Skip to main content

The late, great Tom Heinsohn was a Hall of Fame player and Hall of Fame coach with the Boston Celtics. He went on to become a legendary broadcaster with the team. It’s safe to say Heinsohn saw a lot of basketball in his days. The six-time All-Star and eight-time champion once said the two greatest plays he ever saw in basketball occurred in one Celtics game.

Tom Heinsohn was dedicated to the Boston Celtics

Head coach Tom Heinsohn of the Boston Celtics sits on a chair on the sideline before a game against the Buffalo Braves as Celtics radio announcer Johnny Most looks on at the Memorial Auditorium in 1976 in Buffalo, New York. | George Gojkovich/Getty Images.

Heinsohn played his college ball at Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. He was a territorial pick of the Celtics in 1956 and was named Rookie of the Year over teammate Bill Russell. The Celtics acquired Russell in a trade with the St. Louis Hawks, but he was captain of the Olympic team and came to the Celtics in the middle of the season.

As a rookie, the 6-foot-7 Heinsohn averaged 16.2 points and 9.8 rebounds. He led the Celtics to a championship after they defeated the Hawks in seven games.

“That year changed everything for the Celtics,” Heinsohn once told Michael D. McClellan of Celtic Nation. “Walter Brown and Red Auerbach made the deal to get Bill Russell after St. Louis selected him with the third overall pick in the 1956 NBA Draft. The Celtics also got K.C. Jones in the second round, and they used that territorial pick on me. The Celtics got three Hall of Fame players in the same draft.”

Heinsohn spent nine years in Boston as a player, winning eight championships. He spent nine more years as head coach and won two more titles. He then spent 30-plus years as the color man for Celtics broadcasts.

Heinsohn said the two greatest plays he’s ever seen came in one Celtics game


Boston Celtics Championship History Countdown — Top 17 Signature Moments Ranked

Heinsohn poured in 37 points and pulled down 23 rebounds during Game 7 of the ’57 NBA Finals against the Hawks. The Celtics pulled out a 125-123 win in double overtime for the first of many rings for Heinsohn and Russell. It was during that game when Heinsohn said he witnessed the two greatest plays he’s ever seen.

“The two greatest plays that I ever saw in basketball happened in that game,” he told McClellan. “One with Russell, who blocked a shot after going out of bounds and running the length of the court. He came out of nowhere to block Jack Coleman’s shot for a layup. It was breathtaking to watch.”

The second one came courtesy of the Hawks at the end of the second overtime. They were down two with two seconds left and had to drive the length of the court. Hawks player/coach Alex Hannum came in and nearly did the unthinkable.

“And then, Alex Hannum throwing the the length-of-the-court pass off the backboard and into the hands of Bob Pettit, to get a shot with two seconds left,” Heinsohn said. “It was an 18-footer, and it almost went in. I had never seen anybody ever do anything like that before or after.”

Heinsohn died in November 2020 at age 86. He was called “the ultimate Celtic” in a statement made by team ownership at the time of his death.