Tom Heinsohn is already in the Hall of Fame. That is, as a member of the Class of 1986 in tribute to 18.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, eight championships and six All-Star appearances in nine seasons as a Celtic, along with three starring years at Holy Cross.
The 2013 bid, now at the second and final stage of voting, is for his coaching career, which changes the dynamic of the debate.
Simply: Should Heinsohn join John Wooden and Lenny Wilkens, originally elected as players and later as coaches, as the only individual double inductees?
The 24 anonymous voters – former players, executives and college athletic-department administrators, media members, other “contributors to the game” – are charged with deciding based only on the category in question, not other work by the candidate. In Heinsohn’s case, his coaching credentials should be the singular issue, not whether he deserves to be in the elite sub-section with Wooden and Wilkens.
Whether the secret 24 stick to the singular issue, though, will never be known in a process that always includes the weighing of intangibles. Maybe the idea of putting Heinsohn in that rarefied air becomes an additional hurdle to clear. Maybe not. Maybe continuing to have a presence around the league, as a Celtics color analyst, does the trick. Maybe not.
Maybe he will be in trouble if his coaching record is judged on that alone.
Heinsohn was on the Boston sideline from 1969-70 until being fired 34 games into 1977-78. He won championships in 1974 and ‘76 and was voted Coach of the Year in 1973. The lifetime mark of 427-263 (.619) includes five Atlantic Division titles.
Having two titles and one Coach of the Year will obviously be mentioned prominently as votes are cast in advance of the April 8 announcement of the inductees. But, of the 16 former NBA coaches in Springfield, Mass., only Johnny Kundla of the Minneapolis Lakers (423-302) totaled fewer wins, and he won four championships and also coached the University of Minnesota for nine seasons. Tex Winter went 51-78 with the Rockets, but was enshrined in 2011 based on his work in college and as an NBA assistant.
How Heinsohn reached the finalist stage while Rudy Tomjanovich failed to make it out of the first round of voting will also remain a mystery. Heinsohn was 427-263 with two titles, “Rudy T” was 527-416 (.559) with two crowns in Houston (plus a gold medal in the Olympics and a bronze in the world championships), and yet only one of them advanced. Dick Motta (935-1,017, one title, one Coach of the Year), Bill Fitch (944-1,106, one title, two Coach of the Years) and Del Harris (556-457, one Coach of the Year) also failed to receive enough support in the initial balloting.
If Heinsohn gets in, the Tomjanovich candidacy for future years becomes much, much stronger.