Reimer: An appreciation of Tommy Heinsohn, who still rocks

Alex Reimer
October 03, 2017 - 12:02 pm

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Tommy Heinsohn is still wildly entertaining at 83 years old. That is an incredible feat.

In the first half of the Celtics’ preseason game against the Hornets Monday, Heinsohn was discussing new center Aron Baynes. That’s one of Heinsohn’s most impressive qualities, by the way. He remains enthusiastic about the details, even though he’s been around the Celtics organization for more than six decades. At this stage in his career, it would be easy for Heinsohn to rely on schtick and just blurt out catch phrases every now and again. But he appears to still genuinely take an interest in the league, learning the ninth and 10th guys on seemingly every roster.

In the case of Baynes, who arrived in Boston this summer after spending two years with the Pistons, Heinsohn’s scouting went beyond breaking down game film. Apparently, he caught a glimpse of the 6-foot-10 Australian in the shower.

“I took a look at Baynes in the shower. He looks like all of Australia. He is really put together,” Heinsohn said

Perhaps most impressively, Heinsohn didn’t come across as clumsy or awkward when he complimented Baynes’ junk. On the surface, the visual of an 83-year-old Heinsohn peeking around the Celtics’ locker room is gross. But there was nothing creepy about the comment. It was just a genuine, good-natured remark. Even the most cynical viewer had to chuckle a little bit. 

Heinsohn is a stylistic 180 from every national analyst out there. He’s a blatant homer, berating officials over tedious calls and unapologetically rooting for the home team. When most announcers play the homer act, such as Hawk Harrelson, it seems forced. But there’s something authentic about Heinsohn’s unabashed Celtics love. It probably has to do with the fact he’s been affiliated with the Celtics since 1956, when the organization drafted him. He won eight championships as a player and two as a coach. For the last 36 years, he’s sat alongside Mike Gorman on the Celtics TV broadcasts. Heinsohn loves the Celtics, because he is the Celtics.

Brian Scalabrine and others who have contributed over the years present themselves as lame imposters. While Scalabrine did become somewhat of a Boston folk hero during his five-year stint with the Celtics –– culminating in the 2008 championship win –– he hasn’t lived in the area long enough to be a cheerleader. The Southern California native played his college ball at USC and also enjoyed stops with the Nets and Bulls during his NBA career. After retiring, he became an assistant coach with the Warriors. 

The forced homerism was one of the biggest problems with the array of underwhelming Red Sox who paraded through the NESN booth this summer. Jonny Gomes, for example, would routinely bring out the pom poms for the Red Sox, despite the fact he spent just one-and-a-half seasons here. Yes, he won a World Series, but he spent 11 years playing elsewhere. It’s just not believable that Gomes loves the Red Sox so much. 

But with Heinsohn, you get the feeling none of it is artificial, because he’s too accomplished and old to give a damn. Plus, he seems legitimately crestfallen when the Celtics lose a big game. He’s given some lethargic postgame performances after losses –– especially if he’s in studio rather than on the road. You can’t fake low energy like that.

In today’s focused group-controlled world of TV broadcasting, Heinsohn is a throwback to a more carefree age. He’s basketball’s equivalent of Don Draper, sans the martini and flagrant sexism. 

Whatever Heinsohn says –– from salivating over a well-executed pick-and-roll to fawning at a player’s size –– seems real. The perception of honesty is one of the hardest things to come by. Luckily, Heinsohn delivers it every night he sits behind a microphone.

Comments ()