I remember the Celtics' first championship, I really do.
I was 10 years old and had decided basketball was going to be my sport. It was easy to play; just nail a hoop on to a telephone pole. But it was harder to follow with no internet, no games on television, and newspapers that sometimes published the box scores a day or two later.
I would read about Cooz (Bob Cousy) and (Bill) Russell and Red (Auerbach), …but it wasn’t until the seventh game of the NBA Finals against the St Louis Hawks -- which the Celtics won in double overtime to claim their first championship -- that the rookie out of Holy Cross, Tommy Heinsohn, got my attention.
How did he do that? How about 37 points and 23 rebounds in that seventh game. I can remember just staring at the box score; 37 and 23 in the biggest game of his life. Tommy Heinsohn was now embedded in my 10-year-old brain.
It would turn out to be a long stay.
Fast forward 15 years and I have my first shot at television play-by-play -- a five-game Providence College package.
At a meeting about a month before our first game, my suggestion that we approach Tommy Heinsohn for the color/analyst job was met with a lot of snickering and raised eyebrows. Why would Tommy Heinsohn want to come down here and work for us? My reply was "why not?" I got an "OK, then you go talk him into it." And so I did -- but not before he sold me an insurance policy at that first lunch.
The five-game package went well, and that following summer something called Prism secured the rights to Celtic home games. They hired Tommy to do color and he convinced Prism that this kid with no real experience was actually decent and he (Tommy) liked working with him. Enough said. I get the job. Wasn’t even a one-year contract. Just a "let's see how it goes."
Opening night. I'm ready. I got multi-colored notes with heights, weights, shooting percentages, rebounds, assists, anecdotes, family members. You name it, I had it. Had turned out to be the key word there.
With about five minutes to go until we are on the air, Tommy strolls into the booth -- looks at my notes and says "we don’t need this shit" and promptly tosses them over the first balcony railing -- he waited for a few seconds to let the shock pass over me as I watched some youngster run away with about 10 hours of my work.
Tommy simply put his arm over my shoulder and said "Kid we’re just going to talk about what we see in front of us" -- and we did -- and I didn’t have to know who Max's (Cedric Maxwell) second cousin was and I didn't get any "let’s see how it goes" follow up calls.
It was at that moment when I realized there was going to be a game two -- Mike and Tommy was born. Hearing my name linked with his is the pinnacle of my career.
I think what made us a decent listen all these years is that I couldn't do what Tommy did (analyze and explain) and he didn't want to do what I did: read spots, give score and time, ask questions that I really didn't know the answer to.
That last part was really important. I always wanted to give Tommy teaching moments. His knowledge of the game and ability to explain it -- second to none -- his love of the game and his Celtics -- unparalleled. Simply put, Tommy wanted the Celtics to win every game going away. If they were up by 10 -- he wanted 20 -- and if they didn't get to 30 it was inevitably the referees' fault because -- and Tommy believed this with every ounce of his fiber -- there are three teams in every game and two of them were trying to beat us.
There are so many stories I could tell: Tom's penchant for snacks during games or late at night on a darkened plane you would hear that raspy voice calling to a passing flight attendant "you got any Dove bars back there?"
Or maybe a little help with the coaching or changing the pronunciation of a players name into legitimate comedy.
Whatever the moment called for as a player, coach or broadcaster, Tommy Heinsohn was equal to the task.
Just remember 37 and 23. Tom Heinsohn lit the fire that would become Celtics Pride, and it still burns bright 60 odd years later.
37 and 23.
Rest In Peace, Tommy.