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Mike Gorman retires after 43 years as voice of Celtics: ‘Boston, thank you. Good night’

Written by on May 2, 2024

BOSTON — Mike Gorman could always find the right words in the moment. Calling Celtics games for 43 years, he’s seen and succinctly described everything that can happen on the basketball court.

Gorman lives the adage that less is more, but with the last game of his career approaching, he was finally stumped by one final challenge. What would be his final call? How can he sum up a lifetime’s work and gratitude in a concise way, the only way he knows how?

Since July, when Gorman told The Athletic this would be his final season, he’s been asked what he plans to say when his Celtics broadcasting career ends.

“I haven’t thought about it,” Gorman said before his final game, a 118-84 victory that saw the Celtics eliminate the Miami Heat in Game 5. “Everyone asks me, ‘What are you going to say at the end?’ I don’t know. I don’t know. Maybe I won’t know until the final seconds what I’ll say.”

In the end, as he signed off for the last time as the Celtics’ play-by-play announcer, Gorman kept it simple, just as he always did.

“So Boston, thank you,” Gorman said. “Goodnight.”

After more than four decades as the voice of the Celtics, Gorman is now officially retired.

“I can’t put words to the honor. I wish I could,” Gorman told The Athletic as he walked off the parquet floor for the final time as a Celtics broadcaster. “It feels great. How would you feel if 19,000 people were clapping and smiling at you? I feel pretty good.”

The Athletic spoke to Gorman and those who worked with him over the years for a look at Gorman’s career and legacy with the Celtics.

Jeff Twiss, Celtics vice-president of media services: The thing about Mike is he’s exactly the same as you would think he was if you never had a chance to meet him. He’s exactly the same. He’s just a super nice guy.

Chris Forsberg, Celtics studio analyst: I’m still super nervous around him because I don’t want to say something dumb because it’s Mike Gorman and everything he does is cool. It’s still surreal to me. I can remember 9-year-old me sitting there being told by my dad how important (Celtics broadcasters) Mike and Tommy (Heinsohn) were. And that was just like their first few years on the job. And then fast forward 20-something years later. And now I’m not only around it but, to be part of it now is still ridiculous to me. And especially this season, I’ve tried not to take anything for granted.

Abby Chin, NBC Sports Boston sideline reporter: It’s living legend status stuff and iconic. And so I’m glad I didn’t know (the scope of Mike’s legacy) going in because it would have been much more intimidating working with him. And I say all that because it never felt like that when we were working together. And Mike was welcoming to me from the beginning when he didn’t know me from someone walking off the street. And he believed in me and instilled confidence in me when he didn’t have to do that.

Paul Lucey, Celtics broadcast producer: We had countless breakfast meetings together with Tommy that would last forever with all of Tommy’s stories and figuring out the best way to attack each game. We played some golf on the road and frequented all our favorite city taverns and Irish pubs. That’s what I’ll probably remember the most, traveling the country and the world — doing games and having a great time.

Dick Lipe, Celtics broadcast statistician: He was one of the stars of the show, but he was always willing to give the credit.

Mike Gorman: Dick Lipe has been beside me since — well, he’s been there longer than I have. So I was thinking during (Game 2) this could be the last game I ever work with Dick. Forty-three years sitting beside me, he gave me 60 percent of what I ended up saying on air. It’s like the guy was writing my script.

Lipe: What’s funny was when I talked to Mike right after Game 2 against Miami (last week) and he told me that he was kind of glad that they lost because it made him realize that he has a chance for his last game to be with (me) by his side. And that was important to him.

Bill Simmons, founder of The Ringer: He’s just a super nice guy. And, he’s got the Boston accent, but it’s not too much of a Boston accent. It still sounds vaguely professional, but you can also definitely tell it’s from the Boston area.

Gorman: Fans could not be more positive wishing me luck in retirement. Usually on the internet, you’ll usually find someone who says, ‘Gorman sucks.’ But certainly, it never showed its head in the Garden. It was just the amount of people that would come up to me. I felt like a rock star sometimes and there will be 10-20 people who will ask for a picture with me. I guess when you’ve done something for as long as I have, you don’t realize the effect you’ve had on a whole generation of people.

Simmons: (Larry) Bird came when I was 10 and then in the mid-2000s, I’m in my mid-30s living in LA watching on DirectTV and it’s the same guys. Now my kids are in the room as those guys are announcing. You’re talking about three, four generations of people. That’s pretty cool.

