American basketball player
John "Hondo" Havlicek is considered by some observers to have been the most well-rounded player in the history of professional basketball. Havlicek was never a flashy player. However, his remarkable physical
conditioning, his careful study of the game of basketball and of opposing players, and his skills at both forward and a guard made him an irreplaceable part of the Boston Celtic dynasty of the 1960s. By the time he retired after sixteen years with the Celtics, he had amassed an impressive body of statistics: 1,270 regularseason games played, 26,395 points scored, 6,114 assists, 13 consecutive National Basketball Association (NBA) All-Star Games, eight NBA championships. In recognition of his contribution to basketball, Havlicek was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1983. He was named to the NBA's 50th Anniversary Team in 1996.
The Young Ohio Athlete
John Havlicek was born in 1940 in Martins Ferry, Ohio. The third child of a Czechoslovakian father and a Croatian mother, Havlicek grew up in Lansing Ohio, a mining and steel mill town near the West Virginia border. Denied a bicycle by his parents—the family house was situated on a dangerous curve in the road—when he was around five-years-old Havlicek took to running, not only to keep up with his friends on their bikes, but also because he found he loved the activity. Before long he was running everywhere. Without being aware of it, Havlicek was laying the foundation for the remarkable physical stamina which would enable him for more than a decade to play an average forty minutes in NBA games and to run opponents into the ground.
Havlicek first demonstrated his athletic versatility as a student at Bridgeport High School. He excelled at three sports there, basketball, football and baseball, and was selected for the All-State team in each one. He was a talented quarterback. He could throw eighty-yard passes and he was so skilled at faking handoffs that referees whistled plays dead thinking the ball lay at the bottom of a tackle, although Havlicek still had it looking for a receiver. On the basketball court he was such a dogged runner and scorer that opposing teams tried to stop him by setting up a two man zone under the basket and triple-teaming him man-to-man. Nonetheless Havlicek was not a natural scorer. He worked hard for his points by out-running and out-rebounding opponents. It was in high school when Havlicek received his nickname "Hondo"—a classmate saw a resemblance to John Wayne who had just played a character by the same name.
By the time he graduated from high school, Havlicek received scholarship offers from thirty-five different colleges, in football as well as basketball. He chose Ohio State, where he would play only basketball and baseball, thinking that any more would distract him from his studies. In four years on the baseball team, he played every infield position except catcher. Ohio State's basketball team at the time possessed a number of excellent shooters, most notably Havlicek's college roommate, Jerry Lucas, who went on to be the top NBA draft pick. As a result, Havlicek made up his mind early in his basketball career at the school to make defense the focus of his game. Ohio State's basketball coach Fred Taylor, already an outspoken advocate of defense, came to value Havlicek's defensive play to such a degree that he routinely assigned him to guard the best player on opposing teams. With players of Havlicek's and Lucas's caliber, Ohio State won the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championship in 1960, and made it to the finals in both 1961 and 1962. Havlicek was named an All-Conference player in 1961 and 1962, an All-America and All-Big 10 player in 1962, and Ohio State's 1961 Most Valuable Player (MVP) and its 1962 co-MVP. As a senior, he was the captain of Ohio State's basketball team.
Wooed by Three Sports
After he graduated, Havlicek was selected as the first round draft pick of the Boston Celtics. There was high interest from other sports as well. Several baseball organizations, including the New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers, and Pittsburgh Pirates, attempted to sign him. Although Havlicek had chosen not to play college football—despite repeated entreaties of Ohio State's football coach Woody Hayes—he was also drafted by the Cleveland Browns. Thinking he might like to play two professional sports, Havlicek reported to the Browns training camp in the summer of 1962 where he was groomed as a wide receiver. It was, unfortunately, a position that the Browns already had well-covered and Havlicek was cut just before the season began. Havlicek later called it one of the two big disappointments of his athletic career. The other was not being chosen for the 1960 U.S. Olympic basketball team.
