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The John Havlicek Interview

Bill Simmons’s The Book of Basketball: John Havlicek

The Green Running Machine

Iron John

Remembering the underappreciated Celtic great John Havlicek


The John Havlicek Interview

by Michael D. McClellan
October 28, 2018

You won a national championship while playing alongside four future NBA players: Jerry Lucas, Larry Siegfried, Joe Roberts and Mel Nowell. How were you able to put individual agendas aside and win it all?
We had a great head coach in Fred Taylor, and we played for a program that was known for its winning tradition. Our team chemistry really fed off of those two things. Red was able to accomplish this in Boston, while Fred created that same time of atmosphere at Ohio State. Red had a theory that it’s not what statistics you have that measures your value to the team. Everyone wants to score 25 or 30 points a game and grab 15 or 20 rebounds. But you have to work together to be successful. You have to make sacrifices in your game in order to make the team stronger. That’s the same type of philosophy that Fred adhered to at Ohio State. Sacrifice for the good of the team. Put egos and agendas aside and do what’s necessary to be successful as a team. And with a strong leader like Fred, it was easy for us to play as a cohesive unit. So really, all of the credit goes to Fred for getting us to buy into that philosophy.

Looking back now, what do you remember most about winning the national championship against California?
Two days before the championship game I injured myself in the bathroom at Ohio State. I cut myself on a paper towel dispenser, and I ended up with 10 stitches on the ends of my fingers on my shooting hands. I remember being concerned about the injury and how it would affect my play in the game. The other thing I remember was how good we shot the ball in the first half – I believe we only missed four shots and were up big at halftime. We played extremely well in that game. We were a sophomore dominated group, and many people didn’t think we would go very far that season, let alone reach the title game and then win big.

That 1960 championship team was also known for its academics.
The unusual thing about our team was that we were true student-athletes. Everyone graduated. We had seven guys get masters degrees. Two received Ph. Ds and two received MDs. There was one quarter during the school year that our team GPA was a 3.4. That’s really hard to believe, but true, and I’ll bet that’s an NCAA record. We considered ourselves students first and foremost, and we took a lot of pride in our accomplishments in the classroom. And to a large degree, Fred [Taylor] was the architect of our academic success. Fred told me when he was recruiting me that I was here for an education, and that was going to be number one on my list of priorities. Number two was basketball. Number three was a social life. And after the first two, we all knew that there was not going to be much of a social life [laughs].

Please tell me a little about your coach at Ohio State, the legendary Fred Taylor.
Well, I don’t think I would have gotten anywhere without his tutelage. He shaped me tremendously, and I feel that he was the person most responsible for preparing me to play professional basketball. He stressed the fundamentals, and he stressed defense. Those were the things helped get me into the NBA, and those were the things that kept me there for all of those years. The foundation of my professional basketball career was truly based on what I learned from Fred Taylor.

Coaching great Bob Knight was a teammate on that national championship team. What kind of player was Coach Knight?
Let’s just say that Bobby wasn’t the quickest man on foot [laughs], but defensively he played hard. When you got fouled by Bobby, you knew you had been fouled. He definitely got his money’s worth [laughs]. Bobby played a reserve role and came off the bench quite a bit. He was a shooter, but his calling card was defense. If he’d been allowed to play more minutes he would have just fouled out, he was that aggressive [laughs].

Let’s talk Olympic basketball. Many people were shocked when you failed to make the 1960 Olympic basketball team. What happened?
That was probably the biggest disappointment of my athletic career. I thought I played extremely well during the Olympic trials, and I felt that I deserved to be selected to play on that team. The same argument could be made for my teammate, Larry Siegfried. In my mind, he played well enough to be chosen for that team. The system was a lot different back then. The AAU and NCAA were feuding at the time, and it really became a big political thing after the first team was selected.

You were selected by the Celtics in the first round of the 1962 NBA Draft. Boston had just won its fourth title in five seasons.
I was lucky to be drafted by the Celtics, no question about that. I remember that when I learned that I was drafted by the Celtics, Bob Knight said that that was the greatest thing that could have happened to me because the Celtics played my style of basketball. And like you just mentioned, I wasn’t forced to come in and be a savior or anything like that, because they had a lot of hall of fame players on that team. You did have a Bill Russell, a Cooz, a Sharman, a Sam Jones. You also had Heinsohn and KC [Jones]. You had Frank Ramsey. It made my transition a lot smoother than had I been drafted to play elsewhere. I was able to ease in. I just sort of became a part of that process, where they were using me a little bit here and there, and whatever, and over time it evolved into a bigger and better leadership role for me.

