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Saturday, June 11, 2005

Where Have You Gone Johnny Havlicek? Answer: He Lives In The Best Of Us.

In this momentary detour from the pressing issues of our day, my short missive on John Havlicek forced the very busy Allen Gorin to stiop and add his voice to the Havlicek tribute-who has not died or anything.

Allen wrote:

When Neal Phenes sings the praises of John Havlicek, he knows that I am part of the choir. But tempted as I am to take a trip down memory lane and reminisce about things such as: 1) How my family and I were huddled around the radio on one special night in 1965, and burst into cheers when Celtic announcer Johnny Most shouted "Havlicek stole the ball......." at the end of the game, such play securing yet another Boston championship; 2) The speech Bill Russell gave at my university in 1971, during which he referred to Havlicek as the greatest player he had ever played with, and the man he'd want his sons to emulate; 3) The time Havlicek dove into the first row of seats to save a loose ball in a game at the old, decrepit Providence, R.I. arena--right where I was sitting--and thanked those of us who caught him prior to his running back onto the court; 4) How Havlicek never engaged in trash talk, never cared about his stats, and always carried himself with tremendous dignity........

Oooops, I did it anyways! Well, forgive those of us who grew up in New England in the 1960s, were molded by sports, and chose men like Havlicek as role models. But for me--a 55 year old whose athletic days are well behind me--John Havlicek still serves as a role model, one that fits perfectly with the public policy mission of Ettublog.

How so? Havlicek's unique role--the "sixth man" on a sports dynasty judged by Sports Illustrated to be the greatest team of all time (1957-1969 Boston Celtics)--has inspired the role I often play, and encourage others to play, in public policy coalitions of which I'm a part.

To make this connection, you must understand the role of the "sixth man," a role developed by the legendary Celtic coach Red Auerbach. Auerbach would not start Havlicek, preferring to keep him on the bench initially, studying the early ebb and flow of the game. At a certain point, invariably when his team needed a lift, Havlicek entered the fray. His job may have been to shut down the opposing team's hottest scorer. Or, maybe he needed to be the spark to ignite the vaunted Celtic fast break. Perhaps his team just needed his energy. Whatever he had to do to get his guys performing at peak efficiency, he did--without fanfare. His individual ego was totally sublimated to the team's ego.

Toward what end? All Havlicek cared about was winning championships. His own stats and glory were inconsequential.

And do I really need to contrast Havlicek's demeanor with that of the typical basketball star--past or present--to underscore that Havlicek's mindset is as rare as hens' teeth?

Now for the political connection. The world of public policy is, like professional sports, filled with prima donnas. There's a certain power that comes with making public policy, and as Henry Kissinger once said, it can be the ultimate aphrodisiac. But politics is also about forming effective coalitions, which is at cross purposes with the lust for individual political power. How does one resolve this tension?

The way I've chosen to deal with this matter--I am often involved in inter-faith political coalitions--is by preaching the philosophy of Celtic basketball, and by trying to play the role of Havlicek. I emphasize that when we're fighting for an issue, we do so not as Jews, Mormons, Catholics, Evangelicals, or ???, but rather as American teammates trying to win a game, indifferent to whether we or our religious affiliations get any glory. I stress what unites us, rather than what divides us (e.g. salvation issues).

For myself, if possible, I strive for a flexible role. Sometimes I'm most helpful by writing op-eds in the newspaper. Sometimes I give speeches. Sometimes I organize. Oftentimes I'm on the watch for a cancerous personality who needs to be weeded out, lest that person undermine our team-first concept. Bottom line: I watch the political dynamics as they unfold, and go where I'm most needed. I want to see my values win the day, and I could care less whose mug shot gets plastered on the front page of the local section.

So John Havlicek, as a model of how to be the ideal teammate, lives in the best of us. Who says Massachusetts has nothing to contribute to the triumph of conservative/ libertarian ideas!!!

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