Gorman: I hear that from a lot of guys between 40 and 50 and they’ll look me right in the eye and say, ‘You were the voice of my whole youth.’ That’s quite a responsibility I didn’t realize I had. I’m glad I could be and was. I hear something like that and I get choked up at the whole idea of what I’m doing.

In the old Boston Garden, Gorman and Heinsohn would call games from what was called the Gondola, a structure perched above the court from the balcony.

Gorman has often recounted the story of the time Heinsohn threw Gorman’s notes into the stands and said, “We’re gonna talk about what’s in front of us.” Papers flying into the stands below them was a more frequent occurrence, just for a different reason.

Twiss: Once you got up there, it was the best view in basketball. But it was an absolute trek to get up there. So if there was something real important, they would lower a string down with a clip on it, then I’d attach a note to it and send it back up that way. Before texts, cell phones, that’s the way we would communicate.

Gorman: The clips didn’t work as well as advertised, so occasionally there would be a sprinkling of papers.

Twiss: From the get-go, Mike had his style and Tommy was Tommy. I think Tommy had a little influence from Johnny Most, the way he’d say, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me, ref. This can’t happen to our Celtics!’

Gorman recalled early in their partnership when Heinsohn almost got into it with a fan in Philadelphia as a fan kept yelling he was the worst.

Gorman: If they could get their hands on each other, they’d probably start going at it in the aisle.

But did anyone ever try to fight him?

Gorman: No, not really. Well, Tommy once.

That was the challenge for Gorman. He developed a close friendship with Heinsohn and knew how to give his partner the space to call the game how he saw fit, yet still keep the broadcast flowing.

Sean Grande, Celtics’ radio play-by-play announcer: The one thing he has to get credit for: How many people in the world could’ve been with Tommy as long as he was? He was a savant at being Tommy’s partner, no doubt.

Simmons: Watching him age with Tommy was probably my favorite thing about it. They just became an old married couple and Tommy became crazy, in a good way. He was nuts. Mike would have to rein him in, or let him go when Mike was just losing his mind about some charge call. I think that’s when it really went to the next level.

Because the team struggled throughout the ’90s, it gave Gorman and Heinsohn a chance to find their identity as a broadcast partnership. Simmons remembered going to those games and feeling how those years of losing opened the window for Heinsohn to fill the void of excitement.

Simmons: When I say the crowd was dead, everything was dead and there was no energy in the building at all. The only thing you could hear were people yelling at Rick Pitino and s— like that. So Tommy had to bring up the energy and Mike became his straight man.

Gorman: I enjoyed being Tommy’s caddy, more or less, being the straight man. He was just a funny guy. We didn’t work on routines. Routines just came naturally for us. When we decided to just concentrate on Tommy and let Tommy be the show, I think that’s when we let go of the broadcast and let him take the heat, which always led to some very interesting places. We became Mike and Tommy, but the capital T is on Tommy.

The late Tommy Heinsohn was a fixture on Celtics broadcasts along with Mike Gorman. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

When Heinsohn’s illness started, the Celtics had to slowly usher in former player Brian Scalabrine as his replacement.

Chin: I realized the brilliance of Mike in that first season that Tommy didn’t travel to away games because Scal I think had done some work the season before, but he was a full-time assistant coach at Golden State. And so we were patching things together.

Forsberg: When Tommy was going through health stuff. I mean, they went through a rotating cast one year.

Chin: So a bunch of different people were doing games. We had PJ Carlesimo, we had Jackie McMullan do a few. We had Dave Cowens and Rajon Rondo (who was injured) did (part of a game). The way he was able to weave in whoever was in that analyst role — he was so good about allowing them to shine and always putting his partner in the best position.

Forsberg: It always worked because Mike could make it work. It didn’t matter who was next to him. And even though he had this great chemistry with one guy, someone else could sit there and it was gonna flow, it was gonna make sense. And they were still gonna have fun.

Chin: That was the season I realized the brilliance of Mike Gorman because our broadcast remained the absolute best regardless of who was in that analyst chair.

Twiss: It was tough. It was difficult. You work with somebody who you trust, who you respect, who you love for years and then he’s no longer there, it’s a void. It’s a big void and it’s tough to fill that.

