John Havlicek, the all-time leading scorer in Boston Celtics history and one of the greatest players in NBA history, died Thursday. He was 79.
Havlicek, who had Parkinson’s disease, played all 16 of his professional seasons in Boston, winning NBA titles in each of his eight finals appearances, including one finals most valuable player award. He was beloved by the Celtics’ fan base for his energy, his hustle, his skill and his consistency. Havlicek appeared in 13 straight All-Star games, and his 26,395 career points are the 19th most in league history.
Commissioner Adam Silver released a statement Thursday lauding Havlicek as “a wonderful friend who represented the best of the NBA” and whose “passion and energy endeared him to basketball fans and made him a model for generations of NBA players.”
Havlicek was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1984 and was named one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players as part of the league’s 50th anniversary celebration in 1996. In addition to being the Celtics all-time leader in points, Havlicek leads the franchise in games and minutes played.
“John Havlicek is one of the most accomplished players in Boston Celtics history, and the face of many of the franchise’s signature moments,” the team said in a statement. “He was a great champion both on the court and in the community.… 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.”
Born April 8, 1940, in Martins Ferry, Ohio, Havlicek would win an NCAA championship at Ohio State in 1960, playing with future Hall of Famers Jerry Lucas and Bobby Knight. He was nicknamed “Hondo” after the John Wayne western.
Boston selected Havlicek with the No. 7 pick in the 1962 NBA draft. A terrific athlete, he was also selected by the Cleveland Browns in the seventh round of the NFL draft.
He joined Bob Cousy, Bill Russell and six other future Hall of Fame players for Red Auerbach’s Celtics and won a championship in his first season — the first of four in a row. Havlicek’s Celtics won all eight NBA finals he appeared in, including five over the Lakers.
Russell tweeted, “It is getting difficult each time I hear about another contemporary that passes! What is harder is when we lose guys like John Havlicek, he was not just a teammate & a great guy, but he was family. That is how our @celtics teams were. #RIP Hondo”
Unlike most stars of the era, Havlicek’s reputation was forged by coming off the bench.
“I figured there were nine teams in the league at the time — 45 starters,” he once said in an interview. “You couldn’t name all 45 starters. I said, ‘If I can become the best sixth man, everyone will know who I am.’ ”
In the final moments of Game 7 of the 1965 Eastern Conference Championship, Havlicek stepped in front of an inbound pass, tipping the ball to a teammate and sealing the win. Celtics radio announcer Johnny Most exclaimed, “Havlicek stole the ball” — one of the most famous plays in NBA history.