New Jersey native, NBA legend Tommy Heinsohn passes away at 86

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Heinsohn was born in Jersey City and starred for Saint Michael’s School before building a legendary NBA career in Boston.

The Boston Celtics announced the passing of team legend Tommy Heinsohn earlier this week at the age of 86.

Heinsohn is best known for his role in the Celtics’ glory years, winning ten NBA championships as a player and a coach. He partook in nine seasons (1956-65) as a player on the team’s hallowed parquet floor, winning a title in all but one of those seasons. Upon the retirement of former teammate and player-coach Bill Russell in 1969, Heinsohn returned to Boston as the team’s head coach, winning two more titles. He is one of two NBA inductees into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame to be honored as both a player and coach, joining Lenny Wilkens.



Prior to his tours in Boston, Heinsohn, a native of Jersey City, was a star at St. Michael’s School in nearby Union City. He would earn 28 points a game, All-American honors, and scholarship offers from numerous prominent schools. The College of Holy Cross in Worcester, MA would foreshadow his New England basketball endeavors. Heinsohn would depart as the men’s program’s all-time leading scorer and helped the team to an NIT championship in 1954.

More recently, Heinsohn gained further fame as the television voice of the Celtics. Serving as an analyst, Heinsohn was routinely paired with play-by-play man Mike Gorman since 1981, the two forming one of the longest broadcasting tandems through several iterations of what is now NBC Sports Boston. Through this role, Heinsohn is the only person to serve in an official capacity with the Celtics for each of their NBA-record 17 championships. During broadcasts, Heinsohn was known for his unapologetic favoritism toward the Celtics and would routinely award “Tommy Points” to players giving extra effort.

Numerous tributes from the basketball world have emerged in Heinsohn’s honor since his passing.

“We were rookies together and friends for life,” Russell said in a tweet, including a photo of he and Heinsohn celebrating with then-Celtics head coach Red Auerbach. “In life there are a limited number of true friends, today I lost one. RIP Heiny.”

Active NBA free agent Isaiah Thomas, who most recently played for the Washington Wizards last season, recalled that Heinsohn would affectionately refer to him as “the little guy” and shared a post commemorating Heinsohn’s enthusiastic reaction to Thomas breaking 50 points in a December 2016 win over Miami. A frequent earner of Tommy Points, Thomas said that he “(w)ill miss his voice and everything he brought to the game especially Celtics basketball”.

Heinsohn is survived by two sons (Paul and David), and one daughter (Donna).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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