What was it like adjusting to the pro game?
I think the people that you involve yourself with, and who help you along the way, these people all play a part in some sort of design or pattern in what you’re going to become. The same was true with me when I joined the Celtics. Looking back at when I was drafted, in my wildest dreams I didn’t think I’d be able to do what I did during my career with the Celtics. I was able to learn from other people on that team, and you learn from winners like Bill Russell and KC and Sam and Cooz and Ramsey.

Hall of Famer Frank Ramsey was the team’s original Sixth Man. Now here you come, competing for his job. How did he handle that?
When I came to Boston, Ramsey could have felt threatened and could have made life hard on me, but he didn’t. He was the opposite of that. He said, ‘I’m so glad you’re here because you’re going to add two years to my life, because I can’t do it as much as I used to and I’m hoping you’ll step in and help me.’ That was totally different experience from what I expected as a rookie, because when you go to training camp everyone is working to protect their job. They don’t want to see some guy come in and knock them off the team or take away their minutes. It was totally different with the Celtics. It was a secure team, and we embraced each other, and it was a great marriage.

As a rookie, how did you find your niche on team loaded with stars?
Well, one of the things that I knew about Red Auerbach was that he loved defensive players. He understood that defense was what meant the difference between simply reaching the playoffs and winning a championship. If you look at those early Celtics teams that he coached, they were very good on the offensive end but weren’t the best defensively. All of that changed with Bill Russell. When I arrived I knew that Tom Sanders, KC Jones, Russell and Sam Jones were all great defenders. At Ohio State, that was basically my job – to be the defensive stopper. So, I felt then and still feel today that the quickest way into the NBA is to play defense. If you have NBA ability and can play defense you’ll have an opportunity to succeed, because great defenders are never a liability. Offense is all about instinct, and with the great teams that I was on I had an opportunity to find my place on offense as well. I had great hands, which really helped me, and I loved playing with Cousy that one year that we were together because the ball was going to be right where you needed it most of the time. As I started out as a rookie I was playing maybe five minutes a game early in the season. But as I gained more confidence, and as Auerbach gained more confidence in me, I ended the year with about twenty minutes per game, which was about fourth best in the league for rookies. So, that’s how I fit in with the Celtics – I came in, played solid defense, and I worked hard on the offensive end to earn the trust of my coach and teammates.

Were you surprised to be selected by the Celtics?
No, not really. It never hurts to be on a team that is successful, and I knew Red Auerbach often times would draft a person based on the type of program the person was involved with. He was well aware of Ohio State’s program and the success that we’d enjoyed, and he knew the caliber of players we had on those teams. He knew that we had won a national championship, and that we were competing for a championship every year. So there were a lot of good things about me that he took into consideration based on the kind of program that I came from. He knew that if I could contribute at a high level on such a successful team, he figured that I should be able to make the transition to the pros and be able to help the Celtics.

Your rookie season with the Celtics was also the final season for the incomparable Bob Cousy. Even though you only played one season together, what were you able to learn from one of the greatest players in NBA history?
As a rookie, I quickly came to appreciate Cousy’s court vision. I think that was the one thing that I learned from him, and I was able to develop it because Bob Cousy was such a visionary on the floor. I think that you pick up a lot from your teammates. I was never a great ball handler or anything like that, but I tried to never lose sight of the ball at any time while I was on the basketball floor. The other thing is that I had a lot of movement to my game, a constant motion that really challenged defenders on a number of levels. I was never standing around. And that creates a lot of opportunities. Cousy always had the presence of mind to find me in situations where I was able to move and free myself for an open shot. His court vision was unbelievable, and it helped me to see the court better – the passing lanes, the angles, things like that. Those are the things that I took away from my rookie season with Bob Cousy.

