Tommy Heinsohn

Born: August 26, 1934
Position: Power Forward
Professional Career:
Boston Celtics (NBA): 1956-’65

Tom Heinsohn SI

Tom Heinsohn’s influence in today’s NBA has boiled down to how many Tommy Points he hands out on a given night to the Boston Celtics. Or how many vitriolic rants he aims toward incompetent referees.

Back in the day, though, Heinsohn still dished out points, but they were the ones that actually counted on the court. As the Boston Celtics’ official gunner, he shot so much and so often that he was nicknamed “Tommy Gun” and “Ack-Ack.” You know, “Ack-Ack” as in the sound a tommy guns made in those old black-and-white gangster movies.

On many teams having a man flinging hook shots nearly 20 feet from the basket would result in discord and ill-feelings. The Boston Celtics, though, could subsume Heinsohn’s free-shooting ways and turn it into a strength. The Celtics would look to score easily on the break, but if that failed Heinsohn could always work his way into a good shoot… or at least a shot… that no other Celtic could manage in the half-court as time ran low on the shot clock.

Compared to his contemporaries, only Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain could outmatch Heinsohn’s propensity to shoot:

Player – Shots per minute 1956 – 1965
Wilt Chamberlain (Warriors/76ers) – 0.69 shots
Elgin Baylor (Lakers) – 0.63
Heinsohn – 0.61
Bob Pettit (Hawks) – 0.56
Sam Jones (Celtics) – 0.55
Cliff Hagan (Hawks) – 0.54
Jack Twyman (Royals) – 0.54
Jerry West (Lakers) – 0.53
Oscar Robertson (Royals) – 0.49
Hal Greer (Nationals/76ers) – 0.48
Richie Guerin (Knicks/Hawks) – 0.47

That’s a lot of shots per minute, but Heinsohn’s unremarkable conditioning limited him to barely 30 minutes a night in his career. However he possessed a natural agility that made him hard to handle for defenses when he was in the game. He could score on his vaunted hook shots, a sweet jump shot, and strong driving moves.

Heinsohn also served as the resident whipping boy for Red Auerbach. When other players were too sensitive for critique, Auerbach would lay into Heinsohn’s conditioning or some other issue release stress. That Heinsohn absorbed such insult with more or less good nature was of emotional import to the Celtics.


 

Tommy Heinsohn

His finest moment may have come in his very first season as he scored 37 points and hauled in 23 rebounds in Game 7 of the 1957 NBA Finals to clinch Boston its first NBA title. Teammate Bill Sharman gushed over Heinsohn’s superb performance: “What a show Tommy put on. I never saw anyone play like that under pressure, let alone a rookie.”

The glory continued for Heinsohn through the years.

In 1959, as Boston cruised to its second title in a four-game sweep of Minneapolis, Heinsohn was absolute dynamite averaging 24.3 points and 8.8 rebounds in the series. The Lakers defense proved powerless to hold him down as a he also shot .475 FG% and .808 FT% in the series.

In 1961, despite playing just 26 minutes a game, Heinsohn led the Celtics in points scored with 22 a game in the Finals as they brushed off the St. Louis Hawks in five games. Playing relatively few minutes while still leading the team in scoring was Heinsohn’s M.O.

Indeed, in Boston’s first seven Finals appearances (1957-’63), Heinsohn was their leading scorer in four of the series, before tailing off in their final two appearances (1964-’65) in the NBA championship. In those first seven Finals, Heinsohn averaged a robust 21.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in a relatively scant 32 minutes.

His shots per minute? 0.64.

Before retiring in 1965 due to chronic knee problems, Heinsohn won six NBA titles helping (and being helped by) teammates like Bob Cousy, John Havlicek, Sam Jones, Jim Loscutoff and, of course, Bill Russell. As coach of the Celtics in the 1970s he led them to two more titles in 1974 and 1976 giving Heinsohn a personal total of 10 NBA titles.

That’s a pretty good haul for Boston’s vaunted gunner.

Before we close this out, though, it would be remiss to not bring up Heinsohn’s instrumental role in the labor strife of ’64. Taking over from teammate Bob Cousy, Heinsohn led the NBPA during the early and mid-1960s. Here’s Heinsohn in his 1976 autobiography describing the events that unfolded:

It was unanimously agreed that there would be no All-Star game unless we received a written commitment on a pension plan. We had been turned down in the morning by [NBA Commissioner] Walter Kennedy and [Pistons owner] Fred Zollner, representing the Board of Governors and the pension committee.

We knew Zollner’s attitude toward the Association, which gave us a fair idea of the result.  Walter Kennedy was new at the game but knew we had tried to talk with the Board of Governors in New York in October of that season and had been ignored. We left humiliated, angry, and determined to establish our dignity, at the least.

