John Havlicek, who won eight NBA championships with the Boston Celtics and was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1984, died Thursday. He was 79.
Havlicek suffered from Parkinson’s disease, and the team confirmed his death in a statement.
“His defining traits as a player were his relentless hustle and wholehearted commitment to team over self,” the team said. “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.”
Havlicek averaged 20.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists in his 16-year career with the Celtics. He was part of a glorious era in Celtics history when the team had a collection of players led by Hall of Famers Bill Russell on the court and Red Auerbach as coach.
He is the Celtics’ all-time leading scorer with 26,395 points, was named to the All-Star team 13 times and was the 1974 Finals MVP. He also a workhorse, playing in at least 75 games in every season of his career, including all 82 games five times. He led the league in minutes played twice and played more than 40 minutes per game in five seasons.
The Celtics were dominant, and Havlicek’s selflessness defined Celtics basketball. He also played a significant part in one of the most famous plays in Celtics history.
In Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Philadelphia 76ers and Wilt Chamberlain in 1965, Havlicek knocked the ball to a teammate on a Sixers inbounds play, leading Celtics play-by-play man Johnny Most to yell, “Havlicek steals it. Over to Sam Jones. Havlicek stole the ball! It’s all over! Johnny Havlicek stole the ball!”
Born in Martins Ferry, Ohio, Havlicek excelled in basketball, football and baseball in high school. He attended Ohio State and teamed up with Jerry Lucas and Bob Knight to win the 1960 NCAA championship.
Nicknamed Hondo, he was drafted with the No. 7 overall pick by Boston in 1962. The Celtics were loaded with Russell, Bob Cousy, Tom Heinsohn, K.C. Jones, Sam Jones and Satch Sanders. Havlicek, who loved to run on the fastbreak, perfected the sixth man role with his energy, hustle, tenacity and talent.
“I learned it takes twelve men to win a championship,” Havlicek told Celtics.com of his career with the franchise. “We probably played eight players, but Red always worked out the ninth, 10th, 11th and 12 man routinely at practices because injuries involving throughout the course of the season would take a toll and he wanted them ready. Red always made sure they were in shape so that they could contribute when the time came.
“If you look at the teams we had, no one ever led anything statistically. It was very well balanced and, at times, we would have seven or eight guys averaging in double figures. The thing that I miss today is the running game. I don’t think they run as much today. I think that’s the easiest way to score.”
Following his playing career, Havlicek spent time in Massachusetts and Florida and owned three Wendy’s franchises. Havlicek counted Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas as a friend, and Thomas’ daughter Wendy used to babysit for the Havlicek family, according to Celtics.com.
Havlicek was named to the NBA’s 35th anniversary team and was honored as one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history at the 1997 All-Star Game.
“He is the best all-around ballplayer I ever saw,” Russell once said.