You were such a great athlete that the Cleveland Browns also drafted you, intrigued by your potential as a wide receiver. What was it like experimenting with a career in the NFL?
I had decent speed, especially for that era, but it wasn’t great speed. I believe I was timed at 4.6 in the 40-yard dash. That’s slow by today’s standards. Today you have plenty of defensive linemen who run faster than that. But I could catch the ball. I had really good hands. That, and my height, were the things that really caught the Browns’ interest.

Please tell me a little about the Browns’ hall of fame head coach, the late Paul Brown.
Interestingly enough, Paul Brown and I really liked each other. I really appreciated the way he ran things as a coach, the way everything was so precise. He was very meticulous, very detail-oriented, which really matched who I was as a person, so Paul Brown was definitely my kind of coach. I enjoyed my time in a Browns uniform, even though it became clear early on that football wasn’t my strong suit athletically – especially when compared to playing basketball. Brown was very nice about it when he let me go. He knew I had something to go to, that I had a future playing professional basketball. So it really worked out best for everyone involved.

Were you really serious about playing football for the Browns?
I was going to try and play both sports. But the good Lord has a way of playing a part in those types of decisions. I think He made it pretty clear that I was cut out for basketball and not football.

You’ve mentioned the great Bill Russell, and what he meant to turning the Boston Celtics into world champions. Please tell me what it was like to play with Russell.
There was no bigger winner, no better champion in basketball history, than my friend Bill Russell. Russell was the kind of player who never concerned himself with personal goals – he put his team above all else, and in the process he made his teammates better players. If you were a scorer, you were six-to-eight points better because Russell was around. If you were a good defensive player you became a great defensive player, because with Russell hanging around you were able to do things that you weren’t ordinarily able to do. You could take more chances, apply more pressure, knowing that Russell was back there protecting the basket.
Obviously, playing with Russell for all of those years meant that you were going to be in the mix for a championship, and winning those titles were the most important things in my career. Forget about the points, rebounds and assists or whatever, the championships are things that they can’t take away from you, and with Russell being involved, and being involved with him, you always knew that you had a chance. And obviously, eleven championships in thirteen years is quite a remarkable feat, and that’s exactly what Russell accomplished during his career with the Celtics. I was happy – and fortunate – to be on eight championships teams, six of them with Russell.

You followed Ramsey as the next great Sixth Man.
Coming off the bench never bothered me, because basketball is a team game. It takes a total team effort, and it takes everyone buying into their role and playing it to the best of their ability. The sixth man role is very important to a ball club – it was back then, and it is equally as important today. I had confidence in my game, and I knew that I had the ability to start, which is something that evolved over time, but joining a team loaded with talent meant that I would have to wait my turn. We had Tom Heinsohn, Satch Sanders, Frank Ramsey, Jim Loscutoff and Gene Guarilia. All of these guys played the forward position, and all of them had the NBA experience that I lacked as a rookie. So coming off the bench didn’t affect me in a negative way. Like I said, I was confident in my ability to play the game of basketball. Besides, one thing I learned from Red Auerbach was that it’s not who starts the game, but who finishes it, and I generally was around at the finish.

You were involved in one of the greatest plays in NBA history. Take me back to that famous steal in the closing seconds of the 1965 NBA Eastern Conference Finals.
Well, it’s Game 7 against Wilt Chamberlain and the Philadelphia 76ers. We’re up by a point with five seconds to play, 110-109, and we have possession of the basketball. Bill Russell takes the ball out of bounds and hits the guide wire, and Philadelphia immediately regains possession. At this point, everyone was concerned about the ruling because of the guide wire, but we quickly learned that Philadelphia was going to retain possession of the ball.
Red always said that you always needed to figure out some way to find an edge. Some of the things he would come up with were just ridiculous [laughs], but he really drove that into us from the very beginning. So, when I found myself on the court in that situation, I said to myself that the only thing that I could do to get a possible edge, is that when the ball is handed to Hal Greer, who was taking the ball out of bounds, I could actually try to time the pass and have a shot at deflecting or stealing the inbounds pass. I knew that as soon as he was handed the ball that he had five seconds to put in in play. So I counted. One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three…
Most of the time the ball is delivered within the first three seconds. But I get to one thousand four, and the ball hasn’t been inbounded yet. So at that point you’re trying to keep visual contact with the man out of bounds with the ball, and with the person that you’re defending. When I got to four a gave a little look, and it allowed me to see the play develop a little better. Had I had my back to the ball, Hal Greer would have lobbed the ball right over my head. But that little look allowed me to get a better perspective, and it convinced me that I could get a hand on this one. And I got up in front of the ball, and momentarily controlled it before kicking it out to Sam Jones.

