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NBA 75 Series: #27 John Havlicek

Updated: May 16, 2022

Coming in at #27 of my NBA 75 Greatest Players of All Time is an indefatigable warrior who was a tremendous all-around player, fearless in the clutch, and one of the greatest Celtics of all-time, John Havlicek. Havlicek was born on April 8th, 1940, in Martins Ferry, Ohio, and passed away on April 25th, 2019, due to Parksinson’s disease. Growing up, Havlicek’s parents ran a general store to help the family get by.

He would become a tremendous three-sport athlete, playing football, basketball, and baseball at Bridgeport High School where he was a childhood friend with Baseball Hall of Famer Phil Niekro. Havlicek would play both football and basketball for the Ohio State Buckeyes, eventually getting drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the 1962 NFL Draft, which just shows how great of an athlete he was.

He would team up with another future seven-time NBA All-Star, Jerry Lucas, who was his college roommate, as well as a future NBA first-round pick in Larry Siegfried, future coaching legend Bobby Knight, and others. In 1960 the Buckeyes, coached by Fred Taylor, were able to capture the national championship behind Havlicek’s 17 points per game.

Havlicek would become a consensus third-team All-American in 1961, followed up by a second-team consensus selection in 1962. After a great college career, Havlicek would go on to be selected ninth overall in the 1962 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics, who were in the middle of a dynasty led by Bill Russell and Bob Cousy. He would become a wide receiver for a brief time for the Browns in training camp, but would ultimately focus on playing for the Celtics.

And the Celtics are forever grateful for Havlicek choosing basketball, as he would ultimately become known as “Hondo” and become the all-time scoring leader in Celtics history. With a franchise that has been graced with the likes of Larry Bird, Russell, Dave Cowens, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and so on, and he is the all-time leader with 26,395 points scored, that’s saying something. He could literally run all day, having the iconic “Havlicek stole the ball!” by the great former Celtics broadcaster Johnny Most in Game 7 of the 1965 Eastern Finals against Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer, Billy Cunningham, and the Sixers, which exemplified how clutch of a player Havlicek was.

Havlicek was a perpetual-motion machine, a human dynamo who was legendary for wearing opponents out with his relentless baseline-to-baseline attacks. A star at both forward and guard, Havlicek’s versatility made him perhaps the finest all-around player in the history of the NBA, according to Sports Illustrated. He was a crucial member of two different generations of Celtics basketball, providing a spark off the bench during the Celtics’ dynasty years of the 1960s, and during the 1970s was the trusted veteran who captained youthful teams to championships in 1974 and ’76.

He was a marvelous all-around player, grabbing 8,007 rebounds and dishing out 6,114 career assists to go along with being the all time scoring leader in franchise history. 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. He also is a whopping eight-time champion and the 1974 Finals MVP.

He was like a turbo-charged version of Manu Ginobili coming off your bench who was a better scorer and defender, and then showed he could be the man once Russell retired, winning two titles as one of the top players on the team in 1974 and 1976. 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, and will assuredly make the 75 greatest ever list. To me he is arguably the most underrated legend ever, along with Moses Malone, Elgin Baylor, and Garnett.

Jerry West once 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.” The Celtics did just that by retiring his No.17 in the rafters. He will be remembered forever for his brilliance on both ends and as one of the clutchest performers to ever play the game.

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