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Friday, June 10, 2005

Where Have You Gone Johnny Havlicek?

Out of the blue I received an e-mail asking me whether John Havlicek wore number 17. This was from a good old friend, Bill Suda, who did not know of my boyhood attachment to Havlicek. Bill probably knew I was a Celtic fan. He was not ready for this answer:

He is my favorite Celtic and athlete of all time. Ask my father. He used to yell, "you would think he is Jesus Christ himself!" I told him I liked Havlicek more.

Yes the best swing forward-guard of all time was #17. He was clutch, one of the best defensive players of his era (at 38 years of age he held Julius Erving to 16-points in each of 3 consecutive playoff games (Games 5, 6 and 7), some 10 points below his average- Erving said he had nothing but respect for him), placed opponents in awkward mismatches by being too fast for the forwards to guard and too big for the guards to handle. When Auerbach brought him in off the bench early in his career, Auerbach said his first sub gave him a better team than he started with while the other team got worse when they substituted. As Sam Jones used to say, "It's who finishes the game that counts."

And when the Celts lost the Russell-Jones team, Havlicek stepped up and was in the top 5 in scoring in the league until they increased their talent level by adding JoJo White, Don Chaney, Cowens and Silas. Then he just scored his 20 and won more championships. He usually averaged 6-7 assists and the same in rebounds.

And oh so clutch. He won a playoff game when he hit a baseline jumper over Kareem at Milwaukee that had to be shot so high, yet it swished through the chords. He played 1st base at Ohio State and batted .400. Blanton Collier gave him a try-out at tight end for the Cleveland Browns but chose All-Pro Gary Collins over him. I have read he is a scratch golfer, excellent swimmer. He would have been a great decathlete. And as humble as you get.

Last thing. I was playing B-Ball in East Greenwich, RI one night where my best friend lived. A guy I had never met before, Paul, and I kept diving for loose balls and getting floor burns and just playing our asses off. When we were done my best friend told me that Paul was as big a Havlicek fan as I was. I should have guessed as much. Paul and I became good friends after that.

Havlicek was the guard version of Larry Bird before there was a Larry Bird. When I am picking the all-time NBA team, he is my other forward. My all-time NBA team is:

1st Team

Bill Russell
Larry Bird
John Havlicek
Jerry West
Oscar Robertson

2nd Team

Wilt Chamberlain
Elgin Baylor
Julius Erving
Magic Johnson
Michael Jordan

3rd Team

Kareem Jabbar
Bob Pettit
Tim Duncan
Isiaiah Thomas
Bob Cousy


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