Tommy Heinsohn has been a part of the Boston Celtics for six decades as a player, coach and broadcaster. As a player with the Celtics, Heinsohn teamed with Frank Ramsey, the 6-foot-3 swingman who has been credited for being the game's first “sixth man,” as well as John Havlicek, one of the all-time greatest sixth men. As a coach, Heinsohn adopted the sixth man philosophy from Red Auerbach with players such as Paul Silas and Don Nelson. And as the Celtics' television color commentator since 1981, Heinsohn has watched Boston carry on the sixth man tradition with players like Kevin McHale, Bill Walton and James Posey. Heinsohn shared his thoughts on the evolution of the sixth man.
We were a real up-tempo team in every aspect, offense, defense, so I had to play a lot of guys. And (Frank) Ramsey had been a starter and then he went in the service and he came out in the middle of my rookie year, so the team had been pretty well set and he was a two-position player. He could play the two-guard or the quick forward. He was a sneaky guy.
Ramsey had a great pair of hands, and he was playing his first year with (Bob) Cousy. He didn't have a shot. He would play defense and would develop his game, but offensively he came back the next year a different player. He became a starter for me (because he was improved).
The role had always been for somebody to take their particular skill and insert that into the lineup to either hold the lead, push the lead further or regain the lead.
I had a sixth man when I was coach, Hambone Williams, who I called “The Accelerator.” Because we were very much a fastbreak team, and he would come off the bench and he would accelerate the pace of the game and we would blow people out.