Bill Russell acted as player/coach of the Boston Celtics following Red Auerbach’s retirement in 1966. Were you ever interested in coaching?
No, not really. I knew very early on that I wouldn’t enjoy coaching, in large part because I was such a disciplined player. I felt that I was a very coachable player because of that, but that isn’t always the case when it comes to the relationship between the coach and the players. Oftentimes, players don’t get on the same page as the coach, and I would have found that frustrating. I would have been very hard on myself.
The Celtics used to call me about coaching, but they pretty much knew what the answer was going to be, so they finally stopped calling. Whenever the Celtics were changing coaches in the 70’s and 80’s, Red Auerbach would call and say, ‘Okay, for the record, do you want to coach?’ I’d always say, ‘No,’ and then he’d say, ‘Goodbye.’ I think Red knew that coaching wasn’t for me, but he wanted to extend the offer anyway. It was a show of respect on his part. The Celtics were a family, and for the most part he looked within the family when hiring his coaches. Russell, Heinsohn, Satch Sanders, Dave Cowens, KC Jones. Red hired his guys because he trusted them, and he knew that they were going to do their best to help the Celtics win another championship.

You had an up-close view of those great battles between Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. What stands out in your mind?
It wasn’t a matter of Wilt-versus-Russell with Bill. He would let Wilt score 50 if we won, and there were times when that was the case. The most important things to Bill were championships, rings and winning. He was never after the personal stats. Wilt could raise the level of his game, he could do things that were eye-popping when you reviewed the box score, but he could never figure out how to make his teammates around him better. Bill was always there to win the important possessions, to grab the key rebounds, to make the key blocks, to trigger a key fast breaks. He played a completely different game than Wilt. It was a mental game, a psychological game. And it was a big weapon whenever Bill went up against Wilt, because in Wilt’s mind, Bill already had Wilt’s number. The battle was already won before it ever started. Wilt would never admit it, but Bill knew he was in Wilt’s head. And he used that to his advantage.

What makes the Lakers-Celtics rivalry so special?
Well, it started in the 60s, with all of those great battles in the Finals. Jerry West and all of those guys going up against Bill Russell, Sam Jones and the rest of us. And then you had the Bird-Magic rivalry that increased the intensity to a completely different pitch, because you had two great players who basically saved the league from irrelevance and also took it to a new height. In the nineties you had the Dream Team, with Larry and Magic on the same team, and that added something to it. And then you had a renewal of the rivalry with Paul Pierce and Kobe Bryant going at each other in the Finals. You had Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen going for their first title. You had Paul injuring his knee in that first game, only to come back and win the MVP award while leading the Celtics back to the title.
Today everything has gotten so big. There is some much media coverage, in so many forms. Newspaper, radio, television, the Internet. Those things all help fuel the fire when it comes to great rivalries. I don’t even think there were people who traveled with us when we won some of those early championships [laughs].

The continuity of those great Celtics teams is truly remarkable.
The Celtics always had an older, more experienced person to pass along the team philosophy. Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman were a great backcourt tandem, and they passed that along to KC and Sam [Jones]. Frank Ramsey passed the Sixth Man role to me. Russell retires, and along comes Cowens. It’s just the way we did things, and it was a big part of our success.
With Red, he was very loyal to his players. The first eight or nine years of my career we never even made a trade. We picked people up off of waivers, but Red had this ability to see a player, and see the talent that he had, and basically mold that individuals talent into a team effort. It wasn’t who scored the most points, or who did this or that. He always said it was about your value to the team. And everyone had a certain value. As I mentioned before, Tom Sanders and KC Jones were great defensive players. Of course there’s no one like Bill Russell. He was the guy who made the Celtics great.

