John Havlicek, Boston Celtics legend, died on Thursday. He was 79.
Havlicek’s 16 seasons NBA season were all spent in a Celtics uniform. He was an all-star in 13 of them He set league records for games played (1,270) and consecutive 1,000-point seasons (all 16).
“Havlicek stole the ball,” is still one of the great rallying cries in sports history, shouted by announcer Johnny Most.
Havlicek suffered from Parkinson’s disease.
“John Havlicek is one of the most accomplished players in Boston Celtics history, and the face of many of the franchise’s signature moments,’’ the Celtics said in a statement. “John was kind and considerate, humble and gracious. He was a champion in every sense, and as we join his family, friends, and fans in mourning his loss, we are thankful for all the joy and inspiration he brought to us.’’
Hall of Famer Bill Russell, who played alongside Havlicek for seven years simply said, “He is the best all-around player I ever saw.”
Havlicek’s eight championship rings were third behind Russell’s 11 and Sam Jones’s 10.
Havlicek averaged 20+ points per game. He was best known for a defensive play that saved the 1965 season and sent the Celtics to their eighth title.
Johnny Most’s radio call remains the most famous in franchise history: “[Hal] Greer putting the ball in play. He gets it out deep and Havlicek steals it! Over to Sam Jones! Havlicek stole the ball! It’s all over!”
“I knew he had five seconds to inbound, so I started counting to myself — 1,001, 1,002, 1,003,” Havlicek recalled. “Usually something has happened by then. So by 1,003 and a half, I started to peek a little more.”
Havlicek was an exceptional multisport athlete.
Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes unsuccessfully recruited him for quarterback.
Havlicek played first base for the baseball team and was a sophomore starter on the Buckeye basketball varsity that won the national championship in 1960.
Two years later, the Celtics picked him seventh overall in the NBA draft. NFL’s Cleveland Browns had chosen Havlicek in the seventh round of that draft. He hadn’t played since high school.
Havlicek was the last receiver cut in Browns training camp.
He then turned up in Boston.
Havlicek’s versatility at guard and forward made him a natural sixth man.
Havlicek averaged nearly 37 minutes per game. During his career, he had extraordinary stamina, helped by lungs so large they had to be X-rayed separately. He took pride in his durability and reliability. He only missed 33 of 1,303 regular-season games and only fouled out 21 times.
Havlicek decided to retire at 38 at the end of the 1977-78 season, in which he played all 82 games. He wore a tuxedo to his finale against Buffalo at the Garden (“You should wear special clothes on special occasions”) and played 41 minutes, scoring 29 points.
Havlicek leaves his wife, Beth, and children Jill and Chris.