The Boston Celtics announced Thursday evening that John Havlicek, one of the greatest players in the history of one of the sport’s most decorated franchises, died at the age of 79.
Havlicek played all of his 16 seasons in the NBA with the Celtics, winning eight championships, including one in each of the first four seasons of his career. Only two players — Celtics teammates Bill Russell (11) and Sam Jones (10) — have won more championships in NBA history.
Havlicek had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease.
“I loved the man. I won two championships with him,” former teammate Paul Silas told ESPN. “When I first got to Boston, we talked all the time. All I wanted him to do was shoot. And when he didn’t, I’d go right at him. He really was one of the greatest shooters I ever saw. When we needed a big basket, he was always the guy we wanted to take the shot.”
The Celtics called Havlicek “the face of many of the franchise’s signature moments.”
“His defining traits as a player were his relentless hustle and wholehearted commitment to team over self,” a team statement read. “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.”
The Celtics took Havlicek with the seventh pick in the 1962 NBA draft out of Ohio State, where he won an NCAA title in 1960. He was named the 1974 NBA Finals MVP, was a 13-time NBA All-Star (one of nine players in NBA history to be an All-Star in 13 straight seasons) and made a combined 11 All-NBA teams and eight All-Defensive teams.
Havlicek was one of 10 players in NBA history to make at least eight All-NBA teams and eight All-Defensive teams. The other nine are Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, David Robinson, Kevin Garnett, Gary Payton and Chris Paul.
He remains Boston’s franchise leader in games played, points and field goals made, is second in assists and is fifth in rebounds. He ranks fourth — behind Dirk Nowitzki, Bryant and Duncan — in points scored by a player who spent his entire career with one NBA franchise.
Cedric Maxwell, who played his rookie season with the Celtics in Havlicek’s final year in the NBA, remembered him as a great teammate.
“We had lost a couple of games, and (coach) Tommy Heinsohn was trying to shake things up, so he inserted me in the starting lineup in place of John,” Maxwell told ESPN. “I scored something like 21 points against Buffalo in Boston, and we won the game. The first person that came to congratulate me after the game was John. There was no animosity. It was ‘Rook, nice game, way to play.'”
Havlicek was known for his endless energy on the court. He led the NBA in minutes played in both the 1970-71 and 1971-72 seasons.
“The dude ran all day. Never stopped,” Maxwell said. “He wouldn’t take long strides — they were little, choppy steps — but he was gone. When people used to say, ‘You cannot hit a moving target,’ that made me think of John.”
Havlicek also made one of the most iconic plays in NBA history.
After Bill Russell committed a turnover with five seconds remaining in Game 7 of the 1965 Eastern Conference finals, the Philadelphia 76ers had a chance to inbound the ball and win the game. But Havlicek anticipated Hal Greer’s pass to Chet Walker and stole it, then got it to Jones to run out the clock and preserve the victory. The Celtics went on to beat the Los Angeles Lakers to win that year’s NBA championship.
The play became immortalized by Celtics radio announcer Johnny Most’s legendary call: “Havlicek stole the ball!” It remains one of the most well-known calls of a play in the history of the sport.
“Greer putting the ball in play,” Most said. “He gets it out deep, and Havlicek steals it! Over to Sam Jones! Havlicek stole the ball! It’s all over!”