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Basketball great, John J. Havlicek, was born on April 8, 1940 in Martins Ferry, Ohio. Havlicek is a retired NBA basketball player who competed for 16 seasons with the Boston Celtics, winning eight NBA titles, half of them coming in his first four seasons.
In the NBA, only teammates Bill Russell and Sam Jones won more championship rings during their playing careers. Havlicek is considered one of the best NBA players in history, especially on defense, and was inducted as a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1984. He was a three sport star at Bridgeport High School in Bridgeport, Ohio and one of his boyhood friends was Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro. The Bridgeport High School Gymnasium was renamed the "John J Havlicek Gymnasium; in January 2007. He shares the honor with National High School Hall of Fame member, Frank Baxter, A long time coach at Bridgeport High School. The court is named after Baxter.
Perhaps the most famous play-by-play call in NBA history came on April 15, 1965, when legendary Celtics broadcaster Johnny Most exclaimed "Havlicek stole the ball!" after Havlicek intercepted Hal Greer's inbound pass to clinch the Eastern Conference Championship against the Philadelphia 76ers.
"On stamina alone he'd be among the top players who ever played the game," longtime New York Knicks Coach Red Holzman once said of John "Hondo" Havlicek. "It would've been fair to those who had to play him or those who had to coach against him if he had been blessed only with his inhuman endurance. God had to compound it by making him a good scorer, smart ballhandler and intelligent defensive player with quickness of mind, hands and feet."
A key member of two generations of Celtics, Havlicek provided the spark off the bench during the Celtics' dynasty years of the 1960's. During the 1970's he was the trusted veteran who captained youthful teams to championships in 1974 and 1976.
Known for clutch performances in big games, John Havlicek posted impressive numbers during his illustrious 16-year career. In 1,270 regular-season games he scored 26,395 points and averaged 20.8 points to rank as the Celtics' all-time leading scorer and top scorer in NBA history. He also grabbed 8,007 rebounds, recorded 6,114 assists, and played on eight Boston championship teams. He appeared in 13 consecutive NBA All-Star Games, earned 11 selections to the All-NBA First or Second Team and was named to the NBA All-Defensive First or Second Team eight times.
When John Havlicek joined the Celtics in 1962 they had won four consecutive NBA titles. Boston was loaded with talent, but star players such as Bob Cousy, Bill Sharman, Ramsey, and Jim Loscutoff were in the final stages of their careers. Havlicek's youthful physical intensity was like a shot of adrenaline for the aging team. Coming off the bench mostly as a forward, he averaged 14.3 points during his rookie year, many of them coming at the receiving end of Cousy's famous passes on the fast break. "I made a living off Bob Cousy," Havlicek often said.
An NBA All-Rookie Team selection for 1962-63, Havlicek displayed great hustle and tenacious defense, but he didn't impress everyone in his first season. According to Sports Illustrated, Cousy assessed him as a "non-shooter who would probably burn himself out." But Havlicek possessed awesome physical skills. Among the first of the great swingmen, he combined brute force with quickness. At 6-5 he could overpower most guards, yet he was quicker than most forwards.
He also had the inner drive that characterized "Celtics pride." After his first year Havlicek went home and worked hard to improve both his outside shooting and his dribbling. The next season he led the team in scoring, averaging 19.9 ppg and he showed that he was ready to assume Ramsey's position as the Celtics' all-important sixth man. Despite Cousy's retirement, Boston won 59 games in 1963-64 and vanquished the San Francisco Warriors in five games for the NBA crown. Havlicek made the All-NBA Second Team.
"The guy is the ambassador of our sport. John always gave his very best every night and had time for everybody -- teammates, fans, the press." -- Jerry West
In addition to his impressive statistics, Havlicek showed great poise. At crucial moments when a decisive play had to be made, it was "Havlicek time." A classic example of his clutch performing occurred in the seventh game of the 1965 Eastern Division Finals against the Philadelphia 76ers. With only five seconds left in the game, he deflected an inbounds pass from Hal Greer to save a one-point Celtics victory, prompting broadcaster Johnny Most's legendary call, "Havlicek steals it. Over to Sam Jones. Havlicek stole the ball! It's all over! Johnny Havlicek stole the ball!"
Havlicek, whose nickname, Hondo, was inspired by the John Wayne movie of the same name, led a Celtics comeback during the early 1970s. In 1970-71 and 1971-72 he averaged 28.9 and 27.5 points, respectively. Despite having turned 30 years old in 1970, he led the league in minutes played for both of those seasons, averaging more than 45 minutes per game.
As the one remaining star from the Celtics' past, John Havlicekbecame captain of a team that now included Jo Jo White, Don Chaney, and newcomer Dave Cowens. Employing a fast break that brought back memories of Cousy's Celtics, Boston rolled through the 1972-73 season with a 68-14 record.
The Celtics might have won an NBA title that year, but misfortune struck when Havlicek severely injured his shoulder in the third game of the Eastern Conference Finals against the New York Knicks. He made a valiant return later in the series, but the Knicks ousted the Celtics in seven games. Prior to the fourth game at Madison Square Garden, the New York fans gave Havlicek a spontaneous standing ovation when he appeared in street clothes.
Five years after Russell's retirement the Celtics returned to the top of the NBA by beating the Milwaukee Bucks for the league title in 1974. Voted NBA Finals Most Valuable Player, Havlicek was now recognized as the leader of the new generation of Celtics. Customarily stoic, he became emotional after the triumph, according to The New York Times. "Thanks for doing this for me," he said, as he hugged and kissed teammates in the Boston dressing room after the final game. "This is the greatest one."
The following season Havlicek continued his whirlwind offense and defense. The New York Times reported that after watching him put on a one-man show against the Knicks one evening, Bill Russell was heard to say, "The man is crazy. One of these days he'll find he can't do it anymore." But Havlicek was able to do it right up until the end. He played in all 82 games and averaged more than 16 points during his final campaign in 1977-78, despite turning 38 in midseason. His last year was a dismal one for the Celtics, however, as they fell to the Atlantic Division basement. But Hondo was treated to a two-month farewell tour in which fans flocked to arenas to pay tribute.
Havlicek retired with a slew of impressive statistics. He was the NBA's all-time leader in games played at the time. He also ranked in the NBA's top 10 in minutes played and in total points. At the end of his career Havlicek had so many championship rings that he could have opened a jewelry store. He had been on eight Boston championship teams, six with Russell and two without. In 1980 he was named to the NBA 35th Anniversary All-Time Team. In 1983 he was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and in 1996 he was named to the NBA 50th Anniversary All-Time Team.
Jerry West told Sports Illustrated, "The guy is the ambassador of our sport. John always gave his very best every night and had time for everybody-teammates, fans, the press." Cowens added, "You tell me how many class guys there are like him anywhere. They ought to retire his number from the whole NBA. Just take 17 and stash it up there in lights."
But the highest compliment may have come during a halftime salute in his final game at Boston Garden, in which Havlicek, in typical fashion, scored 29 points. "He epitomizes everything good," said Celtics General Manager Red Auerbach in The New York Times. "If I had a son like John I'd be the happiest man in the world."