White, Heinsohn To Be Linked Together Forever
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Many player-coach relationships fizzle quickly. Some may last for years.
This one will last forever.
Nearly 40 years after their player-coach relationship came to an end, Jo Jo White and Tommy Heinsohn will stand alongside each other tonight as they are enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, where they will be remembered for the rest of time.
White, who spent 10 of his 12 NBA seasons in Boston, will be enshrined as a player, while Heinsohn will be enshrined as a coach.
The two spent nine seasons together in Boston, spanning Heinsohn’s entire coaching career. They won 474 games together, and, most importantly, played critical roles in the Celtics raising two of their 17 World Championship banners.
Heinsohn, who was enshrined into the Hall as a player in 1986, downplayed his current induction throughout Thursday’s opening ceremonies. He instead chose to concentrate on No. 10, the player who still loves the game of basketball as much as anyone else on Earth.
“I’ve been a big champion of [White] – he should have been in a long time ago,” Heinsohn said at his press conference Thursday afternoon. “He was a significant player on a very successful (team).
“I can still remember him after the triple-overtime game (Game 5 of the 1976 NBA Finals) where he played 58 minutes and was unable to get off the floor after the game was over. He truly loved the game and a lot of people took him for granted.”
White wore his emotions on his sleeve during his playing days, and he did so again Thursday afternoon. During his introductory statement in Springfield, he stated a handful of times how much he adores, enjoys and loves the game of basketball. He lives for the sport.
It didn’t take long back in 1969 for Heinsohn to learn that lesson. His relationship with White got off to a rocky start, as the coach recalled, because he wouldn’t allow White onto the court during his first few games with the Celtics.
“[He] hated me the first time he showed up in Boston because he was on a three-day pass and he wanted to play in the game, and I wouldn’t let him play in the game because we were trying out a 7-foot guy who was going to replace Bill Russell,” the coach remembered. “Jo Jo showed up after this long trek in going to Marine boot camp, and I wouldn’t let him play.”
He later added with a laugh, “He got so pissed at me because I wouldn’t let him play.”
After being reminded of that story, White said, “You get a chance to eventually show what you can do, and once you do that, you expect them to react that way.”
White got his chance soon enough, once the two realized that they were each other’s greatest ally.
Heinsohn’s coaching style was highlighted by two key goals. First, he wanted his teams to play with an up-tempo pace and to work as a team. Second, he wanted to help players, as he explained, “get to where they wanted to get to.”
Those goals were conducive to White’s development as a young player. He became a much better – and very different - player under Heinsohn’s tutelage.
“Jo Jo made kind of a complete turnover from the type of player he had been in college,” Heinsohn said. “He was a slow-down player (at Kansas). Here, I’m asking him to become the point guard and to make very quick decisions.”
White quickly adjusted, averaging 21.3 points and 4.8 assists per game during his second professional season, earning his first All-Star appearance. He bumped those numbers up to 23.1 points and 5.3 assists per game during his next campaign and again made the All-Star team. He meshed with Heinsohn’s coaching style and completely bought in to what the coach preached.
“I listened to what Tommy had to say,” White stated with conviction, “and I was right at his feet at everything he said to help make the team that we played with better.”
The proof, as Heinsohn likes to say, was in the pudding. The Celtics won the 1974 and 1976 NBA championships, and White was named the Finals MVP during the latter series. He also garnered seven All-Star selections. Heinsohn, meanwhile, pulled in the NBA Coach of the Year honors in 1973 and finished with a .619 career win percentage during the regular season, which ranks 10th in league history among coaches who roamed the sidelines for more than five seasons.
It’s no wonder why the Hall of Fame came calling this year. It's nothing short of special that the Hall will be calling both of their names tonight, forever linking the two Celtics Legends together.