The thing I always liked about Tom Heinsohn, the basketball player and coach, is that you always knew how you stood with him--somewhere between a bill collector and a guy giving him a traffic ticket.
Tommy was always the same, on the court or off--half-mad. If he wasn't scowling he wasn't Heinsohn. I guess he was the original power forward, intimidatory, aggressive, physical. He got his points, 22.1 in his good year, and his rebounds, 794 one year, on a combination of muscle and anger that made the guy playing him feel as if he were continually bumping into an icebox.
Tommy never played or coached for anybody but the Celtics and it was clear he considered them and the Boston Garden as the Vatican of Basketball and he would brook no heresy about them on the part of anyone. About them, he was as devout as an altar boy. He thought Bob Cousy could multiply loaves and fishes.
His speech is like he is, gruff, raspy, cranky, a little like a file being drawn across a buzz saw. But, as an announcer, Heinsohn knows his game. He can spot the moving picks, the give-and-goes, the subtle foul and the nuances of the high post with the best of them. He does have his lapses, as when he let the world in on the secret that the way to play Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was to let him tire himself out making baskets, but who doesn't?
Anyway, what I really like about Heinsohn is his diction. It's not what he says, it's how he says it. Tommy is a Jersey boy, but his accent is pure lower Manhattan.
With Houston in the finals this year, it occurred to your correspondent that Texans, who have speech patterns of their own, may not be totally familiar with the English language as dispensed by Heinsohn. Accordingly, I thought I would catch them up on a few of the more common colloquialisms of pronunciation of Heinsohn's so they won't feel their audio portion has suddenly patched into a conversation between two New York cab drivers and a dispatcher. It would be terrible for Houston to win the playoff and have nobody in Texas know it until somebody told them in Texan.
Therefore, I have taken the liberty of listing below a few key Heinsohn pronunciations together with their common English translation. First, what he says; then, what it means:
"Caught"--where they play the game, on the caught in the Gadden.
"Gadden"--see above. An arena. Boston Gadden. Or Madison Square, for that matter.
"Bawds"--where you get rebounds. Where the baskets hang. Also known as the backbawds.
"Lodge"--big. Bill Walton is very lodge. So is Ralph Sampson.
"Hod"--difficult. The Lakers played hod, but it wasn't enough.
"Cod"--what you play poker with. It wasn't in the cods for the Lakers to win.
"Haw"--feminine possessive, belonging to a woman, as in "She lost haw purse."
"Yaw"--belonging to you.
"Faw"--number after 3.
"God"--backcourt player. Dennis Johnson is a point god. He gods people.
"Caw"--what you drive to work in.
"Flaw"--what they play on. the Boston Gadden has a parquet flaw caught.
"Paw"--to decant or to spill as in "Paw me a glass of that milk." Also used of a coach who runs up a score, of whom we say "He pawed it on." Can also mean a 4 on a 400-yard hole. "Pock"--what you do with a car if you can find a space. Also, a green space in a city, as in Central Pock.
"Sauce"--an unimpeachable informant. Tommy sometimes gets his pregame dope from high-up sauces.
"Raw"--the noise a crowd makes when the home team gets ahead.
"Dock"--what it gets when the sun goes down.
"Mock"--distinguishing feature or a scar as in "the mock of the squealer" or the "mock of Zorro."
"Cot"--what sometimes goes before the horse.
"Hot"--vital organ. You gotta have hot if you want to succeed against Boston.
"Jaws"--what you keep jelly beans in.
"Maw"--additional, as in "Tell me maw."
"Pot"--a role. As in "Bill Walton plays his pot in the Celts' success." Can also mean a portion or a crease in your hair.
"Potty"--a good time. A political sub-division.
Just remember, the Celtics got off to a good stawt Monday, but they can win only if they can keep Olajuwon off the bawds, and if they don't get trapped in their half-caught game, and if it's in the cods, and the gods are smiling down on them--and don't have turnovers.