In Memory of Childhood Heroes4
[Today’s article is for sports fans. The rest of you may wish to look elsewhere for your Monday morning edification!]
Another of my childhood heroes has passed away. The Boston Celtics announced this past Thursday night (April 25, 2019) that John Havlicek (affectionately known as “Hondo”) had died at the age of 79.
I’ve been a sports fan all my life. My dad and I shared multiple incredible experiences together as he supported me in my athletic pursuits. After four major surgeries ended my days as a football player, I focused instead on baseball, basketball, and golf. In each of these sports, I had one or two individuals whom I admired and tried to emulate.
When it came to baseball, my hero was Mickey Mantle. I collected his baseball cards (most of which I still have!), tried to imitate his swing at the plate, and even hobbled around the base paths in the same way Mantle did, quite unique given the many injuries he sustained to his legs. I cut out the box score of virtually every New York Yankee game and especially the longer articles that detailed what Mantle had accomplished.
When it came to golf, I looked to Arnold Palmer. This may have been due to the fact that my dad loved Palmer. Palmer’s unique golf swing and swagger captivated me. And again, without much success I might add, I tried to imitate his style.
But when it came to basketball, I had two heroes, John Havlicek and Pistol Pete Maravich. I was (and still am to this day) a rabid fan of the Boston Celtics. I remember fondly sitting with my dad in front of a black-and-white TV set (yes, they did exist!) watching Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Sam Jones, K.C. Jones, Frank Ramsey, Tom “Satch” Sanders, Jungle Jim Luscutoff, Bill Sharman, and Tommy Heinsohn, win title after title. Eventually they retired and I turned my attention to Danny Ainge, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Dave Cowens, JoJo White, Robert Parrish, Pete Maravich, and others. But first and foremost, above them all, I loved John Havlicek.
Havlicek played every one of his 16 NBA seasons with the Celtics. That isn’t something you hear much about these days, as players move from team to team, following the money wherever they can get more of it. During those 16 seasons, Havlicek and the Celtics won 8 championships. Only two other Celtic players, Bill Russell (11) and Sam Jones (10) won more championships in NBA history.
Havlicek, who played college ball at Ohio State (where he won an NCAA title in 1960), was selected with the seventh pick in the 1962 NBA draft. Among his many accomplishments, he was named NBA Finals MVP in 1974 and was a 13-time NBA All Star. He was only one of nine players in NBA history to make the All-Star team in 13 straight seasons. He was also selected for 11 All-NBA teams and was eight times selected for the All-Defensive teams.
Havlicek 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, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan – in points scored by a player who spent his entire career with one NBA franchise.
I remember perhaps the most famous play in which Havlicek was involved. After Bill Russell committed a turnover with five seconds left in Game 7 of the 1965 Eastern Conference finals, the Philadelphia 76ers had an opportunity 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 season's NBA championship.
Most Celtics fans know how announcer Johnny Most made the call: “Greer putting the ball in play. He gets it out deep, and Havlicek steals it! Over to Sam Jones! Havlicek stole the ball! It's all over!”
John Havlicek was the consummate gentleman. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t intense. His style of play was relentless. He seemed capable of running all day long. In a day when childish immaturity and egotism characterize so many NBA players, Havlicek is a reminder of what a mature, decent, loyal athlete can be.
One final comment. When I played basketball at Duncan Senior High School in the late 1960’s, it was my custom to shout out with every basket I made: “Havli-pop!” I won’t tell you what I said when I missed.