John Havlicek, the Boston Celtics great whose steal of Hal Green’s inbounds pass in the final seconds of the 1965 Eastern Conference final against the Philadelphia 76ers remains one of the most famous plays in NBA history, has died. He was 79.
The Celtics said the Hall of Famer died Thursday in Jupiter, Florida. The cause of death wasn’t immediately available. 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.”
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.
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.
Born April 8, 1940, in Martins Ferry, Ohio, Havlicek became a standout athlete at Bridgeport High School in a small coal-mining town of 2,500 near Wheeling, West Virginia.
The 6-foot-5 Havlicek was also an outstanding football and baseball player in high school and was given a tryout by the Cleveland Browns after graduating from college.
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 Jerry Lucas and future Celtic teammate Larry 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.