In appreciation of Tommy Heinsohn


In appreciation of Tommy Heinsohn

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 Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Horford's all-around play key in first regular season game with Celtics

Horford's all-around play key in first regular season game with Celtics

BOSTON – The Al Horford love fest continues with the veteran big man delivering yet another impressive performance for the Boston Celtics.

And this one?

Unlike his play in the preseason, Wednesday night's game counts.

Horford’s all-around play was pivotal to Boston holding on for a 122-117 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.

CELTICS 122, NETS 117:

The four-time All-Star made several high-basketball IQ-type plays that in hindsight, were major key moments in Boston pushing its lead to as many as 23 points.

In the third quarter with Boston ahead 71-65, Horford took advantage of Brooklyn closing out too hard on him and drove into the lane. As the Nets defenders collapsed to take away a shot attempt in the lane, Horford swung the ball to Jae Crowder whose jumper triggered a 14-5 run.

Boston would lead by double figures until the last couple of minutes of the game.

“We have to keep playing the right way, for 48 minutes,” Horford said when asked about the team’s late-game collapse.

The late-game struggles aside, there was a lot to like about how the Celtics played throughout the first 40 minutes.

And a big part of that strong play has to be credited to Horford whose ability to help keep the ball moving allowed the Celtics to finish with 36 assists on 48 made field goals, the kind of opening night assist numbers that haven’t been seen around these parts in decades.

Horford was among those getting into the act, scoring 11 points to go with five rebounds and six assists.

To see him racking up guard-like assist numbers isn’t unusual when you consider he was third in the league last season in assists per game (3.2) for a center.

“Guys were moving the ball very well,” Horford said. “It’s kind of contagious.”

Said Crowder: “I never saw coaches clap on a three-second call. We moved the ball in the first quarter so much we got a three-second call. We passed up a lot of open shots. It just shows how unselfish we are playing as a unit.”

And while that selfless brand of basketball was on display at times last season, the addition of Horford seems to have taken it to another level.

“He opens the floor, he makes it easier for everybody; he’s always in the right spots, he’s a threat at all times,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas. “He can hit the 3, hit the mid-range, and also post up so he has the full package; a guy that makes it easy for everybody.”