By Rich Levine
In honor of their 30th anniversary, heres a fun fact about the broadcast team of Mike Gorman and Tommy Heinsohn:
Every once in a while, Tommy gets mad at the refs.
What happens is that at some point there will be a call that goes against the Celtics. Lets say Paul Pierce is guarding LeBron James out on the perimeter, and James takes Pierce to the hole (obviously a regular-season game). LeBron goes up, the whistle blows and its a foul on Pierce.
Tommy gets angry.
Maybe hell let out a loud Awwww! or take a deep breath and dramatically sigh into the microphone. Maybe hell get real animated, say something an official and excitably ask for the replay.
But whatever he does, its not an act.
Even though Tommys on TV, when it comes to plays like this, its not about the camera. Hes just a guy who really loves the Celtics. He loves them more than you do. Its been 55 years since he made his debut with the franchise, and over that time hes played, coached, covered, lived and died with the Green. Hes had a hand in all 17 championships.
Imagine how insane it would be if Paul Pierce was still affiliated with the Celtics in the year 2050 . . .
In 2050, he still wouldnt have as many years in green as Tommy does now.
Heinsohn might be the Celtics color commentator, but hes also their living history. So when the Celtics are screwed by a bad call, Tommys offended.
At which point, Mike Gorman steps in.
Gorman teamed up with Tommy in 1981, the same year Danny Ainge joined the Celtics, and three years into the career of Larry Bird. And while building his relationship with Heinsohn, Gorman a lifelong Celtics fan had the good fortune of broadcasting one of the most memorable stretches in NBA history. The Big 3, Celtics vs. Lakers, Bird vs. Magic, 1986!
I was born in 1980, so I dont remember too much about Gormans early years with Tommy and the Celtics. But Ive been able to relive a lot of them through Bird.
Gormans voice is the soundtrack to so many great Bird highlights. The crazy shots and buzzer beater that well continue to watch over and over until the aliens invade.
Like that game against the Blazers in January of 1985.
The Cs are down one with two seconds left. Bird runs to get the inbound pass on the baseline, but by the time he catches it hes already stuck; double-teamed in the corner by Jerome Kersey and Clyde Drexler. Bird fakes once, which doesnt do much, and then takes one dribble, fades back and throws up an off balance heave from behind the back board (one step in front of the three-point-line). SWISH, and the Celtics win.
Larrys momentum sends him into the front row, and as he emerges from the crowd, fans draped all over him, Gorman adds the kicker:
It was during moments like that when his genuine love for the team really showed. Short, quick but 100 percent natural phrases like Got it! or Yeah-EH! that never overshadowed the action, but always captured the emotion. Gorman wasnt reciting zingers hed written in his hotel room the night before; he and Tommy were sitting next to you on the couch. He reacted the same way you did. And over time, that caught on.
In fact, as the face of the Celtics changed with the retirement of the Big Three and the death of Reggie Lewis, Mike and Tommy were the two constants. (Later, there was a brief scare when that guy with the gray goatee stepped in for Mike, but it was just a false alarm.)
The Celtics had eight straight losing seasons after Reggie died. There were a couple real bad ones in there, too Acie Earl and Eric Montross can do that to you. Mike and Tommy were the two voices assigned to guide you through that awful mess, and for eight straight seasons, they somehow did it. I never thought jinxing free throws would be that much fun, but I laughed every time.
That was most of the 90s.
The surprise run to the Eastern Conference Finals 02, gave the team a little momentum, and the new and improved Mike and Tommy, now 20 years fine-tuning their connection with the city and understanding of each other, were ready to take it to another level.
Both these ideas existed before the 2002 playoff run, but it was that stretch that took I love Walter from cult following to borderline epidemic, and turned Tommy Points into an actual, sponsored award.
By then, Gorman had mastered the art of playing Tommys straight man. He knew how to play off Tommy's passion while steering the ship back on course. He learned the questions to best draw out Tommys years of basketball knowledge, and Tommy still had that all fresh in the holster. Both of them were well-versed in Celtics history, but now they had a whole bunch of history that theyd experienced together. Which wed experienced with them. You didnt just watch the Celtics on TV. You also watched Mike and Tommy. It was a show within a show, and they both nailed the parts.
When the Celtics bottomed out in 2006-2007, they sent Heinsohn to the lottery to pick up Greg Oden or Kevin Durant. He was the face of the franchise. Meanwhile, as they announced the picks, Gorman wasnt at home on the couch or stuffed into the media room. He was with Doc. He was on the inside. Mike Gorman was a Celtic, and continues to be.
Obviously, that was an awful night for the team, but a few months later everything changed. In August, after the deals for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett had been made, Gorman was on his way to an event at the State House, and ran into some traffic:
"I was running a little late and there were about six cars in front of me who were all going to take a right," he said that fall. "I wanted to go straight. So I swung out into the passing line to go by the cars and about three cars into it, out stepped a state trooper from the sidewalk. He put his hand up to stop me. I was putting down my window thinking, 'What am I going to say?' and he got about 10 feet away and said, 'What do you need, Mike?'
I wanted to pick up the phone and call Wyc and say, 'We're back!' "
And they have been ever since.
Through another title run, two trips to the Finals and another playoff push ahead, the latest era of Celtics dominance is still going strong, and for the 30th year, Mike Gorman and Tommy Heinsohn are the guys talking us all through it, putting on a show and having a hell of a time doing it.
The faces and voices of the team they love, and there's nothing wrong with that.
Unless maybe you're an NBA ref.