40 Years Later... "Havlicek Stole the Ball"

Friday, April 15, 2005 marks the 40th Anniversary of John Havlicek's famous steal

"Greer is 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... It's all-l-l-l over!"

No matter if you are age 24, 54 or 94, it will go down as 'The Steal' in the proud and historic tradition of the Boston Celtics.

Friday, April 15, 2005 marks the 40th anniversary of former Boston Celtics captain and Hall of Famer John Havlicek's famous steal of April 15, 1965...Game 7 of the NBA Division Finals at the Boston Garden, the Celtics hosting their arch-rivals the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Celtics, with fiery head coach Arnold 'Red' Auerbach, winners of the previous six straight NBA world championships (from 1959 through 1964), had just posted a brilliant 62-18 regular season record, a 75.5% winning percentage, and had finished 14 games ahead of the Cincinnati Royals (and 22 games better than Philadelphia).

In 1965, the NBA Playoffs consisted of just two rounds, if you were one of the two fortunate teams to make it to the Championship Finals. Thus, this first round battle with Philadelphia would put one team into the Finals picture and the other team on vacation.

The first six games saw each team win on their own home court. Thus, this series was even, three victories apiece, and the total points scored by both teams in the six previous games were Boston- 674 points and Philadelphia- 655 points. Two highly competitive and balanced teams.

Game 7 was, needless to say, a game that both teams wanted very badly. The lead changed hands several times and went from a single point to as many as 18 points at one time during the contest. And with approximately one minute remaining in the game, the Celtics held a seven-point advantage, 110-103. 'No problem... piece of cake... it's over, right?' Not really, when one Wilt Chamberlain was on the court. The 7-2 Philadelphia center reeled off six straight points to cut the Boston lead to one, 110-109. The Sixers were now on a roll and they madly pressed the Celtics all over the court, as seconds remained in the game.

"I knew that I was the best passer on our team," recalls Celtics Hall of Fame center Bill Russell, the man who had to go face-to-face with Chamberlain every game. "So, I knew this is the pass that has got to be made... I'll pass it in."

The 6-foot-10 Russell took the ball out of bounds just to the right of the Celtics bench. He was being harassed by both Chamberlain and pesky forward Chet Walker. He backed up a small step and jumped as he tried to inbound the ball with both of his long arms upstretched over his head (it appears to be K. C. Jones, who was trying to get open in front of the Boston bench, was who Russell was trying to get the ball in play to).

However, the ball, somehow, traveled only a few inches, never making it to Jones, and striking a guide wire (a support wire that kept the backboard secure) overhead in the process.

After this had occurred, veteran Celtics play-by-play announcer, the late Johnny Most, could be heard screaming, "No Russell is...no-o-o-o, he loses the ball off the support...Russell loses the ball off the support and the ball goes to Philadelphia, oh my..."

Timeout was called and Russell and the Celtics were down. "I don't believe I did that," remembers Russell. "When we got into our huddle I said, 'We've got to do something'."

"Russell said that these goat horns are growing about an inch a second on the top off my head... someone please bail me out," Havlicek recalls.

Havlicek bailed him out.

Ironically, Philadelphia had to inbound the ball in almost the exact spot where Russell had been moments earlier. Sixers guard Hal Greer was to inbounds the pass (to his teammate Walker) and the rest is history, thanks to Most's memorable call:

"Greer is 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... It's all-l-l-l over!"

Russell later told Havlicek, "I made you famous... Havlicek stole the ball, Havlicek stole the ball! If I hadn't of messed up, nobody would have ever heard of you."

Added Havlicek's coach jokingly, "He got more publicity out of that steal than the guys that steal from banks." But then on a serious note, Auerbach went on to say, "John played it very well. They didn't have that many seconds to go and they still had to make the play (to get the ball in bounds). John knew the wire was there, they knew the wire was there but they couldn't throw it too far out because it would have to have a higher arc and if they threw it in with a higher arc then they would end up hitting the wire. I'm sure that went through John's mind. He played for a, and I can just see still it today, semi-long pass, maybe, 18-feet or so... and it worked as John just got his hand on the ball enough to deflect it to Sam (Jones)."

Boston 110, Philadelphia 109... and the Celtics would go on to clinch their seventh consecutive World Championship title by defeating the Los Angeles Lakers, 4 games to 1.


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