At six o’clock the night of the All-Star game, after we had met with all the players, Bob Pettit and I went to Commissioner Kennedy’s hotel room and informed him we would not play without a pension guarantee. We asked for a meeting with the owners before the game or else. We were not militant people by nature or background but were forced to challenge the owners’ one-way attitude in some way.

And thus began the standoff. Owners refused to budge, as did the players. Commissioner Kennedy pleaded with both sides as the ABC cameras prepared to broadcast the event, a rarity for the NBA then. Five minutes before shootaround, Kennedy gave his word to the Heinsohn and the players that he’d set up a meeting to work out a pension deal. Heinsohn accepted Kennedy’s word and suggested players vote to participate in the game. They did so and the NBA was saved from extreme embarrassment.

True to his word, Kennedy was able to cajole owners into formulating a pension plan for players. Give it up for Mr. Heinsohn in helping lead the way for the first major player’s union victory in NBA history.

Honors

NBA –
8x Champion (1957, 1959-’65)
4x All-NBA 2nd Team (1961-’64)
6x All-Star (1957, 1961-’65)
Rookie of the Year (1957)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (654 games):
18.6 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 2.0 APG, .405 FG%, .790 FT%
17.8 PER, .150 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (104 games):
19.8 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 2.1 APG, .402 FG%, .743 FT%
17.7 PER, .136 WS/48

Bailey Howell

Born: January 20, 1937
Position: Power Forward
Professional Career:
Detroit Pistons (NBA): 1959-1964
Baltimore Bullets (NBA): 1964-1966
Boston Celtics (NBA): 1966-1970
Philadelphia 76ers (NBA): 1970-1971

Bailey_Howell

The Lowdown: A great power forward, Bailey Howell wasn’t the type of player to demand glory, attention, or top status in a team’s pecking order. He desired a key role, but he never sought out acclaim. Despite a routine average of 20 points and 10 rebounds a game, most of his career was spent on middling teams. A fateful trade to the Boston Celtics in 1966 gave Howell the opportunity to play an integral and needed role in keeping the last few seasons of the Celtic Dynasty alive. That balanced team environment was what the six-time All-Star desired all his career. Better late than never for the maniacal rebounder and hustling forward.

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The Lost All-NBA 3rd Teams: 1968-69 Season

1969 All-NBA 3rd Team
Jerry Lucas (top L), Chet Walker (bottom L), Wilt Chamberlain (center), Jeff Mullins (top R), Walt Frazier (bottom R)

 

Ed. Note: Prior to the 1988-89 season, the NBA only had All-NBA 1st and All-NBA 2nd Teams. To fill in that historical award gap, the crack Pro Hoops History committee of one has gone back and created the Lost All-NBA 3rd Teams.

This All-NBA 3rd Team is an admixture of legends entering the final phases of their career (Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry Lucas), a player squarely in his prime (Chet Walker), and two rising stars (Jeff Mullins and Walt Frazier).

To this point in his decade-long career, Wilt Chamberlain had alternated with Bill Russell for honors on the All-NBA 1st or 2nd Team. Now in 1969, though, Wilt joined the Los Angeles Lakers forming a triumvirate with Elgin Baylor (All-NBA 1st Team) and Jerry West (All-NBA 2nd Team). Chamberlain’s production dipped, but he also suffered from the league overreacting to Wes Unseld’s rookie season, catapulting the Baltimore Bullet star to the league’s 1st Team and MVP honors. Knicks’ center Willis Reed occupied the 2nd Team spot, so here is Wilt accepting a 3rd place finish despite averaging 20.5 PPG, 21.1 RPG, and 4.5 APG.

Power forward Jerry Lucas was in his sixth season and put up numbers comparable to Wilt’s: 18 PPG, 18 RPG,  and 4 APG. The Cincinnati Royals big man’s partnership with Oscar Robertson was at an end, though. Following their 41-41 finish this year, Lucas was traded to the San Francisco Warriors for a new phase in his basketball career.

Lucas would be joining the stellar shooting guard Jeff Mullins. With Rick Barry having jumped to the ABA, Mullins emerged as the Warriors go-to scorer in the late 1960s. This season was perhaps his finest. The cat-like Mullins averaged over 22 PPG with 6 rebounds and nearly 4.5 assists.

Going to the opposite coast, the New York Knicks’ point guard Walt Frazier blossomed this year. His growth along with the acquisition of Dave DeBusschere pushed the Knicks into the realm of title contenders for the first time in 15 years. In only his 2nd season, Frazier served notice to the NBA that he was likely to inherit the title of best point guard from the aging Oscar Robertson.

Lastly, the ever-steady Chet Walker entered his seventh and final season with Philadelphia 76ers franchise. His scoring was about as it always was, but with an increasing offensive efficiency, Chet the Jet was becoming more dangerous than ever. His new career-highs in FG% and FT% (plus an MVP-caliber campaign from Billy Cunningham and the rock steady Hal Greer) allowed the 76ers to surprise the league after losing Wilt to L.A. Philly finished with the 2nd-best record in the entire NBA (55-27).

