(Reuters) - John Havlicek may be the Boston Celtics’ all-time leading scorer but it was his inexhaustible defensive style that made him a fan favorite over a 16-year NBA career with the team that stretched across two championship eras.
A perpetual-motion machine, Havlicek earned a reputation as the pre-eminent hustle player of his time as he repeatedly wore out his opponents with tireless and unmatched baseline-to-baseline efforts.
Add in a lethal leaning bank shot, and it is no wonder the durable Havlicek is the face of many of the franchise’s signature moments.
“It would’ve been fair to those who had to play him or those who had to coach against him if he had been blessed only with his inhuman endurance,” longtime New York Knicks coach Red Holzman once said of Havlicek.
“God had to compound it by making him a good scorer, smart ballhandler and intelligent defensive player with quickness of mind, hands and feet.”
Of all his on-court feats, none are more fondly remembered by Celtics fans as the clutch steal he made in the dying seconds of the decisive seventh game of the 1965 Eastern Division Finals that preserved a one-point Boston win.
The play, in which Havlicek deflected an inbounds pass, prompted Celtics broadcaster Johnny Most to deliver one of the most famous radio call in basketball history when he screamed out: “Havlicek stole the ball! It’s all over! It’s all over!”
When Havlicek entered the NBA in 1962, he raised both the visibility and value of the sixth man — a non-starter who comes off the bench more than the other reserves — before ultimately becoming a starting player.
It was Havlicek who provided the spark off the bench during the Celtics’ dynasty years of the 1960s and then was the trusted veteran who captained youthful teams to championships in 1974 and 1976.
Havlicek won eight NBA championships, was named a Finals Most Valuable Player, appeared in 13 consecutive All-Star Games, became a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1984 and was named to the NBA 50th Anniversary All-Time Team in 1996.
When he died in 2019 at the aged of 79 after suffering from Parkinson’s disease, the Celtics said Havlicek’s defining traits as a player were his “relentless hustle and wholehearted commitment to team over self.”
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Pritha Sarkar