His statistics -- 13.4 points, 5.5 rebounds per game over nine seasons in Boston -- may not explain why Frank Ramsey's number 23 is in the rafters at TD Garden. (As is his number 30, which he wore at the University of Kentucky, at Rupp Arena in Lexington.) Nor do they explain why he's a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame.

So let his old teammate, Tommy Heinsohn, do it.

"He went into the Hall of Fame primarily because he instituted the sixth man," said Heinsohn of his old teammate, who died this weekend at the age of 86. "Or he was the first sixth man."

The sixth man was a role created by the Celtics legendary coach, Red Auerbach, who used Ramsey off the bench as a way of providing rest to starting guards Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman and keeping a fresh lineup on the floor as much as possible. Ramsey embraced the role -- "To me, it was great," he once told kentucky.com -- and it became a huge part of the C's success. Ramsey wound up being part of seven championship teams.

"He was perfectly suited for that role," said Heinsohn, the former Celtics player and coach -- whose number also is retired and who's also a member of the Hall of Fame -- who now serves as an analyst on NBC Sports Boston's Celtics telecasts. "The difficulty . . . [of] coming [off] the bench and going into a game is that most people have to feel their way into the game. Some of these unique people like [Ramsey] . . . are already in the game sitting on the bench. Their heads are into the game, so they can come in and make an immediate impact.


"Ramsey was that type of person. A terrific competitor, a terrific all-around player. He could score, he could rebound, he could play defense, could pass the ball, and he was very effective on a fast break with Bob Cousy. He would come into games and immediately get something going. Change the direction of the game."

The Celtics used many standout players in the role after Ramsey retired -- John Havlicek, Kevin McHale, Bill Walton -- and the NBA instituted a yearly Sixth Man Award in 1982.