In appreciation of Tommy Heinsohn

In appreciation of Tommy Heinsohn
February 15, 2013, 8:43 pm
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This afternoon in Houston, the Basketball Hall of Fame announced their 12 finalists for the Class of 2013, and among them was a name that's synonymous with greatness throughout the annals of Celtics history.

Of course, I'm talking about Gary Payton.

Nah. I'm kidding. The Glove is in there, but in this case I'm talking about Tommy Heinsohn. Yes, the same Tommy Heinsohn who was inducted into the Hall as a player back in 1986. And yes, the same Tommy Heinsohn who now has a chance to become only the third person EVER to be bestowed the ultimate basketball honor as both an NBA player AND a head coach.

At this point in time at least by the, let's say, 35-and-under generation Heinsohn's success on the sidelines is probably the most overlooked aspect of his career. Why? Well, it's been a really long career. And there are quite a few aspects. And you know kids today, with their Ataris and color TV . . .

Everyone remembers Tommy Heinsohn: The Player. That's what brought him to Boston to begin with back in 1956. April 30, 1956 was his draft date, to be exact. (For some perspective, that was two weeks after "videotape" was introduced and demonstrated for the first time at the National Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters convention in Chicago.) And Tommy was an instant success. He averaged 16.2 points and 9.8 rebounds as a rookie, while also making the All-Star Game, winning Rookie of the Year and helping lead the C's to their VERY first NBA title. When he retired in 1965, Heinsohn had won eight titles in nine seasons and finished with career averages of 18.6 points and 8.8 rebounds a game. He was recognized for all this in 1986, when he earned his plaque in Springfield.

Everyone remembers Tommy Heinsohn: The Broadcaster, too. We live it every day. That's what keeps Tommy around, and has helped extend his legacy here in Boston for longer than anyone could have dreamed. And I don't say that to suggest that he shouldn't still be here, I'm just saying that it's been 57 years! No one's dreams extend that far. But we're all grateful that Tommy has. At least I am.

But for a nine-year period between The Player and The Broadcaster, there was Tommy Heinsohn: The Coach. From 1969-78, this guy led the Celtics to two more titles (meaning that he's had a heavy hand in 10 of 17). He won 427 games; he won .619 percent of his games. In 1973, he was the NBA Coach of the Year.

To be accurate, there was a brief broadcasting stint right after Heinsohn retired from playing (he did TV play-by-play for the Celtics), but he didn't hit the big time until after coaching.

Anyway, with today's announcement from the Basketball Hall of Fame, Heinsohn's somewhat overlooked coaching career is finally back in focus. And the fact that his nomination puts him on the brink of joining Lenny Wilkens and Bill Sharman as the only dual NBA playerhead coach Hall of Famers, is another reminder of just how legendary of a figure Heinsohn is. Not only in Boston, but in all of basketball.

So, will Heinsohn's name be called again when the official Class of 2013 is announced at the Final Four in Atlanta?

It's hard to say. Even though he's a big name, and won two rings from the bench, the truth is that his resume doesn't hold up all that well when compared to other Hall of Famers.

Today, there are 13 NBA head coaches in the Hall of Fame, and of that crew, 11 have won at least 600 games (Tommy only won 427). The two who didn't are former (obviously) Minneapolis Lakers coach John Kundla, who won 423 games, but won four titles; and the aforementioned Sharman, who won 466 games and two titles between the NBA and ABA.

As it turns out, Sharman (one of Tommy's former teammates) might be the best argument for why Heinsohn should get in. The numbers are very comparable, and when you consider that Heinsohn did all his damage in the NBA, it has to count for a little more. At the very least, Sharman gives Heinsohn a fighting chance. But in the end, whether he makes it or not, nothing will change how we ultimately remember Tommy Heinsohn.

Either way, it won't be as a coach. It won't be as a player. It won't be as a broadcaster.

It will be as a Celtic.

And something tells me that will be more than enough for Tommy.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine