsohn said in a phone interview with the Times.

In high school, he did some drawings for the yearbook and even helped a nun taking a master's course in biology at Fordham by drawing amoebas for her. In the 1950s, at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester where he was studying business and economics, one Jesuit priest took note of a drawing Heinsohn did of Joe Welch, who was on the cover of Life magazine because of his rebuff of Sen. Joseph McCarthy during a hearing on Communists.

"The priest, who was the head of the art department that was being newly formed, convinced me to put the drawing in the college show, and he convinced me to take an art class," recalled Heinsohn. "I went for three weeks but I had to drop out because it conflicted with why I was there — to play basketball."

His talent on the court took precedence for the budding star, who was drafted by the Celtics in 1956. His career then ignited, starting with his 1957 selection as NBA Rookie of the Year.

He was part of the Celtics' core that won eight NBA titles, and earned recognition as an All-Star six times. And after a 9-year tenure, he retired as a player in 1965. He went on to coach the Celtics, under which the team won two more world championships.

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