I’ve been in town all of one week since joining the Herald.The highlight? Listening to Tommy Heinsohn’s commentary of a Celtics game for the first time in decades.
“You’re still the best, Tommy,” a young fan shouted at Heinsohn as he and Mike Gorman sat in their chairs on the Garden floor, preparing to put a bow on Saturday’s unsightly 98-86 loss to the Jazz.
That’s always a nice thing to say to somebody who has far more years on the job behind him than in front, but in this case it also happens to be true.
Heinsohn, 84, made Friday night’s Kyrie Irving masterpiece (43 points, 11 assists, spirited defense) even more memorable in the Celtics’ overtime victory against the Toronto Raptors and revealed himself as the personification of Celtic passion that he is, always has been and always will be.
From my couch, Irving and Heinsohn both were so good Friday that on Saturday, after covering The Game at Fenway Park, I hopped the train to watch the Celtics play the Jazz and introduced myself to Heinsohn and perfect complement Mike Gorman after their work was done for the night.
I mentioned how much I enjoyed Friday’s game, and Heinsohn responded in true coach fashion: “Yeah, but it didn’t carry over into tonight.” Then he made his way slowly off the court, his frustration over the Celtics’ inconsistency accompanying him every step.
First-team All-American at Holy Cross in 1956, NBA Rookie of the Year in 1957 and four-time All-NBA second-team (1961-64), Heinsohn played for eight Celtics championship teams and was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player in 1986. For coaching the Celtics to titles in 1974 and 1976, he earned induction as a coach in 2015.
His broadcasting career started before he coached and resumed after he left the bench, which means that he has been part of all 17 Celtics championships. There can’t possibly be another figure in professional sports so closely associated with a franchise in so many critical roles.
So his Celtics bias comes to him naturally, and leads to conspiratorial subplots. Heinsohn’s commentary has a story-telling quality to it, and every plot needs an antagonist. Those scheming referees aren’t enough a part of the action to make for truly compelling villains. Fear not. Heinsohn drops enough not-so-subtle clues to deliver one.
He had nothing but glowing reviews for Raptors two-way star Kawhi Leonard. As for Kyle Lowry, he was to Heinsohn what that creep on your flight who reclines his seat so far back that his dandruff flakes float into your tiny helping of peanuts, making the compulsive talker sitting next to you seem delightful by comparison, is to all of us. Relentlessly annoying.
“They’re never going to call a technical on Lowry. Are you kidding me? He’s Lowry!” Heinsohn boomed in his strong-in-every sense voice. “He’s mouthing off at the official. He won’t call a technical.”
And that’s not all the ref won’t call on the cocky point guard.
“Look at Lowry, just hanging all over (Jayson) Tatum,” Heinsohn groused.
And then there was the late whistle on Marcus Morris, called for fouling Lowry: “Why don’t you wait until the game’s over before you call a foul? Wow!” Plus, Lowry has a habit of “always chirping at the officials.”
Unscripted English unburdened by complex talk of X’s and O’s, mixed with strong analysis.
“Terry Rozier is not in rhythm the way he was last year,” Heinsohn said. “For instance, he came off a pick from 15 feet and turned it down. That’s his shot.”
I feared at that point that analytics gods so disdainful of mid-range basketball would kill my TV with a bolt of lightning.
Heinsohn on Gordon Hayward: “Gordon reminds of Gordie Howe when I watched my first hockey game. He looked slow until I looked at the other guys trying to catch him.”
Any list of great Boston teams needs to include Gorman and Heinsohn.