If the rafters at TD Garden really could talk, like something out of a Harry Potter story, they’d probably be yelling at the refs. And most of the commotion would be coming from one block on the expansive grid of former Celtics numbers never to be used again — No. 15.
It’s the number last worn by Tommy Heinsohn, who spent several basketball careers in Boston, as player, coach and commentator, always scoring for or supporting the same team. Heinsohn died last week at age 86.
In his last incarnation, Heinsohn’s relentless riding of referees made him the most homer of all color commentators. The thing that distinguished him from a lot of those similarly cast is that he knew what he was talking about.
When he said a foul was ridiculous, it was. When a ref’s blown call made Heinsohn come unglued, it was deserved.
Heinsohn was a truth-teller, even if those truths usually validated the opinions of Celtics fans. And that had as much as anything to do with his first career in Boston, as a forward on one of the best teams ever assembled.
All of Heinsohn’s accolades from the nine years he spent in uniform — eight championships, six selections as an all-star — are really impossible to separate from the collective talent and gravity of that team. You’d never guess by the figure he cut in later life that he’d averaged 18.6 points per game playing next to Bill Russell, Bob Cousy and John Havlicek. Of course, given the fact he stood 6 foot 7 and weighed nearly 220 pounds at the end of his playing career, he looked every bit the rebounder who pulled down 8.8 per game.
But Heinsohn’s prowess was as much in his personality and mind. Assigned by Red Auerbach to coach the team after Russell’s retirement, Heinsohn spent nearly as many seasons as coach (eight) as he had as player. And he had a run that in any other city would’ve been a smashing success, leading the Celtics to two titles, in 1974 and 1976, and three fruitless trips to the conference finals.
The career for which Heinsohn will most be remembered, especially by anyone under age 30, was as a brash, uncommonly insightful fan let loose on game broadcasts. The stat for which he is most known is one he invented and distributed — the "Tommy Points" that players earned with their hustle. (He occasionally gave these points to other people, too).
Heinsohn was forever a member of the Celtics, as memorable and treasured in the broadcast booth as he was when he sat on the bench.