Brian Scalabrine, Celtics color commentator: Mike taught me how to do this job for the people. Mike taught me the selflessness required to do TV when you’re representing New England. You’re not representing yourself. You’re representing the team. You’re representing all the people around you. You could be hyper-focused on yourself as a player, but it’s so much bigger than all that. Mike and Tommy both explained it to me and I live by that every day.

Gorman: I miss Tommy a lot and I wish Tommy somehow avoided the end and we could have walked out of the Garden together.

Simmons: In Mike’s case, he’s been around so long that I just feel like nobody would ever even conceive we would have another TV announcer, you know? Him not doing the games next year is gonna be strange.

Drew Carter, new Celtics play-by-play announcer: We played Charlotte in the last game of the year. I was leaving (TD Garden) with Mike. And so I’m walking behind him and (some) fans ran up to him and started talking to him. So Mike was walking … and I’m walking behind Mike and I kinda paused for a second and thought, ‘Wow, I am quite literally walking in this guy’s footsteps right now.’

This might be weird, but I pulled out my phone and took a video. I took like a three-second video walking behind Mike because I kind of wanted to document it. That moment, it kind of crystallized to me a) the magnitude of what I was doing and b) how I should go about it, which is to be myself, but also do right by the guy I’m following because he’s done it the right way for so long.

The Celtics celebrated with Mike Gorman night on the last day of the regular season. (Brian Fluharty/Getty Images)

On the final day of the regular season, the Celtics and the city of Boston formally declared it “Mike Gorman Day.” Gorman was honored with a ceremony at halftime in which he was interviewed by Scalabrine and received multiple ovations throughout the game. But the moment that stood out to him happened before the festivities.

Gorman: I had my granddaughter (with me) and they put up some posts for all the people that worked in the building that said, ‘If you want to say goodbye to Mike, come at this time.’ I thought maybe four or five guys would come up, but over 100 ushers came up and they formed this line that I had to walk through with my granddaughter in my arms and my wife and daughter right behind me. This was really different than what I thought was going to happen to me.

Chin: Mike Gorman Night was absolutely wonderful and I’m just so happy for him that he got to experience that and experience how much everyone truly loves and appreciates him and the job that he’s done for so many years. And to have his family there and his granddaughter and everyone that he loved in the same place. That was just a wonderful way for him to go out and it’s something that he can cherish for the rest of his life and it’s something that all of us in this business can look to. I mean, can you even imagine being able to have such an impact on something and to be honored in that way?

Rich Gotham, Celtics president: The fact you got two standing ovations in the first quarter and he’s not a player, that just I think is a tribute to the fans here in Boston, they recognize and care about not just the people on the court, but people like Mike being a part of the fan experience.

Forsberg: I know he said at times this season that it felt a little bit like attending your own funeral and how weird it is for everyone to be sort of saying goodbye to you. And yet it’s an experience so few of us get; the opportunity to get your flowers, for people to tell you how much you meant to them. And I’m really glad he got it.

Gorman: The thing that hit me the most was going up the escalator and looking back at the fans all the way down — the escalator is very high, so you feel like the Pope standing up there — then to turn around and see this gauntlet of people that work in the building, that really took my breath away.

Scalabrine: Sad that we don’t get to work together, but I’m really happy that he’s getting to do what he wants to do for the rest of his life.

Simmons: When Bird showed up, the (Celtics) went from being the black sheep of the Boston scene to being the No. 1 team, and it wasn’t even close. He was there for the beginning of that, so it’s pretty cool that it’s come full circle now and they are the favorites to win the title. All these years later, somehow, it came full circle.

Gorman: The last thing I said with Scal was, ‘Just win this thing, please.’ And that’s really what I just want them to do, is to go win this thing.

As the Celtics closed out Game 5 to win the series, the crowd gave Gorman one last standing ovation. Gorman tried to get used to the attention all year long, but it was always a bit awkward for him. He had always preferred being the caddy. Knowing he was about to hang up his headset, he soaked it in one last time.

Gorman: You’re standing there and the whole place is on their feet. Because you’re embarrassed a little bit, you want to calm it down. But at the same time, you want it to last forever.

Mike Gorman’s final words to viewers after 43 years as the voice of the Celtics. (Jared Weiss/The Athletic)

(Illustration by Sean Reilly / The Athletic. Photos via Jim Rogash, Adam Glanzman, and Bob Stowell / Getty Images; Danielle Parhizkaran, Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

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