Where Are They Now? Hank Finkel
Henry J. "Hank" Finkel didn’t arrive in Boston until August, 1969. He played three seasons, with the Los Angeles Lakers and the San Diego Rockets (later known as the Houston Rockets), prior to joining the Green and White. He played six years for the Celtics (1969-70 – 1974-75). He was an imposing seven-foot player who roamed the pivot, possessed a smooth left-handed shot and battled with the likes of: Willis Reed, Nate Thurmond, Wilt Chamberlain and Walt Bellemy. And, Hank held his own against each opponent he faced.
Hank, or ‘High Henry’ as long-time voice of the Celtics Johnny Most liked to call him, came to the Celtics to assume the center position. Now, coming to the defending world champion Boston Celtics is one thing but to come to a new team to be the man to replace the retired Bill Russell, is something else. But that’s what Hank was asked to do and he did it to the best of his ability. He was a pro’s pro, a solid team player and in 1969-70 he averaged 9.7 points (his career best average was 11.6 in 1967-68), a career-high 7.7 rebounds per game and he played in career high-tying 80 of 82 regular season contests.
When Dave Cowens joined the Celtics in 1970, Finkel was right there to work with the young 6-8 center and provide more than adequate support in a reserve role. This was never more evident than in Game 7 of the 1974 Playoffs when he played Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to a standstill when Cowens was benched with five fouls. Hank was always well conditioned, never griped about playing time and he could set the best picks and blocks in the NBA.
All these years later, the former Dayton All-American who took his team to the NCAA Finals as a senior, is still a resident of Lynnfield, MA and a productive businessman in the Boston and New England area.
Celtics.com’s Jeff Twiss sat down recently with Hank.
Hank, it’s great to see you. It’s been a ‘couple’ of years since your playing days but please share with our fans what you have been doing recently?
FINKEL: " Currently and, well, for the last 23, 24, 25 years I’ve been selling office furniture and shop equipment. And, I started my own company about 21 years ago, Hank Finkel Associates, Inc.. I am situated in Woburn, Massachusetts. I sell desks, chairs, filing cabinets, storage bins, shelving, work benches and other things like that."
How did you ever get involved with this line of work, Hank?
FINKEL: "I went to work when I was initially released by the Celtics working for (former Celtics General Manager) Jan Volk’s father, Jerry Volk. He then owned a plastics company but he bought into an office furniture company, and he had me working both companies. That’s how I got started in the office furniture end of it."
Now, was this something you always wanted to do or did you just ‘fall into it’?
FINKEL: "I kind-of fell into it, yes. To be honest with you, my degree is in Education. I always thought he would be a teacher and coach someday. That didn’t work out because when I was initially put on waivers during the season (around the end of November), all the teaching and coaching jobs were filled. So, I went into business and Jerry gave me the opportunity to learn the business aspect of it – that’s how I started off in business."
You said you are the boss… are you a one-man show?
FINKEL: chuckling at the question, "Yeh, if I yell at anybody it’s going to be at myself if it’s not done properly. But, yes, I sell a variety of things and I still go knock on doors. I’m a small company, a local company and I just have fun at it. When Jerry Volk passed away and then working for someone other than Jerry just didn’t work out, I started my own company and things have worked out since."
When you knock on doors are people surprised to see a seven-foot salesman looking down on them?
FINKEL: "About 20 years ago I was still fairly well-known. Now, I’ve got about three strands of hair left on my head, half of that is gray, my mustache is white but years ago people would welcome you in and then you talk more basketball than you did business. If they wanted something, it was an afterthought… ‘hey can you get me this or get me that’. Now it is all business and as the years go on the recognition declines. You really have to give them a sales pitch because half of them don’t remember you anymore. It’s the next generation coming up, that’s all."
Any fond Celtics memories you have, Hank?
FINKEL: "Somebody called me up the other day and asking me what the best memory I had playing basketball was and, to be honest with you, it was just getting picked up by the Celtics. When you got picked up by the Celtics that was the epitome. Everyone wanted to play for the Celtics back in those days and I was fortunate to play with a couple of Hall of Fame players, Dave Cowens and John Havlicek, and played with some great players whose numbers are in the rafters: Don Chaney, JoJo White, Don Nelson, Satch Sanders – just being a member of the Celtics back in those days was a wonderful, wonderful thing. Just playing with these guys is a memory that never fades. And, winning the championship in ’74 when he beat Kareem and Oscar and that Milwaukee Bucks crowd, that was a great, great victory."
You mentioned Kareem, was there any particular opponent you liked or disliked doing battle with?
FINKEL: laughing out loud, "For me they were all a challenge. But having said that, the two toughest guys were, first and foremost, Dave Cowens because he only knew one speed – he played the same way in practice as he did in games and that was all out, that was 125% every night. So, he was the toughest ‘opponent’ that I had to play against because I had to play against him in practice every day. Secondly and having said that, Willis Reed. When Willis was playing for the New York Knicks he was about 6-10, 275 and he would tear your head off to get to the ball. He was a very aggressive and strong player who really wanted to win."
Was there any one thing that you learned by being a Celtic?
FINKEL: "If there was one thing I took away is what Red used to say to us whenever we had a meeting and he would come in and say, ‘listen, you’re either going to play or you’re not going to play… there is no gray area and if you are going to play, let’s go and give 110%, but if you are not going to play, then I will put somebody else in who will play.’ And, I conduct myself the same way in business. I do everything 110% and come to play everyday. I try and give it my best shot every time out there."
How difficult was it when you realized your playing days were over?
FINKEL: "It’s a tough transition because I had done that for 33-34 years of my life and now all of a sudden you not in basketball anymore. In my case, Jan (Volk) asked me what I was going to do and I contemplated moving back to San Diego. But my kids were in school already and said that I will give it a shot here. So, I talked to Jan’s father (Jerry) and just said to do this temporarily and you don’t want to do this full-time, let me know. Well, I did it and one thing led to another and 30 years later I am still in Boston."
Today’s NBA is a little different than your playing days, Hank?
FINKEL: "Well, I still watch it, maybe not as closely anymore because I don’t know many of the players. But the game has changed dramatically. Back when I played, there was no three-pointer, we worked on the pick and rolls and there was more of a team concept. Also, there were not as many plays when I was playing. When Tommy Heinsohn was our coach, he would give us five or six plays and off those plays we would have five or six options. That doesn’t seem to be the case today. A lot of players seem to concentrate on where the three-point line is only."
One final question, how special was the ‘old’ Boston Garden?
FINKEL: "The old Garden had a lot of flavor to it. It had the parquet floor and it had all the banners up in the rafters – it was great. After my playing days were over, they allowed me to park my car in the back and I used to walk up the ramp, go in the security gate, drop by the locker room and then watch the game in the archway at center court. Now I have to have a ticket and sit in the stands and, I guess, it’s not as informal as it used to be. I used to know all the ushers and security people back in those days and now that has all changed. But I liked the Garden because I grew up in New Jersey and we used to watch the Knicks and Celtics all the time on the parquet and the Boston Garden used to be on TV in Jersey when I was growing up. So that’s when I got to know it and then when I started playing in it that really made it that much better."