Position Player Team G PPG RPG APG FG% FT% WS PER
F Chet Walker Philadelphia 76ers 82 18.0 7.8 1.8 0.484 0.804 9.8 16.7
F Jerry Lucas Cincinnati Royals 74 18.3 18.4 4.1 0.551 0.755 9.5 20.6
C Wilt Chamberlain Los Angeles Lakers 81 20.5 21.1 4.5 0.583 0.446 14.7 21.9
G Jeff Mullins San Francisco Warriors 78 22.6 5.9 4.3 0.459 0.843 10.0 18.9
G Walt Frazier New York Knicks 80 17.5 6.2 7.9 0.505 0.746 12.7 20.2

Paul Silas

Born: July 12, 1941
Position: Power Forward
Professional Career:
St. Louis Hawks (NBA): 1964-’68
Atlanta Hawks (NBA): 1968-’69
Phoenix Suns (NBA): 1969-’72
Boston Celtics (NBA): 1972-’76
Denver Nuggets (NBA): 1976-’77
Seattle SuperSonics (NBA): 1977-’80


Paul Silas (spokeo)
(spokeo)

The Lowdown: Paul Silas was never much of a scorer, but his NBA career lasted 16 years thanks to his grinding defensive play and tireless effort on the boards. Silas was also heralded for the accountability he demanded from all teammates. He could begrudgingly forgive mistakes, but never a lack of effort. With this ensemble of talent, hustle, and personality, Silas carved out a place on two All-Star Teams and three NBA champions during his lengthy career.
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Elgin Baylor

Born: September 16, 1934
Position: Small Forward
Professional Career:
Minneapolis Lakers (NBA): 1958 – 1960
Los Angeles Lakers (NBA): 1960 – 1971


Elgin Baylor

The Lowdown: An exciting, acrobatic small forward, Elgin Baylor scored in ways few people had ever seen before. His array of gliding, hanging one-handers and contorting layups captivated opponents and fans for 13 NBA seasons. His prolific scoring average of 27.4 points per game – the fourth-highest career average in NBA history – speaks to his excellent offensive production. A fine passer and rebounder for his position as well, Baylor was selected to 10 All-NBA 1st Teams in a span of 11 years.

Despite his supreme gifts and determination, Baylor never played for an NBA champion. His Laker teams lost eight times in the NBA Finals – including four Game 7 heartbreaks. Nonetheless, his abilities cannot be denied or underestimated for the serious student and appreciator of basketball. Off the court, Baylor was a gregarious personality who also ushered in desegregation of player accommodations and stood up for players’ labor rights.
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The Lost All-NBA 3rd Teams: 1967-68 Season

Lenny Wilkens (top L), Earl Monroe (bot. L), Zelmo Beaty (center), Bill Bridges (top R), and Bob Boozer (bot. L)
Lenny Wilkens (top L), Earl Monroe (bot. L), Zelmo Beaty (center), Bill Bridges (top R), and Bob Boozer (bot. R)

Ed. Note: Prior to the 1988-89 season, the NBA only had All-NBA 1st and All-NBA 2nd Teams. To fill in that historical award gap, the crack Pro Hoops History committee of one has gone back and created the Lost All-NBA 3rd Teams.

The Hawks celebrated their final season in Atlanta by stacking the All-NBA 3rd Team deck with three of their players: Zelmo Beaty, Bill Bridges, and Lenny Wilkens. Beaty was the relatively short, but powerfully muscular center who patrolled the middle. His 21 points and 12 rebounds a game were an appreciated return to form after he missed half of the 1967 season with injury. Bill Bridges meanwhile was an unparalleled defensive force at power forward helping Zelmo keep the paint firmly under the Hawks’ control. And Wilkens found himself in the odd position of finishing second in voting for MVP this season, but was not selected to the All-NBA 1st or 2nd Team.

With their powers combined, the Hawks set a new franchise record of 56 wins. The total was good enough for first place in the Western Division and only the 76ers in the East finished with more wins in the entire NBA. Unfortunately for St. Louis, the Hawks were upset by the San Francisco Warriors in the playoffs.

Elsewhere, the Chicago Bulls’ sophomore season was dominated by veteran forward Bob Boozer who had a career year. Averaging 21.5 PPG and 10 RPG, Boozer’s eighth NBA season was his finest as he appeared in his first and only All-Star Game. The Bulls only won 29 games, but Boozer’s steady offensive touch kept things from being worse.

