For the second time in a decade, the fortunes and future of the most storied franchise in pro basketball history will be decided by ping-pong balls.
And the 72-year-old Heinsohn is The Chosen One, selected by owner Wyc Grousbeck to go to Secaucus, N.J., tomorrow night to make sure it happens. With Red Auerbach's passing, Heinsohn has become the face of the championship years.
According to experts, here's what's at stake:
If the Celtics get the first pick, they will choose center Greg Oden, potentially the next "Bill Russell," and will probably be NBA champions within three years, winning maybe a few times after that.
If they get the second pick, they will choose forward Kevin Durant, the NCAA Player of the Year as an 18-year-old, and they immediately will have that second "franchise" player needed to compete for a championship for a decade.
Nobody wants to even think about it.
The NBA's Draft Lottery, now an official ESPN event, will take place tomorrow night only a few miles from where Heinsohn was born in Jersey City. The 14 teams who didn't make the playoffs - including and especially the Celtics - all have a shot at getting one of the first five picks.
But in reality, it's the top two, really even the top one, that is coveted.
The last time the Celtics were in this position as one of the favorites to get the first pick of the draft was a decade ago. Rick Pitino had just been hired away from Kentucky to coach and manage the franchise. Wake Forest center Tim Duncan was the top prize to the team that picked first.
Coming off a 15-67 season, there was only a 36.3 percent chance of the Celtics getting the first pick, but this was, well, the Celtics.
Pitino later admitted he accepted the position in Boston assuming the Celtics' ping-pong ball would be the winner and Duncan would lead the Celtics to several more championships.
It didn't happen. Instead the Celtics got the third pick and Chauncey Billups.
What did happen was another decade of losing, backbiting, negativity and, worst of all, apathy.
Now the Celtics have a 19.9 percent chance of getting the first pick overall and a 38.7 percent chance of getting one of the top two picks.
Enter Tommy Heinsohn.
"It's an honor. But I'm nervous," said Heinsohn. "I know a lot of people are expecting me to come back with that first pick."
Heinsohn had heard he might be the Celtics' representative at yjr lottery for a few months, but he was asked by Grousbeck at a dinner honoring the 50th anniversary of the first Celtics championship on April 13.
"I said, 'Wyc, see Mike Gorman (Heinsohn's play-by-play companion on Fox Sport Net) over there,'" said Heinsohn. "'He goes to the track and wins everything. It's his America. Send Mike.'"
Grousbeck wasn't biting. Heinsohn has been associated with the franchise in some capacity for 50 years, the last 25 as its color commentator on TV broadcasts of Celtics games.
Better yet, nobody wears "Celtics Pride," for better or for worse, on their sleeves as much as Heinsohn.
"Nobody personifies this franchise more than Tommy," said Grousbeck. "I love Tommy. Everyone loves Tommy. Why not send him to do the job?"
This is a no-brainer in Celtics country. Legends JoJo White and Bob Cousy were among those who are giving Heinsohn their stamp of approval.
"We've been through a 20-year drought (Boston's last title was in 1986) here and it's about time things went our way," said Cousy. "When there were eight, 10 and 12 teams, Arnold (Red) knew how to maneuver to get players. You could get players by being smarter, which he was. But now it's different. You need luck.
"I'm praying for Tommy. He may laugh it off, but he knows the pressure is on him."
White, who resides in Middleton, says he is not superstitious ... until now.
"I'll be there in spirit with my hands, arms and eyes crossed," said White. "I agree with almost everything Tommy says and does. He was my coach. He is definitely the most visible Celtic. With Red gone, the torch has been passed to Tommy."
Heinsohn will fly down with his wife, Helen, and Grousbeck in a private jet tomorrow. They will immediately return home after the event.
He understands that the future of the franchise is in limbo.
"My wife is my lucky charm. She's a redhead, you know," said Heinsohn, referring to the connection to Red Auerbach. "I'm not really a ping-pong guy. Sam Jones was the ping-pong player, a champion. But Wyc chose me.
"People are wishing me good luck," said Heinsohn. "I keep telling them, 'I'm used to taking hook shots from the corner.' I'm just hoping it goes in."
Tommy Heinsohn bio
Born: Aug. 28, 1934, Jersey City, N.J.
Celtics playing career: Won eight titles in nine years; Rookie of the Year ('57); six-time All-Star; averaged 18.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per game over his career; shot 79 percent from free-throw line.
Celtics coaching career: Won two titles ('74 and '76); Coach of the Year ('73).
Basketball Hall of Fame: 1986