Even the most diehard Celtics fans have probably never heard the name John Doherty.
He never played a game for the Boston Celtics. He never scored a single NBA point. His jump shot might have been ten times worse than Rajon Rondo’s, his handle might have been twenty times worse than Eddie House’s, and his defense might have been thirty times worse than Gerald Green’s, if Green was drunk, high and just as basketball illiterate as ever. He never owned the Celtics and he never coached alongside Red Auerbach or anybody else. Yet he’s woven into Celtics lore, and his story is certainly worth retelling. (Boston Globe)
How Dr. John Doherty became the official team physician for the Celtics was so random that it not only defined his remarkable career but also made for a story that lasted a lifetime.
While he was a surgeon at Glover Memorial Hospital (now Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital), Dr. Doherty, known as Jack, performed emergency surgery on a fellow Needham resident named Walter Brown, saving his life.
What Dr. Doherty did not know was that Brown was the founder and owner of the Boston Celtics.
Soon after Brown’s recovery, he took his surgeon out to lunch and offered him a chance to become the Celtics team doctor. Dr. Doherty spent 10 seasons in that position from 1959 to 1969 – nine of those were championship seasons – and after that he continued his work with Glover for the next three decades along with work at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center.
Doherty became friends with a number of the players, including Bill Russell and Tom Heinsohn, and performed a surgery that helped prolong Jim Luscotoff’s career. But Doherty’s sons might have been the biggest beneficiaries of their father’s gig. Chris Doherty remembers visiting the Boston Garden, where the Doherty children were allowed to sit courtside, meet the players in the locker room and bug their father to get them autographs.
“I used to sit behind the Celtics bench with my brothers, and my dad brought us to a lot the championship games,’’ said his son Chris. “And after the championship games he would even take us into the Celtics locker room to meet the players. Young kids in giant land, it was just phenomenal, just the best memories I’ve had. I used to bug my dad about getting the signed autographs of the Celtics to bring home and I’d wake up one morning and there on my closet door would be a signed picture of John Havlicek and Bill Russell, who rarely gave autographs.’’
While we’re obsessed with sweating wins and losses, cherishing dunks and no-look passes and fretting about midseason additions, we often miss out on stories like these: the Celtics owner with a heart of gold and the doctor who was lucky enough to save his life.