During your Celtics career you played for Red Auerbach, Bill Russell and Tom Heinsohn. What did these men have in common, and how were they different?
Red Auerbach was a person who was able to motivate people, and I think that this was probably his strongest asset. Red had a situation where he could yell at people a little bit and get away with it. He was intense. What made him so smart was that he knew which players he could yell at and which ones he shouldn’t. He yelled at Tommy quite a bit, but you didn’t see him doing those types of things to Bob Cousy.
With Russ, I knew that we were going to have basically the same system, and also pretty much have the same core group of players. I think Russ’s biggest adjustment as coach came with cutting players in training camp, because cutting players was something that he really didn’t like to do.
Tommy was totally different that Red and Russ – he was far more relational with his players. When I was a player, Tommy and I were roommates, and we used to call him the social director because he knew where all of the good restaurants and movie houses were at the time. Didn’t matter what city, Tommy always had those types of things figured out. Suddenly I find him as my coach, and all of a sudden all of these things have restrictions and limits to them [laughs]. But Tommy was the right man for the job of rebuilding the Celtics after Russ and Sam Jones retired. I think he was more patient than Russ or Red would have been, which was crucial since he inherited such a young club.

You won six championships playing alongside Bill Russell, and following his retirement the Celtics were in a rebuilding mode. How difficult a period was this for you?
Well, it was really quite difficult for me, and I was short-tempered a lot of the time. During my first seven seasons we had veteran teams, and I was really the kid on those teams. Suddenly everything was flip-flopped; I was the old man on a team loaded with young players. When all of the rookies came in, I can recall the first exhibition game we played in 1970. You had Dave Cowens, Jo Jo White, Don Chaney and Garfield Smith on the court with me. The referee turns and looks at me, and asks if this is really the Boston Celtics on the floor [laughs].
Rookies and younger players are going to go out there and make mistakes, and that’s exactly what happened. I tried my best to help them get over these rough spots, but I really had a hard time with it. That’s why I don’t think I could have ever been a coach.

The 1972-73 Boston Celtics posted the best regular season record in team history, going 68-14 and looking like a slam dunk to win the NBA Championship. All of that changed during the Eastern Conference Finals against the New York Knicks. What happened?
I thought all year long that we would win the championship. We won 68 games during the regular season, had the best record in the NBA, and heading into the playoffs I thought we were playing with tremendous confidence and momentum. We won our first round series against the Atlanta Hawks, and really didn’t have much trouble in that series against them. Three of our wins were blowouts. Unfortunately, I separated my shoulder during the series with the Knicks, and it became an issue. The injury kept me out of a key game that we lost in double overtime. I thought that ’72-’73 was going to be our year, but the shoulder injury just devastated the whole thing. Injuries are an important factor in any championship run. You have to be fortunate not to lose players or have people laid up, because if you do then it is going to take something away from the team. Suddenly you’re not as deep, the rotation is different, the combinations aren’t the same, the chemistry might not be what is was before the injury. That’s what happened to us. We didn’t have the same confidence, and everything was suddenly a lot more difficult. Credit goes to the Knicks for beating us. They capitalized on the injury and beat us in seven games.

By 1974 the rebuilding was complete – the Boston Celtics were world champions once again, defeating the Milwaukee Bucks in a thrilling seven game series.
That particular championship was probably the one I enjoyed the most, because it was probably the one that I played the best in. I can recall that double-overtime game when Don Chaney deflected the ball and I ran down the court – there were fifteen seconds left on the clock, and Heinsohn was calling timeout. Well, I shot the ball, followed the miss and put it back up and in the basket as time expired. That sent the game into double-overtime. I hit three shots in the period, we were up 99-98, but then Mickey Davis hits a big shot to take the lead. We ran a play with time winding down, and I make a shot on the baseline to put us back up by one. The Bucks responded by running a play for Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar], and he hit that famous hook shoot along the baseline as time expired to beat us on our home floor.
Many people came up to me after the game and said that I didn’t look like the same person who started the game. I can understand that, because I played 58 minutes, and it was a grueling experience. But I was prepared to continue, and to play as long as it took to win that game. Unfortunately we lost it, which meant that we had to travel to Milwaukee for Game 7. We were determined to win that game, and that’s exactly what we did. It was an unbelievable feeling.

That 1976 title would be your last, and the eighth time that you would walk off of the floor as an NBA champion. Did winning ever get old for you?
Winning never gets old. It only gets old if you lose, and that’s what made it so special to play for the Celtics. The organization was committed to wining, and this started with [team founder and original owner] Walter Brown, and was reinforced daily by Red Auerbach. Those two men created a winning atmosphere within the Celtics organization, and this made it easy for the players to put team success ahead of individual accomplishments. If you look at any of those great championship teams, you’ll see players who could have easily put up big numbers on lesser teams elsewhere. But we were interested in team goals. Winning championships never got old to any of us.

