The Boston Celtics announced Thursday night that John Havlicek, one of the greatest players in the history of one of the sport’s most decorated franchises, died at 79.
Havlicek played all of his 16 NBA seasons 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.
Russell took to Twitter late Thursday to salute Havlicek, calling him “not just a teammate and a great guy, but he was family.”
It is getting difficult each time I hear about another contemporary that passes! What is harder is when we lose guys like John Havlicek, he was not just a teammate & a great guy, but he was family. That is how our @celtics teams were. #RIP Hondo @NBA #RIPJohnHavlicek @NBAonTNT pic.twitter.com/VP9MGPjrmZ
— TheBillRussell (@RealBillRussell) April 26, 2019
Former teammate Paul Silas expressed his fondness for Havlicek, whom he played with from 1972 to 1976.
“I loved the man. I won two championships with him,” 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 had 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.
John Havlicek steals the ball to close out the 1965 NBA Eastern Conference Finals to put the Celtics in position to win their seventh of eight straight finals.
“The thing with John, he competed against you at the highest level and he wanted to win badly,” Hall of Famer Jerry West told ESPN. “But he was always a really nice person. I don’t think that I ever heard anyone say a bad word about John. He was pleasant off the court and pleasant on it. But he really, really competed against you.”
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, Bryant and Duncan — in points scored by a player who spent his entire career with one NBA franchise.
“Everybody says nice things about you when you die. I wish they said them to John when he was alive. John was always overlooked. They never talked enough about him,” former teammate Dave Cowens said. “I used to ask people, ‘Why don’t you talk about John Havlicek?’ It was always Magic [Johnson] and Jerry West and Dr. J, but John belonged in those conversations.”
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 Russell committed a turnover with five seconds left 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 season’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!”
ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan and Adrian Wojnarowski contributed to this report.