Lastly, the magnificent rookie Earl Monroe was sensational in Baltimore. Averaging almost 25 PPG, Earl the Pearl generated excitement for the Bullets with his whirling dribbling moves and gossamer shooting touch. He was named Rookie of the Year as his presence helped lift Baltimore from 20 wins the previous season to 36 this year. The next year, after drafting Wes Unseld, the Bullets would further surge ahead to an impressive 57 wins.

Position Player Team G PPG RPG APG FG% FT% WS PER
F Bob Boozer Chicago Bulls 77 21.5 9.8 1.6 0.492 0.768 10.6 18.6
F Bill Bridges St. Louis Hawks 82 15.6 13.4 3.1 0.462 0.717 8.6 15.6
C Zelmo Beaty St. Louis Hawks 82 21.1 11.7 2.1 0.488 0.794 11.8 19.3
G Lenny Wilkens St. Louis Hawks 82 20.0 5.3 8.3 0.438 0.768 10.1 19.0
G Earl Monroe Baltimore Bullets 82 24.3 5.7 4.3 0.453 0.781 9.3 19.3

The Lost All-NBA 3rd Teams: 1966-67 Season

Guy Rodgers (top L), Chet Walker (bottom L), Nate Thurmond (center), John Havlicek (top R), and Lenny Wilkens (bottom R)
Guy Rodgers (top L), Chet Walker (bottom L), Nate Thurmond (center), John Havlicek (top R), and Lenny Wilkens (bottom R)

Ed. Note: Prior to the 1988-89 season, the NBA only had All-NBA 1st and All-NBA 2nd Teams. To fill in that historical award gap, the crack Pro Hoops History committee of one has gone back and created the Lost All-NBA 3rd Teams.

It’s been a long time coming, but Nate Thurmond has arrived as an All-NBA performer. Previously flummoxed of such honors by Walt Bellamy, Zelmo Beaty and untimely injuries, Thurmond broke through averaging a superb 19 points and 21 rebounds for the San Francisco Warriors. He still missed a decent chunk of time this season (16 games), but he combined with Rick Barry propelling the Warriors to a 1st-place finish in the Western Division. Thurmond’s interior defense and rebounding also cemented a Warriors run to the NBA Finals – the first since the franchise had moved from Philadelphia to San Francisco in 1962. Although losing to their replacements in Philadelphia, the 76ers, in six games, it was a fine year for Nate the Great and the Warriors.

Speaking of the 76ers, their small forward Chet Walker also makes his first All-NBA appearance after a long wait. Using a bevy of outstanding one-on-one moves, Chet the Jet was the 68-win 76ers go-to scorer in the final moments of close games. For the season he averaged a healthy 19 points on 49% shooting to go along with 8 rebounds a game as well. This was Walker’s fifth season in the NBA and he’s gearing up for a long run of appearances on these All-NBA 3rd Teams.

Another great forward in his fifth NBA season was John Havlicek of the Boston Celtics. Already a two-time member of the All-NBA 2nd Team (1964, ’66), Hondo settles for a 3rd Team appearance this season as the Celtics finished with 60 wins. Despite the demotion to the All-NBA 3rd Team, this was actually Havlicek’s best pro season yet. All of his averages (PPG, RPG, APG, MPG, FG% and FT%) were new career-highs as he assumed a greater burden of Boston’s aging roster that failed to win the title for the first time since 1959.

Filling in the backcout slots are two fine point guards: Guy Rodgers and Lenny Wilkens.

Rodgers was in his ninth NBA season, but it was the first one he spent away from the Warriors franchise. The expansion Chicago Bulls traded for the slick-passing point guard and he didn’t disappoint. He averaged a career-high and NBA-best 11.2 APG this season while also chipping in 18 points a night. Unfortunately, this proved to be the swan song for Rodgers as a premier NBA guard. Over the next three years his playing time would plummet ending with retirement in 1970.

As for Lenny Wilkens, he was firmly in the prime of his play-making days with the St. Louis Hawks. That team had a stable of big, burly frontcourt players who needed the generalship of Wilkens to orchestrate proceedings. He did a fairly good job of things as St. Louis finished second in the regular season Western Division standings. Then in the postseason, Wilkens and the Hawks gave the Warriors a heated fight in the Division Finals which lasted six games.

Position Player Team G PPG RPG APG FG% FT% WS PER
F John Havlicek Boston Celtics 81 21.4 6.6 3.4 0.444 0.828 8.3 19.2
F Chet Walker Philadelphia 76ers 81 19.3 8.1 2.3 0.488 0.766 10.1 17.9
C Nate Thurmond San Francisco Warriors 65 18.7 21.3 2.6 0.437 0.629 7.2 17.4
G Guy Rodgers Chicago Bulls 81 18.0 4.3 11.2 0.391 0.806 6.2 17.9
G Lenny Wilkens St. Louis Hawks 78 17.4 5.3 5.7 0.432 0.787 7.6 15.6