Havlicek had accepted a $15,000 contract to play with the Celtics. He joined them as they prepared for their 1962-63 season. The Celtics, masterminded by coach Arnold "Red" Auerbach , were a team that put a high premium on speed, team play, versatility, and intelligent basketball. Led by Bill Russell and Bob Cousy , Auerbach's formula had proved to be potent. In the spring of 1962, the team won the fourth of what would become eight consecutive NBA titles. Havlicek, with his speed, endurance, ability to play both defense and offense, and sheer desire to win, was tailor made for Auerbach's style of basketball. Not all observers recognized Havlicek's impressive talents immediately. He was considered to big to play guard yet too small to play forward. Curry Kirkpatrick in an article for Sports Illustrated, quoted Cousy's initial assessment of Havlicek: a "non-shooter who would probably burn himself out."
|1940||Born April 8 in Martins Ferry, Ohio|
|1958||All-State player at Bridgeport High School|
|1958-62||Attends Ohio State University|
|1960||Ohio State team wins NCAA championship|
|1962||Drafted by Boston Celtics of the NBA and Cleveland Browns of the NFL|
|1962||Attends Cleveland Browns training camp|
|1962||Joins Boston Celtics|
|1965||Steals inbound pass in conference finals game with Philadelphia 76ers in closing seconds and sends Boston to NBA finals|
|1967||Marries Beth Evans|
|1970-71||Averages 28.9 points per game|
|1976||Surpasses Hal Greer in total NBA games played|
|1978||Retires from Celtics|
|1983||Elected to Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame|
Despite any early misgivings, Havlicek later said he was accepted right away by the Celtics. He undoubtedly helped himself arriving in August at Celtics training camp in better physical condition than players who had been working out since the beginning of the summer. Auerbach later told the New Yorker 's Herbert Warren Wind of the first reaction he and another coach had to seeing Havlicek play. "We were … flabbergasted at what Havlicek was showing us. Here he was, not having touched a basketball for months and he was far and away the best man on the court." From then on Havlicek had Auerbach's full confidence. His first year he split court time with Frank Ramsey, the Celtics veteran sixth man—a player who did not start, but rather came off the bench to spell others as they tired. Auerbach's system placed great importance on having a sixth man who was capable and versatile. Havlicek was that in spades. Auerbach used him at both forward and guard. Havlicek's success was due more to determination and practice than to whatever innate physical gifts he possessed. He worked hard to develop his ballhandling and shooting. In 1963, his second season, he led the team in scoring. The following year, when Ramsey retired, Havlicek took over the sixth-man role full-time.
Havlicek also displayed coolness under pressure and the ability to come through in the clutch. Nothing illustrates this better than a play that has entered the mythology of the NBA. In the last game of the divisional finals in the playoffs in 1965, the Celtics were leading the Philadelphia 76ers by one point. With five seconds left on the clock, the 76ers were bringing the ball inbounds. A basket would most likely win the game for them. Havlicek grabbed the inbounds pass and threw it to a teammate who ran the clock out. Johnny Most, the Boston announcer, went into hysterics: "Havlicek stole the ball! Havlicek stole the ball!" The Celtics went on to win the title that year.
In 1966, the Celtic management was shaken up when Red Auerbach became the team's general manager and Bill Russell was named player-coach. Faced with a team whose offensive punch was suffering from the loss of important stars like Cousy and K.C. Jones, Boston's oncourt leadership was put in Havlicek's hands. Although he remained the sixth man, he was named team captain and told to run the offense. He boosted his own offensive play too, pushing his point average above twenty a game for the first time in his career, where it stayed until the mid-1970s. From 1967 through 1973, Havlicek led the Celtics in assists. With such enhanced performance, Havlicek was as responsible as anyone for the will that drove the Celtics to two more NBA titles under Russell, in 1968 and 1969.
Havlicek's role on the Celtics changed again when veterans Bill Russell and Sam Jones both left the team before the 1969-70 season. He was one of the last links to the already legendary Celtics teams of the early 1960s. "All of a sudden, in one year, I was the old man," Havlicek told the New Yorker 's Wind. For the first time in his career as a pro, Havlicek was starting games. He boosted his scoring even more in the early 1970s, reaching an average of 27.5 points per game in the 1971-72 season. He was the team's clutch performer too, frequently being called upon to make the critical play in the last seconds of a close game. Although he was in his thirties, he maintained his remarkable stamina, regularly playing forty plus minutes a game under new coach Tom Heinsohn. Most importantly, Havlicek was expected transmit the style and philosophy of Celtics basketball to new players as the team rebuilt.
|BOS: Boston Celtics.|
Havlicek and his example sometimes seemed to be the only thing left of the Celtics' glory years during the often difficult period of rebuilding during the first half of the 1970s and he was outspokenly critical of new players who did not care as much about winning as he did. The frustrations of this period undoubtedly contributed to his decision not to go into coaching after retiring. He realized his own standards were far higher than those of most players; a difference that could only lead to conflict and dissatisfaction. Despite the lows of the 1970s, however, Havlicek remained true to the Celtic organization and its fans. He turned down a multimillion dollar offer to sign with the American Basketball Association, the rival league to the NBA. By 1974, Boston's rebuilding effort was paying off. Under Havlicek's leadership, the Celtics were NBA champions that year, a title that justly came to be known as the "Havlicek's championship." Players and fans alike recognized that he was the player who regularly made things happen. "A team must have a catalyst, who has the ability to change the pace of a game," center Dave Cowens told Wind of the New Yorker. "John does that for us. He creates confidence because of the way he plays, and you pick it up yourself." Two years later Boston won the championship again.
