In the Boston Globe, Bob Ryan details the career of Tommy Heinsohn:
The word that best describes his playing style was “swashbuckling.” The game has changed dramatically. There are no more Tommy Heinsohns. He was a 6-foot-7-inch forward with a line-drive jump shot, for starters. The folklore was that the shot trajectory was developed when he played in a high school gym with a low ceiling. Whatever, the shot was uniquely his.
In addition, he had inculcated — what else? — a second go-to offensive weapon into his game. He was a college center at Holy Cross, and a center couldn’t be a proper center in those days without a hook shot.
He, of course, did not play center in the NBA. But he did not abandon his hook shot. As a Celtic, it became a running hook, and he was particularly deadly from the corner. Oh, how he loved that hook. For years afterward, it was not uncommon to see him showing off that hook before games while wearing a sportcoat and dress shoes.
A third weapon was offensive rebounding. He was a master. He would lead the Celtics in scoring three times during his nine-year career and would be the team’s No. 2 scorer twice.
He, not Bill Russell, was the official NBA Rookie of the Year during their mutual inaugural campaign of 1956-57 (Russell joined the team fresh from the Melbourne Olympics after 24 games). And he saved his best that season for last. In the thrilling, exhausting, 125-123 double-overtime Game 7 win over St. Louis in the Finals, he had 37 points and 23 rebounds before fouling out in the second OT. Imagine the accolades if a rookie came up with a performance like that in a comparable Game 7 today.
Why only nine years? Why retire at age 30? It’s simple. He had bad knees. The heavy smoking didn’t help, either, but it was his knees that brought a premature end to his Hall of Fame career.
Our paths crossed in 1969. He was the rookie coach of the Celtics and I was the 23-year-old rookie beat man for the Boston Globe. I loved basketball, but my primary orientation had always been college. I needed someone to instruct me in the whys, wherefores, and nuances of the NBA. That someone was Tom Heinsohn.
E.J. Smith - Your Survival Guy
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