John Havlicek, whose steal of Hal Greer’s inbounds pass in the final seconds of the 1965 Eastern Conference finals against the Philadelphia 76ers remains one of the most famous plays in NBA history, has died. He was 79.
The Celtics said Havlicek died Thursday in Jupiter, Florida. The cause of death wasn't immediately available, but The Boston Globe said he had Parkinson's disease.
Gravel-voiced Johnny Most’s radio call of the 1965 steal — “Havlicek stole the ball! Havlicek stole the ball!” — helped make the play one of the most enduring moments in NBA history.
“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. “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.”
Havlicek posted impressive numbers during his illustrious 16-year career. In 1,270 regular-season games, he scored 26,395 points and averaged 20.8 points to rank as the Celtics' all-time leading scorer. He also grabbed 8,007 rebounds, recorded 6,114 assists, and played on eight Boston championship teams. He appeared in 13 consecutive NBA All-Star Games, earned 11 selections to the All-NBA First or Second Team and was named to the NBA All-Defensive First or Second Team eight times.
Nicknamed “Hondo” for his resemblance to John Wayne, Havlicek was drafted in the first round in 1962 out of Ohio State by a Celtics team stocked with stars Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, K.C. Jones, Sam Jones, Tom Sanders, Tom Heinsohn and Frank Ramsey.
Boston won NBA championships in his first six years with the team.
Then, as the veteran players gradually moved on, Havlicek became the team’s elder statesman and moved up to become a starter. The team won championships in 1973-74 and 1975-76 with Havlicek leading teams that included Dave Cowens and Jo Jo White.
Havlicek went on to win eight NBA championships and an NBA Finals MVP award, setting Celtics career records for points and games. He was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History and enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1984. At Ohio State, he helped lead the Buckeyes to the 1960 national championship.
Via Twitter, Russell posted the following about Havlicek: It is getting difficult each time I hear about another contemporary that passes! What is harder is when we lose guys like John Havlicek, he was not just a teammate & a great guy, but he was family. That is how our @celtics teams were. #RIP Hondo @NBA #RIPJohnHavlicek @NBAonTNT"
As much as his deadly jump shot or his heroics in Boston’s triple-overtime NBA finals victory over Phoenix in 1976, Havlicek was known for his durability. He played at least 81 games in each of his 15 seasons with the Celtics and he didn’t just play: He was on the run constantly and was perpetually in motion.
In his NBA career he scored 26,395 points in 1,270 games. He seldom rested.
“The Boston Celtics are not a team, they are a way of life,” Red Auerbach once said. And no one personified the Celtic way more than Havlicek.
His No.17 was raised to the rafters in old Boston Garden and now resides in TD Garden, retired soon after he retired in 1978.
It is getting difficult each time I hear about another contemporary that passes! What is harder is when we lose guys like John Havlicek, he was not just a teammate & a great guy, but he was family. That is how our @celtics teams were. #RIP Hondo @NBA#RIPJohnHavlicek@NBAonTNTpic.twitter.com/VP9MGPjrmZ— TheBillRussell (@RealBillRussell) April 26, 2019
The child of Czechoslovakian immigrants, Havlicek was born in the small town of Martins Ferry, Ohio, home to coal miners and steel workers. As a boy he loved to run, sprinting to and from school or from one mile marker to another on a local highway. He once said that he was forced to keep up with his bike-riding pals on foot because his parents refused to let him have a bicycle.
At Bridgeport High School, Havlicek starred in basketball, baseball and football. An All-State selection in all three sports, he was a highly recruited quarterback who could throw the ball 80 yards. He chose Ohio State but did not play football. Although he did play baseball and batted over .400 in his freshman year, he focused on basketball. A collegiate All-American, Havlicek scored 14.6 points in three seasons, playing on Buckeyes teams with Jerry Lucas, Bobby Knight and future Celtics teammate Larry Siegfried. Havlicek's Ohio State teams compiled a 78-6 record and won an NCAA championship in 1960.
After his senior season, Havlicek was drafted into two professional sports leagues. The NFL's Cleveland Browns selected him in the seventh round of the 1962 NFL Draft, and the NBA's Boston Celtics nabbed him in the first round of the NBA Draft. The Browns, impressed with Havlicek's athletic ability and his 6-foot-5, 205-pound frame, tried him at wide receiver. He played in several exhibition games that summer before being released by the team in favor of future All-Pro Gary Collins.
It is with great sadness we have learned that Celtics Legend and Hall of Famer John Havlicek has passed away peacefully today at the age of 79. He will be dearly missed by his Celtics family.— Boston Celtics (@celtics) April 26, 2019
A statement from the Celtics: https://t.co/yqOkZPkbejpic.twitter.com/xlUCKjbKvg
As a sophomore at Ohio State, he scored 12.2 points a game as the Buckeyes won the national championship, beating California 75-55 in the final. His junior and senior years, Ohio State again won the Big Ten titles and made it to the NCAA title game but lost to Cincinnati each time. During Havlicek’s three years at Ohio State, the Buckeyes went 78-6, dominating most games unlike any team up to that time.
All five starters from Ohio State’s title team in 1960 — which included Lucas and Siegfried — played in the NBA. Backup Bob Knight went to a Hall of Fame coaching career.
Havlicek remained in Boston after his retirement, managing investments. He later split time between New England and Florida. He occasionally returned to Ohio State for reunions of the championship team and Celtics events. His Ohio State number was retired during ceremonies in the 2004-2005 season.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
John Havlicek is 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. Named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History, he is enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame and his retired #17 hangs in the Garden rafters.
His defining traits as a player were his relentless hustle and wholehearted commitment to team over self. He was extraordinarily thoughtful and generous, both on a personal level and for those in need, as illustrated by his commitment to raising money for The Genesis Foundation for Children for over three decades through his fishing tournament. 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.
John Havlicek was a wonderful friend who represented the best of the NBA. He described himself as a man of routine and discipline – a humble approach that produced extraordinary results, including eight NBA championships with the Boston Celtics, 13 All-Star selections and some of the most iconic moments in league history. A trusted teammate who prioritized winning, John’s passion and energy endeared him to basketball fans and made him a model for generations of NBA players. We send our deepest sympathies to John’s wife, Beth, his son, Chris, and his daughter, Jill, as well as the entire Celtics organization.