Celtics Legend Tom Heinsohn Dies at 86

He won eight championships as a player before going on to coach

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Boston Celtics legend Tom Heinsohn has died at the age of 86.

The Hall-of-Famer won eight NBA championships as a player for the Celtics before going on to coach the team to two more titles. He was a play-by-play man and color commentator for the team's television broadcast for over 30 years, most recently for NBC Sports Boston.

He was with the Celtics for all 17 of their championships, and his number 15 is retired by the team.

"This is a devastating loss," the Celtics' ownership group said in a statement. "Tommy was the ultimate Celtic. For the past 18 years, our ownership group has relied hugely on Tommy’s advice and insights and have reveled in his hundreds of stories about Red Auerbach, Bill Russell, and how the Celtics became a dynasty. He will be remembered forever."

"Rest In Peace, Tommy," Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said on Twitter. "You have meant so much to the six decades of Celtics' fans that you shared the game with as a HOFer in every facet... An Incredible person, teammate and mentor."

Prior to his Celtics career, Heinsohn played college basketball at Holy Cross in Worcester. He was a territorial draft pick by the Celtics in 1956. He beat out Russell for the NBA's rookie of the year award that season and scored 39 points and had 23 rebounds in Game 7 of the NBA finals against the St. Louis Hawks.

It was the franchise's first title, and the first of eight in nine years for Heinsohn and Russell. Heinsohn was the team's leading scorer in four of the championship seasons.

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NBC Sports - Boston
Tom Heinsohn won eight NBA championships with the Boston Celtics before going on to coach the team to two more titles.

Heinsohn retired in 1965 with totals of 12,194 points and 5,749 rebounds and remained with the team as a broadcaster. Celtics patriarch Auerbach tabbed him to be the coach in 1969, succeeding Russell.

Heinsohn was the NBA coach of the year in 1973, when the team won a then-record 68 games. The Celtics added championships in 1974 and ’76. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a player in 1986 and as a coach in 2015.

Shortly after retiring as a coach in 1979, he rejoined the team’s broadcasts, where his unapologetic homerism has endeared him to Celtics fans ever since.

Mike Gorman, who called Boston Celtics games with Tommy Heinsohn for 39 years, describes what he meant to the organization, the fans and the entire basketball world.

“It’s hard to imagine the Boston Celtics without Tommy Heinsohn,” the team said in a statement. “There isn’t a generation of Celtics fans for whom Tommy’s presence hasn’t been felt. He is the only person to be an active participant in each of the Celtics’ 17 world championships, an extraordinary and singular legacy.”

PHOTOS: Looking Back at Tom Heinsohn's Celtics Career

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said he was saddened to learn of Heinsohn's death.

"We don't really have power forwards any more, but he was a dervish," Baker said. "He was one of those guys who no one ever wanted to cover and no one ever wanted to play against."

Governor Charlie Baker shared his love for the Celtic legend Tom Heisohn’s after learning of his death during a press conference on Tuesday.

As a Celtics announcer, the governor said Heinsohn "was right up there with Johnny Most," so profoundly committed to the home team that it was like watching a different game.

"He was a special piece of our sports fabric here in Massachusetts," Baker said. "The guy was all heart. Whatever it was, whatever the cause -- and he did tons and tons of charitable work -- the guy was all heart."

Many people from the Celtics and greater NBA community took to Twitter on Tuesday to share their thoughts on Heinsohn's passing and his impact on the game.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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