John Havlicek and “Havlicek Stole the Ball” Belong to the Ages

It would take a disease like Parkinson’s and an ailment like pneumonia to silence John Havlicek. It would take coincidence to memorialize the moment he left the earth. The NFL draft was held on the day John Havlicek died; Havlicek himself  was drafted by the Cleveland Browns. The death day of John Havlicek, April 25th, is the birth date of Tim Duncan. Havlicek and Duncan were similar temperament: hardworking, humble, and dedicated. They both were loyal to one NBA franchise.

54 years after his infamous play, a steal that gave the Celtics a win over the 76ers in the Eastern Conference Finals, John Havlicek died. There is a bit of karma about Havlicek’s passing during the NBA playoffs. Those who don’t know who Havlicek is have a moment of education: Russell Westbrook didn’t event tireless energy and hard work. Lou Williams isn’t the first scorer bench player. Kawhi Leonard owes his game to defenders that preceded him.

John Havlicek was a scorer, defender and passer. He was a basketball player who understood the game. He could do things with the ball, had a high I.Q., won a title after Bill Russell retired, played two positions, and came off the bench and also started for Boston.

Like Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan, Havlicek played his entire career with one franchise and led that franchise in scoring.

John Havlicek was in the NBA for 16 seasons. He appeared on 13 All-Star teams, was an 11 time All-NBA selection, was All-Defensive five times, and was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1984. He was honored as one of the 50 greatest players.

The Celtics in grief released this statement about one of their own.

“John Havlicek was one of the most accomplished players in Boston Celtics history, and the face of many of the franchise’s signature moments. He was a great champion both on the court and in the community, winning 8 NBA championships and an NBA Finals MVP, while holding Celtics career records for points scored and games played.”

Hondo, as he was nicknamed as a child, averaged 20 points and 6 rebounds. He is second in assists to Bob Cousy. Havlicek did a lot of his damage coming off the bench early in his career and when Russell retired Havlicek was a starter.

Havlicek was versatile and played both shooting guard and small forward. His defensive talent, plus his scoring, had him on the floor when games were on the line.

John Havlicek never lost a NBA Finals. His teammate Bill Russell complimented Havlicek by calling Havlicek, “the best all-around player I ever saw.”

A young Havlicek was known as a tough nosed defender and a Russell Westbrook-type energy savant.  He was drafted in the first round, the 7th pick. Born in Ohio, he was of Czechoslovakian and Croatian ancestry.  Because he lived on a busy road, he was forbidden to ride a bicycle and ran everywhere which he believed attributed to his stamina and leg strength. Across the street from Havlicek lived Phil Niekro who would himself end up in his sport’s (MLB) Hall of Fame.

Havlicek was known for his discipline, preparation and quiet intensity. He needed order to the point of his socks were on hangars in the locker room.

How did Havlicek steal the ball? Patience, instincts and intelligence. Russell turned the ball over and the 76ers had a chance to take the lead and perhaps the conference title.

With 5 seconds left, Hal Greer inbounded the ball for the 76ers. Greer tossed the ball towards Chet Walker. Havlicek tipped it. Sam Jones dribbled the clock out. Game over. The moment was so iconic, the fans stormed the court and ripped Havlicek’s jersey off. Even the self-effacing Havlicek called the moment “everlasting.”

Yes. And Havlicek’s place in NBA history too. That is particularly everlasting.