Havlicek, John Joseph

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HAVLICEK, John Joseph

(b. 8 April 1940 in Martins Ferry, Ohio), basketball player who played his entire sixteen-year career with the Boston Celtics and retired as one of the greatest players in National Basketball Association (NBA) history.

Havlicek, the youngest of Frank and Amanda Havlicek's three children, was born in Martins Ferry, Ohio, but spent his childhood in Lansing, Ohio. Many of Lansing's 700 residents were employed in nearby coal mines and steel mills. Havlicek's father came to the United States from Czechoslovakia at age eleven and his mother was of Croatian decent. His parents owned a grocery store in nearby Dillonsville, where Havlicek helped out on the weekends.

When Havlicek was six years old, he discovered a talent for running and would run nonstop between mileposts along the highway. Running became his passion, and his stamina and conditioning would become his trademark during his career.

Havlicek attended Bridgeport High School, where he was a teammate and neighbor of future Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Phil Niekro. An outstanding athlete, Havlicek was an all-state selection in basketball, football, and baseball. Known as the "Bridgeport H-Bomb," Havlicek set a state scoring record by tallying forty points in a single basketball game. Although he averaged nearly thirty points a game, Havlicek was better known for his defensive ability. His outstanding high school athletic career produced nearly eighty college scholarship offers, most of them for football, at which he excelled as quarterback.

After a brilliant high school career, Havlicek enrolled at Ohio State University, where he was the centerpiece of that school's greatest era of basketball success. Playing under Hall of Fame coach Fred Taylor and with teammates (and future Hall of Famers) Jerry Lucas and Bob Knight, the Buckeyes compiled a three-year record of 78–6 and won three Big Ten titles from 1960 to 1962.

During that three-year span, the Buckeyes reached the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championship game each year, winning the title in 1960 and finishing as runner-up in 1961 and 1962. In his first college season, Havlicek led Ohio State to a 25–3 record and the NCAA championship with a victory over Cincinnati. An All-American and team captain in 1962, Havlicek led the Buckeyes to a 26–2 record and a third consecutive trip to the NCAA championship game.

After college, Havlicek was a first-round draft selection in 1962 for the Boston Celtics. He was also chosen in the seventh round of the National Football League draft as a wide receiver by the Cleveland Browns despite never having played college football. Havlicek remained on the Browns' roster until the final cut.

Havlicek began his career with the Celtics as a reserve player even though he was one of the best players on the team. At six-feet, five-inches tall and 205 pounds, he entered the league as a defensive standout and was the heir to Frank Ramsey as the Celtics' sixth man. For years he was the first player off the bench and soon became recognized as the NBA's best sixth man. In the years since, he has become the standard by which all such players are measured.

Throughout his career, "Hondo" (as Havlicek was known) was highly regarded for his nonstop motion, tremendous all-around basketball skills, and knowledge of the game. Havlicek was a thirteen-time All-Star from 1966 to 1978, and helped lead the Celtics to eight NBA championships in sixteen years. He was a four-time All-NBA first-team selection and a seven-time All-NBA second-team selection. His defensive ability earned him five NBA All-Defensive first team spots and three NBA All-Defensive second team berths. He was named to the NBA's thirty-fifth anniversary All-Time Team in 1980 and the NBA's fiftieth anniversary All-Time Team in 1996.

Havlicek increased his all-around performance during the playoffs, where he bolstered his scoring average from 20.8 points to 22.0 points per game in 172 playoff appearances. He matched the NBA Finals single-game record for most points scored in an overtime period (nine) on 10 May 1974 against the Milwaukee Bucks. He also shared the single-game playoff record for most field goals made (twenty-four) on 1 April 1973 against the Atlanta Hawks. In addition, he was named the Most Valuable Player of the 1974 NBA Finals in Boston's victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.

Despite his statistical records, Havlicek may best be remembered for his defensive steal in the 1965 Eastern Conference Finals against the Philadelphia 76ers. In the decisive final game, Havlicek stole an inbound pass thrown by Hall of Famer Hal Greer under the Philadelphia basket with five seconds remaining to preserve the Celtics' 110–109 victory. The play, which set off a celebration by the crowd, became immortalized by legendary Celtics' broadcaster Johnny Most, who shouted on the radio "Havlicek stole the ball."

Havlicek retired from the Celtics on 9 April 1978 after sixteen brilliant seasons. During his career, Havlicek re-wrote the record books, becoming one of the greatest basketball players the sport has ever seen. He recorded sixteen straight seasons as a 1,000-point scorer and retired as the NBA's third all-time leading scorer (26,395 points) behind Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson. Upon retirement, he ranked first in most games played (1,270), second in most field goals made (10,531), first in most field goals attempted (23,930), second in most minutes played (46,471), eighth in most free throws made (5,369), ninth in most free throws attempted (6,589), sixth in most assists (6,114), and seventh in most personal fouls (3,281). Havlicek still ranks as the leading scorer in Celtic history.

In 1983 Havlicek was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame along with fellow Celtic teammate Sam Jones. Havlicek is also a member of the 1987 Class of the National High School Sports Hall of Fame.

Since his playing days, Havlicek has become a very successful businessman and is a franchisee for Wendy's, a fast-food chain. He has also done promotional work for RJR Nabisco and the Garycorp Company in Leominster, Massachusetts, and makes appearances as a corporate speaker. He and his wife, Beth Evans Havlicek, whom he married on 17 June 1967, are the parents of two children.

The best single-volume book on Havlicek is Hondo: Celtic Man in Motion (1977), written by Havlicek and Boston Globe writer Bob Ryan. Two other books offer a comprehensive history of the Boston Celtics and discuss Havlicek and his role on the team: Bob Ryan, The Boston Celtics: The History, Legends and Images of America ' s Most Celebrated Team (1989), and Peter C. Bjarkman, Boston Celtics Encyclopedia (1999). Two magazine articles, Frank Deford, "Some Old Pros Refuse to Die," Sports Illustrated (9 May 1966), and Mark Engel, "John Havlicek: Man of the Year," Basketball Weekly (4 Jan. 1979), offer particularly good discussion of Havlicek at different points of his career. Additional information is available from Havlicek's file at the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Douglas A. Stark

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