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Kevin Garnett, John Havlicek
Kevin Garnett, left, jokes with John Havlicek at practice earlier this year.
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Hondo on Kobe's Mount Rushmore-esque scoring climb

By John Hareas, for
Posted Dec 10 2010 9:14AM

The greatest forward-guard swingman in NBA history recently transitioned to his Florida home for the winter. It's an annual pilgrimage John Havlicek makes before the harsh New England temperatures and winds take hold.

Yet the man they call "Hondo" was in no particular rush to go south. At 70, Havlicek prefers to drive the 1,440-plus miles to Florida's Gold Coast.

Scoring Kings
Top 12 scorers in NBA history
Rank Player Total
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar* 38387
2. Karl Malone* 36928
3. Michael Jordan* 32292
4. Wilt Chamberlain* 31419
5. Shaquille O'Neal 28434
6. Moses Malone* 27409
7. Elvin Hayes* 27313
8. Hakeem Olajuwon* 26946
9. Oscar Robertson* 26710
10. Dominique Wilkins* 26668
11. John Havlicek* 26395
12. Kobe Bryant 26375
* = Hall of Famer
Through 12-8-10

As a player, there wasn't anything leisurely about Havlicek's approach to the game.

For 16 seasons, Havlicek was an iconic member on eight Celtics championship teams -- six with Bill Russell, two with Dave Cowens.

Perpetual motion. Tireless. Relentless.

Just some of the adjectives used to describe Havlicek's unparalleled stamina on the court.

Bill Bradley said it best: "My game was running. But John Havlicek ran me."

Versatility went hand-in-hand with Havlicek's endurance. He was one of the game's most complete all-around players. His résumé backs it up: Thirteen straight All-Star appearances, a first or second All-Defensive Team nod eight times and 26,395 points, the most in Celtics franchise history.

When Havlicek retired following the 1977-78 season, the 26,395 points were good for third place (behind Wilt and Oscar) on the league's scoring list.

Thirty-two years later, Havlicek finds himself 11th, by the thinnest of margins.

That's because Kobe Bryant is a mere 21 points away from surpassing the man universally considered the greatest sixth man and one of the greatest clutch performers of all time.

Havlicek isn't concerned. He has only has admiration and respect for Bryant's relentless approach and drive. Besides, Havlicek and his wife of 43 years, Beth, are still basking in the glow of the arrival of their sixth grandchild last week. What are your thoughts on Kobe being on the cusp of passing you for the 11th spot on the all-time scoring list?

John Havlicek: Actually, I thought he already surpassed me and that is was a foregone conclusion that he would eclipse me because he's been playing a number of years.

He came right out of high school and with the career that he's had and the teams that he's played with -- he's been surrounded by good players and championship-caliber coaches --it's not surprising.

Who knows how far he's going to go? How long he's going to play? He could end up second or third. I don't know if he can reach Kareem. He's been a fantastic player.

Kobe came in with a little bit of an attitude early on and a lot of people thought that it was a little bit too much for a high school player to have that type of attitude. But he certainly made people realize that he wanted to be one of the best and comparing him to Michael is something that people have done, so it puts him in a class above most people. You're one of the most versatile players of all time. Where did scoring rank on your basketball résumé?

JH: When I started out, I was basically known as a defensive player. I knew I could score, but not too many people realized that I was an offensive player.

In high school and college, I sort of deferred to [Jerry] Lucas and the other players who were more offensive minded and I became known as a defensive individual.

When I got to the pros, I wanted to pass the ball a lot more than shoot it and they told me I had to start shooting it and that gave me the green light to open up my game. I improved a great deal over the first couple of years because I'd been unaccustomed to taking shots the way I did in the ensuing years -- my third, fourth, fifth year and all the way throughout my career. So it was one of those things where it was a transition that I had to make.

The thing that I'm most proud of, I made All-Star teams as an offensive player and the All-Defensive team so it showed that I was versatile. I played both ends of the floor and that's what I'm most proud of.

As far as scoring points, that just happens to come along with the type of team you play with and the type of career that you had. I never set any goals or records as to how many points I was going to get. It's just something that happened.

I may reiterate that we did not have the 3-point shot so I probably would have had a few more points had that been in effect during my career. Would the 3-point shot have changed your offensive approach when you played?

JH: It probably would, just as it's changed everyone who played [in] the 3-point [era]. The thing is, you don't have that intermediate game as much any more because people stopped to take the three instead of going to the hoop a lot of times.

I would like to see the 3-point shot used the last two minutes of each quarter and that would certainly change the dynamics of the game as to what the players would do had they had the opportunity to go to the basket a little more. Do you wish you played with the 3-point line?

JH: I'm just as happy to get an old fashioned three I guess. It would have added a few more points to my career and it would have probably changed the way I played but I can't really say how much it would have changed my game because I never played under that ruling. Kobe is in position this season to leapfrog past some other all-time greats. After you, there's Dominique Wilkins (10th), Oscar Robertson (ninth), Hakeem Olajuwon (eighth), Elvin Hayes (seventh) and Moses Malone(sixth). Before this season concludes, Kobe should rank sixth, just behind Shaquille O'Neal.

