Former Boston Celtics player, coach, broadcaster and champion Tom Heinsohn passed away on Tuesday. Today, we celebrate his beautiful life.
Without a doubt, Tommy Heinsohn left an impact on the lives of thousands, whether as a player on the court, or in the homes of Boston Celtics fans as a broadcaster. I am lucky and grateful to have been personally impacted by Tommy as a young Celtics fan and aspiring broadcaster.
Since I was four years old, I always wanted the microphone in my hands. I’ve written about this before in different pieces, but when I was young, I would sit in front of my television with an unplugged microphone and the TV volume turned down…and I’d pretend to announce games.
Most of these games were Red Sox or Celtics games. I would pretend to be the play-by-play broadcaster with Tommy Heinsohn by my side as the color commentator.
Some advice I was given by one of my former broadcast colleagues was “If you want to succeed in broadcasting, you have to make the audience feel as if they are sitting next to you.” I don’t think there was anyone in sports who exemplified that more than Tommy Heinsohn.
It didn’t matter if it was Game 7 of the NBA Finals, or the fourth quarter of a blowout loss. He was going to deliver his opinion with the same fervor.
Over the years, I’ve taken a little piece of every broadcaster I frequently listen to and try to mold it into my own style.
The best parts; the parts that made them successful.
What I got from Tommy, was my confidence. Whether it was my radio show, or live stream broadcasts for collegiate baseball, the confidence that Tommy instilled in me from when I was young was brought out in those broadcasts.
He made it okay to question the referees, to rave about a young player that many people push to the side, and overall he made it okay to be passionate about what you’re saying.
When I entered college at Suffolk University in Boston, I had yet to meet anyone involved with the Celtics in person. On opening night of their home opener in 2016, I went to a networking event in the TD Garden.
That event landed me an opportunity to work every Boston Celtics home game for the next four years.
But that doesn’t matter.
Here’s what does:
On that day, I walked through the employee/operations entrance of the Garden, and in behind me walked Tommy Heinsohn.
I was starstruck.
Before this, I had only been to two Boston Celtics games in my entire life. I had never met a player, and now right behind me stood a Celtics legend, someone who I had listened to for my entire life on TV. This was someone who I pretended to sit next to in my childhood, never actually imagining he would ever be next to me in person.
But here he was.
We exchanged “hellos” and he had the biggest smile on his face…at that point, maybe even bigger than mine.
It made sense to me; it was opening night and the Celtics had just signed Al Horford and made themselves a legitimate contender in the East.
What I learned after that night is that smile never left. It wasn’t because it was opening night, or because the Boston Celtics were contenders.
That smile was there because he was a man who did what he loved for a living; because he enjoyed and appreciated being a part of the Boston Celtics.
That smile was there on winning streaks, losing streaks, throughout the regular season and playoffs. I can only imagine that smile was there even when the Cs were at the bottom of the NBA.
For almost four years, I would arrive at the TD Garden roughly around the same time as Tommy. If there was one thing I picked up, along with his smile, was how much of a genuine kind-hearted person he was.
It didn’t matter if it was security, cleaning staff, beat writers or anyone else. He wanted to know how your day was. He cared.
I watched for almost four years him interacting with every single person that walked into the TD Garden that crossed his path.
I didn’t have many interactions with Tommy outside of walking into the arena at similar times over the years, but those simple “Hey, how are you” conversations are what made Tommy great.
Tommy was a kid, and the TD Garden was his candy store. At the press entrance, there is a set of two elevators, and a set of stairs. On game days, Tommy was a frequent stair-taker.
As some other members of the press would climb the stairs leisurely, he always had a pep in his step, as if it was 1960 again and he was ready to run out of the tunnel for warm-ups.
This is what separated Tommy from everyone else. As a player, coach, and broadcaster.
The man cared so much about what he did.
He loved every second of it.
I wanted to write this today because I know there are thousands of people like myself out there — people that had their lives changed by Tommy, without him even knowing it.
Whether it’s someone who grew up listening to Tommy in their living rooms, or someone who had a simple conversation with him.
The passion and love for the Boston Celtics showed throughout every broadcast he ever did and every conversation he ever had.
Tommy Heinsohn was a true Celtics legend, and he will be dearly missed by all of Celtics nation.
I just want to say:
Thank you for everything Tommy. You impacted an 18 year old aspiring broadcaster and Celtics fan, more than you could ever know.
Rest in peace to the truest Celtic there ever was.