BOSTON — Tommy Heinsohn, who as a Boston Celtics player, coach and broadcaster over more than 60 years was with the team for all 17 of its NBA championships, has died. He was 86.
The basketball great also was tied to Cape Ann for decades. He summered for more than 20 years in Gloucester at a home above Stage Fort Park and he was friends with several noted Cape Ann artists.
Besides being a student of basketball, Heinsohn was a plein air painter for more than 30 years. He practiced his craft while on the road for his sports commentator assignments and on Cape Ann. Heinsohn's interest in art emerged when he was a student in Catholic grammar schools in Union City, New Jersey.
"I used to be the one to draw the Christmas scenes in colored chalk on the blackboard for the nuns," Heinsohn said in a 2011 phone interview with the Times. His interest continued through high school and college. But 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.
“This is a devastating loss,” the Celtics team's owners said in a statement Tuesday. “Tommy was the ultimate Celtic. For the past 18 years, our ownership group has relied hugely on Tommy’s advice and insights and have reveled in his hundreds of stories about Red Auerbach, Bill Russell, and how the Celtics became a dynasty. He will be remembered forever.”
A Holy Cross product who was a territorial draft pick by the Celtics in 1956, Heinsohn beat out teammate Russell for the NBA's rookie of the year award that season and tallied 39 points with 23 rebounds in Game 7 of the NBA finals against the St. Louis Hawks.
It was the franchise's first title — and the first of eight in nine years for Heinsohn and Russell. Heinsohn was the team's leading scorer in four of the championship seasons.
Heinsohn retired in 1965 with totals of 12,194 points and 5,749 rebounds and remained with the team as a broadcaster. Celtics patriarch Auerbach tabbed him to be the coach in 1969, succeeding Russell.
Heinsohn was the NBA coach of the year in 1973, when the team won a then-record 68 games. The Celtics added championships in 1974 and '76. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a player in 1986 and as a coach in 2015.
Shortly after retiring as a coach in 1979, he rejoined the team's broadcasts, where his unapologetic homerism has endeared him to Celtics fans ever since.
“It’s hard to imagine the Boston Celtics without Tommy Heinsohn,” the team said in a statement. “There isn’t a generation of Celtics fans for whom Tommy’s presence hasn’t been felt. He is the only person to be an active participant in each of the Celtics’ 17 world championships, an extraordinary and singular legacy."
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.