Havlicek remained remarkably healthy and relatively free of serious injury throughout his career. In 1977, he became, for a time, the all-time leader in NBA games played. Still, he played through injury when he had to. He played the 1969 NBA finals against the Los Angeles Lakers with one eye swollen shut and part of the 1973 semi-finals with a nearly useless right arm, the result of a partial shoulder separation. By 1974, Havlicek was already in his middle thirties. Knowing he would begin losing a step here, a fraction of a second of reaction time there, Havlicek started considering retirement, a step he finally took at the close of the 1978 season.
Havlicek was well-prepared for the day he left the game. He had started working in private business in the off-season in 1964 when he joined the Columbus Ohio firm, International Manufacturing and Marketing Corporation, as a sales representative. By the mid-1970s he had become a vice president there. That same year, he launched John Havlicek All Sports Products, a line of games and sporting goods for camping, baseball, badminton and other sports. In the 1970s he endorsed products ranging from socks, to shaving gear, footwear and prepared foods. Once out of basketball, he and his wife Beth, whom he had married in 1967, settled down in Columbus with their two children. In addition to his business interests, Havlicek worked on occasion as a color commentator for basketball broadcasts.
Life After Basketball
John Havlicek lives with his wife in Columbus, Ohio. He owns three Wendy's Hamburger franchises and is the co-owner of an Ohio-based food company. In his spare time he enjoys hunting, fishing, and golf.
When John Havlicek retired he had established himself as one of basketball's all-time greats. Bobby Knight , who played with Havlicek at Ohio State, told Sports Illustrated 's John Underwood, "In my opinion John Havlicek is the greatest basketball player who ever lived, bar none.… because he can beat you so many ways." His former coach and Celtics teammate Bill Russell called Havlicek "the best all-around player I ever saw." Six months after his retirement in April 1978, the Celtics retired his number 17. In 1983 Havlicek was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He was named to the NBA's 50th Anniversary All-Time Team in 1996.
Awards and Accomplishments
|1958||Chosen to All-State High School Basketball Team|
|1961-62||Ohio State Basketball team MVP|
|1962||Chosen to All America and All-Big 10 teams|
|1962-78||First player to score 1,000 points in sixteen consecutive seasons|
|1964, 1966, 1968-70, 1975-76||All-NBA Second Team|
|1966-78||NBA All-Star team|
|1969-71||NBA All-Defensive Second Team|
|1971-74||All-NBA First Team|
|1972-76||NBA All-Defensive First Team|
|1974||Most Valuable Player NBA Finals|
|1978||Havlicek's number 17 retired by Celtics|
|1980||NBA 35th Anniversary Team|
|1996||NBA 50th Anniversary Team|
SELECTED WRITINGS BY HAVLICEK:
(With Bob Ryan) Hondo: Celtic Man in Motion, Prentice Hall, 1977.
Fitzgerald, Joe. That Championship Feeling: The Story of the Boston Celtics. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1975.
Havlicek, John, with Bob Ryan. Hondo: Celtic Man in Motion. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1977.
Ryan, Bob. The Boston Celtics: The History, Legends, and Images of America's Most Celebrated Team. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1989.
Goldaper, Sam. "Retirement of Havlicek to Remove Another Link to Celtic Glory Years." New York Times (January 29, 1978): V6.
Masin, Herman L. "Here Comes Hondo!" Senior Scholastic (March 14, 1969): 19.
Tuite, James. "Havlicek in Last Farewell." New York Times (April 10, 1978): C3.
Underwood, John. "The Green Running Machine." Sports Illustrated (October 28, 1974): 46.
Wind, Herbert Warren. "The Complete Basketball Player." New Yorker (March 28, 1977).
John Havlicek biography. http://global.nba.com/history/players/havlicek_bio.html (January 4, 2003).
Sketch by Gerald E. Brennan