To generations of Celtics fans, Mike Gorman is just as revered as many of the beloved Hall of Fame players who have taken the floor in Boston.
Gorman has been the play-by-play broadcaster for the team since 1981, a steady and reliable voice documenting some of the team’s most memorable moments, from the rivalry with the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s to the team’s resurrection in the late-2000s . He was there for the lean times, such as the Rick Pitino era of the 1990s and the death of Reggie Lewis in 1993. For almost 40 years, right beside him was Tommy Heinsohn, the Hall of Fame player and coach.
Heinsohn and Gorman could not have been more different than voices. Heinsohn, as the color commentator, was a gregarious personality known for his vociferous criticism of referees who dared to make calls against the Celtics. Gorman is more reserved, raising his voice only for big shots with his catch phrase “Takes it. make it!” or “Got it!”
After Heinsohn died in 2020, Gorman, a former Navy pilot from Dorchester, Mass., considered stepping away without the other half of “Mike and Tommy.” But Gorman stayed, in large part to see if he could be a part of another championship run.
He may have gotten his wish. The Celtics have made an improbable run to the NBA finals, where they are facing Golden State. Boston is down in the series, 3-2, and faces elimination in Game 6 on Thursday.
Gorman, alongside Heinsohn’s successor, Brian Scalabrine, called games through the first round of the playoffs. (Under the NBA’s television deals, only national networks broadcast playoff games after the first round.)
In an interview with The New York Times about his career, Gorman, 74, said he most likely has two years left as the voice of the Celtics.
“I want to go see the world,” Gorman said. “I want to go and do a lot of things that my wife and I made sacrifices to not do because of a basketball game conflict.”
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What was it like to call this season, which may result in a championship, without Tommy next to you?
I want to say there was a real void, because there was a real void. Scal had nothing to do with that. Scal couldn’t change that. Nobody could change that. Nobody was going to fill Tommy’s shoes and be able to instantly get the chemistry that Tommy and I had.
Calling all of these games without Tommy, No. 1 was I thought a lot about once he had passed away that maybe I should just quit, too, and just let the legacy be the two of us and not be anything else. But I could see promise with this team, and I think this team is ahead of schedule right now. But they have a chance to win one or two titles if they can keep this group together for an extended period of time.
Why did you stick around?
I could see this team had potential. It’s great to do a good team because when you do a good team, everyone thinks you’re a good broadcaster. When you’re a bad team, everyone thinks you’re a terrible broadcaster.
What was it like being around the team in the first half of the season compared with the second half?
Very different to be around the team, period, because of all the restrictions with Covid. And that really hurt, because what we had is when Brad [Stevens] left, a majority of his assistants left with him.
So all of a sudden, there were a lot of guys out there that I have no relationship with. I had no relationship with Ime [Udoka]. I had no relationship with any of his assistant coaches. So it was very hard to get any kind of relationship. I would say there wasn’t much of, really, necessarily trying hard to befriend the players, but over the period of years, you have some guys you become friendly with. But you become friendly with them in hotel lobbies. That’s where relationships are made. So when I stopped doing the away games, as I did this past year because of the virus more than anything else, I didn’t see players at all.
The season gets off to a difficult start. Was there any part of you that said, “I don’t want to do this anymore?”
I started to have those thoughts when we had such a terrible start.
Last year, you did something I’ve never seen you do, which was you publicly criticized the Celtics in a radio interview, particularly Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown for playing too much as individuals instead of as a team. You said the team was “really sad to watch.” Now that they’re in the finals, how do you reflect on those comments now?
I did them a favor, to be honest with you. Because I took the pressure off some of the other people who felt the same way within the organization that weren’t going to say anything.
And then Marcus Smart comes out, and he says the same thing I did. And then to somebody in the hierarchy — I’ll just say, of the Celtics — I said: “Why are you guys so mad at me for what I said? It’s true.” And he said: “Oh, we know it’s true. We just wish that you hadn’t said it right now.” I could understand that. But I love the Celtics. The Celtics have been my life. However, I don’t work for the Celtics. I work for NBC.
What’s been your favorite Celtics season to call?
2008. The one with [Paul] pierce, [Ray] All and [Kevin] Garnett.
A decade. Probably the ’90s, where we didn’t make the playoffs a whole bunch of years.
What do you think Tommy Heinsohn would say about this year’s Celtics team?
I think he’d be very proud of what they have done and how they turned things around. I think he would have been yelling at them before I was about not moving the ball and not doing some of the things that would make them a better team.
I would see a player bring the ball across halfcourt and stop, and then all of a sudden, nobody is moving at all. Put on any game in November or December and look at five minutes. Now, put on a game from last week, and all of a sudden, the same players are crossing halfcourt with the ball, and guys are cutting. Guys are moving. Guys are setting screens. Everybody is in motion all the time. It’s just a completely different game. It’s day and night.