When you think of historically great players, where do you put Kobe on the list?

JH: He has to be in the top 10 because of the championships that he's had and the ability that he has both offensively and defensively. And the ability to be a clutch player at the right time during close games.

He always wants to take the shot and he tries to emulate a lot people of the past who's had that type of résumé and he wants to be included.

So, it's no surprise to me that he'll be considered one of the all-time greats. I don't how you rate people but he's certainly in the top 10. When he retires, where will Kobe rank among the all-time great Lakers?

JH: Well, Jerry West said Kobe is the all-time Laker as he sees it, but I never played against Kobe, so Jerry West is my all-time Laker.

If Jerry West says Kobe is the all-time great Laker, I'll go along with him, but Jerry's my favorite all-time Laker. Some players like to see their records kept intact while others say records are meant to be broken. Where do you stand?

JH: I just let things happen because I have no control over it. What I did, reached certain heights that I never expected to reach. As a foregone conclusion, I basically played a little more to the game than some people do when they try and seek and break records. So, I just let it happen and it's no big deal if anyone breaks my record.

Sixteen years was a great career. I think I only missed 32 games in 16 years. I was durable and I played a long time and that's what enabled me to score a lot of points. One record that appears to be safe is your Celtics all-time scoring mark. At 33 years old, Paul Pierce would need to score 6,000 points just to tie you.

JH: Well, I don't know how long Paul is going to play but I think he's probably the best one-on-one Celtic player of all time because the game that he has is much different than the game other people play. His ability to score and create shots is something that he's done better than any other Celtic. If he plays long enough, he'll break the record. I don't know if that's something he has on his mind or not.

I will say one thing: I'll have the two-point record [laughs]. What's impressed you the most when you watch the Celtics play this season?

JH: I think they have a little stronger bench this season. They have great size and when [Kendrick] Perkins comes back, he's going to give them even more size.

Shaq has been playing reasonably well and if you can keep him from getting injured and limit his time to 20-25 minutes a game then I think they have a good shot of getting to the Finals again because Ray Allen is Ray Allen, Pierce is Pierce and Garnett is Garnett.

When you add Shaq and some of the other people that they have; Marquis Daniels seems to be playing a lot better this year without injuries and when Delonte West comes back, it gives them great depth and I think that's one of the things you need to get into the Finals and hopefully that will happen. How do you see Perkins fitting back into the mix when he returns, especially considering how well Shaq is playing?

JH: I think they'll limit his minutes and spot his time. It will be another big body underneath the boards.

During Game 7, the Celtics were ahead by 13 points at one time in the third quarter but the whole game revolved around the offensive rebounds that the Lakers got. As a matter of fact, I think the Lakers got 23 offensive rebounds in that game. If you can eliminate half of those you win the game and with the size and bodies and people that they have this season, I don't think that will happen. Talk about Rajon Rondo's emergence into an elite point guard.

JH: He's unlike any point that I've ever seen. He rebounds. He doesn't shoot the ball that well. He's not a great free-throw shooter. But his ability to create situations on the floor is uncanny. He's not like a Chris Paul who breaks down defenses and that type of thing. He's totally a different kind of point guard.

I don't know how you can compare him to anyone. He can play defense. He's one of the great steals leaders of the league. His quickness is probably the thing that separates him from most players. He doesn't appear to be that quick but he sort of leaves people in the dust.

He's a surprising type of point guard that's unlike any I've ever seen. He gets the job done. What's your assessment of the Miami Heat thus far?

JH: They're undersized. When you get into the games against the Lakers, Magic and teams like that, I think that hurts them. Certainly they have the ability to score points.

Defensively, I think they get hurt on the boards somewhat and at times they look for each other when maybe they should create for themselves and then other times, it's just the opposite of that. It's a learning process and a growing experience for them.

I know they've won about five in a row now and they seem to have things worked out. It's a long season and I think for them to really get in the mix, they probably have to make some type or trade or get some kind of big person because they're undersized and I think that hurts them. So, you can see another Celtics-Lakers Finals rematch?

JH: I'd like to see it. Based on what I'm seeing now, that's the way I'm looking at it because the Celtics have the experience to return to the Finals and they've been there two out of the last three years and maybe it would have been three out of three had Garnett not been injured that particular year. Think Shaq could be the difference for the Celtics for Banner No. 18?

JH: Anyone who gets to the Finals has a chance to win. Certainly, Kobe and Gasol are the ring leaders of that team. You can't do anything but take it away from them because they're the champion now and will be until somebody takes it away.

With the Celtics at 17 championships and the Lakers at 16, Boston doesn't want to be tied with L.A. and the Lakers not only want to tie them but eventually surpass them.

I'm looking forward to it and hopefully it will happen. I think a lot of people would be happy.

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