The 1960s were dominated by the Boston Celtics, who at one point won eight championships in a row, led by their superstar Bill Russell. With many epic battles against Jerry West’s Lakers, the Celtics managed to find ways to keep winning, much in part due to the greatest winner of all time in the 11-time NBA champion.
For all of Russell’s individual greatness, those early Celtic teams were absolutely stacked: Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman made up the backcourt (who could argue for the greatest backcourt ever), K.C. Jones helped run the point, Frank Ramsey (the first real sixth man in the NBA) came off the bench to help close out games and of course Russell held it down at the center position.
Oh, did I forget to mention? Each one of those players went on to be enshrined in the Naismith Hall of Fame. When the Celtics lost Sharman, they drafted John Havlicek with the seventh overall pick in the 1962 draft, and he helped keep the dynasty of the Celtics running smoothly. The Celtics had come off four consecutive championships, but with each passing year, the production of Cousy, Ramsey and Sharman began to deteriorate. Coach Red Auerbach admittedly took Havlicek to eventually take over the sixth-man role he’d created, and he had limited expectations for Havlicek’s production.
A tremendous athlete, Havlicek was recruited out of high school to play three sports, but chose to forgo football and decided instead to play basketball and baseball at Ohio State. After winning an NCAA championship and holding a personal 78-6 record for his tenure in college, Havlicek was drafted to the NFL as well as the NBA when he came out of college. The Cleveland Browns drafted him in the seventh round as a potential wide receiver, but was eventually cut. That decision allowed Havlicek to focus on using his talents full-time towards the NBA, and the Celtics tremendously benefited from his services.
Standing at 6-5, 205, Havlicek had inhuman endurance, often exhausting his opponents with his perpetual-motion playing style. Sprinting from baseline to baseline, Havlicek hustled to make plays on offense and outrun the defense to receive passes from Cousy for easy finishes. With Havlicek’s size and athletic ability, he was a mismatch for opponents right from the onset of his career. He proved too strong for most guards to handle and too quick for most forwards to keep up with. Havlicek didn’t have the most defined shot coming into the NBA and earned most of his minutes through hustle and defense.
Havlicek came back strong in his second season and showed off his newly revamped jump shot, leading the Celtics in scoring and helping them to a 59-21 record, despite the retirement of Cousy. Havlicek still came off the bench, fulfilling Auerbach’s important sixth-man role, and he didn’t mind it. Havlicek became the most important non-starter in all of basketball, often playing the most minutes and playing at the end of games.
Voted to the All-Star game 13 times, Havlicek’s importance to the Celtics was well known. Even though Russell, K.C. Jones and Sam Jones all got more credit, Havlicek was just as important to the machine as the other star players.
One of the reasons Havlicek earned so much playing time during crunch time was his ability to make big plays in pressure situations. Staying calm, cool and collected, Havlicek routinely made the right plays down the stretch, both on defense and offense, and earned himself a reputation for coming through in the clutch.
As the years went by, Havlicek only got better, although the rest of the legendary Celtics were near retirement. During the 1968-69 season, the old Celtics (in more ways than one) made one last push to win an NBA championship. Led by Havlicek’s scoring (he put up 25.4 points per game in the playoffs), Russell and Sam Jones won their final championship in a seven-game thriller against the Lakers.
With the retirement of Russell and Jones, the dominant dynasty of the Celtics passed, and Havlicek was the lone remaining star from the old times. Despite Havlicek turning 30 years old, he still showed the energy and endurance he showed his entire career, and he led the Celtics in scoring and the league in minutes played. With Havlicek’s ability to never stop running, the Celtics once again employed an uptempo offense, trying to get out on the break and push the pace as much as they could.
The 1972-73 season seemed like it had everything for the Celtics: Havlicek played well and the Celtics cruised to a league-best 68-14 record. After winning in the first round against the Atlanta Hawks, Havlicek injured his shoulder in the Eastern Conference Finals against New York, effectively ending the Celtics’ hope for an NBA championship.
Havlicek came back strong from his injury, averaging 27/6/6 and winning the NBA’s MVP en route to his seventh NBA championship. Havlicek won one more championship two years later, and the most impressive thing he demonstrated day in and day out was his energy and ability to bring his best every night. Even in his final season in the league, Havlicek averaged 34 minutes played and 16.1 points per game, incredible for a 38-year-old.
Havlicek was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1983 and has been named one of the best 50 players in NBA history. The all-time leader in points scored for the Celtics and one of the best ever to don that green and white uniform, the eight-time champion will never be forgotten.