Your career in Boston spanned two distinct eras – the Bill Russell Dynasty of the 1960s, and the Dave Cowens Era of the 1970s. What was it like to be part of both periods in Boston Celtics history?
When you have the greatest defensive player in the history of basketball anchoring your team, everything is going to be predicated on defense. Defensively, Russell revolutionized the game. He could dominate without scoring a point. You also had KC Jones on those teams, you had Satch Sanders. Great defensive players. But as we moved into the 70s, we shifted the emphasis from defense to offense. Again, Russell was the greatest defensive center the game has ever known. Dave Cowens couldn’t come in and take the place of Russell, at least not by trying to imitate him. Cowens had to play the game to his strengths. He was a better shooter than Russell. KC was a great defensive player. Jo Jo White was a better shooter. I was counted on more to carry the scoring burden on those later teams. So we were much more offensively oriented during the 70s. But make no mistake, those Russell teams could also score – as obvious as it sounds, you have to be able to outscore your opponent to win a game, and we won more than our share during the 60s.

Your conditioning and fitness levels were the stuff of legend. Over the course of your career you ran countless defenders ragged trying to keep up with you.
Running was a very important part of my game, no question about it. And I knew from the first time I played a basketball game that the toughest guy to score on was the guy who kept after me all the time, nose-to-nose, basket-to-basket, on every single possession. So I stayed in motion, and I used the constant movement to my advantage. I also knew that the opposite was also true. The toughest guy to defend against was the guy who kept running. The guy who never let up, never stopped moving, never let you relax. I knew that I could be successful doing those types of things, and that over the course of a game it would wear down the guy guarding me and open up valuable scoring opportunities late in the fourth quarter. Those were the types of advantages that I wanted to have, especially in the close games. If you were in better shape than the man guarding you, you could take advantage of the fatigue factor. That’s the edge I wanted to have.

Final Question: If you could offer one piece of advice on life to others, what would that be?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Never give up. I had hundreds of shots blocked during my career, but I always focused on making the next shot. You’ve got to take chances, and you can’t dwell on the negatives.

Krátka sezóna: Havlicekov posledný rok v NBA


Diár Bostonu Celtics, 1977/1978
© 1979 John Powers

-John Havlicek, 1977/78-

Zistil som, že nikto v tíme ho nevolá Hondo. „Volajú ma rôzne,” vysvetľoval. „Cappy [pretože bol kapitán]. ‘Cek. Sidney [Wicks] ma začal volať Alexander Čechov.” Väčšinou bol ‘Cek.


Havlicek počas leta podstúpil vysiľujúcu operáciu slepého čreva a kamaráti, ktorí ho videli, hovoria, že vyzerá pochudnutý a uťahaný. Navyše, je nepodpísaný.

Havlicek, dobre platená inštitúcia majúca 37, nemal problém s ničím okrem predstavy dvojfázových tréningov. Každý si ho predstavoval sediaceho pri pobreží na loďke so svojím rybárskym výstrojom, až do konca nasledujúceho týždňa, keď sa zahlási v bezchybnej forme s plným kufrom lufár dravých.

28. september
Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts

Jeho vizitka leží na vrchu radu skriniek v šatni – široký modrý denimový kovbojský klobúk s vrcholom ozdobeným rybárskymi návnadami. Kapitán sedí na hornom poschodí v konferenčnej miestnosti športového oddelenia v tréningovom úbore . . . starý dres číslo 17 a čierno-zelené tepláky vyhrnuté po kolená. O pár minút začne tlačová konferencia s ním v hlavnej úlohe. „Ale najskôr,” hovorí John Havlicek, „si chcem prečítať ten kontrakt a potom chcem zavolať Larrymu [Fleisherovi] a prečítať mu to. Len kvôli akýmkoľvek zmenám, pridaniam a vymazaniam. Chápete.” Proste Havlicek tak ako ho poznáme . . . vždy precízny.

„V skrini doma je všetko jeho oblečenie zavesené polovicu palca od seba,” povedala mi Beth Havliceková, keď som ju požiadal o svedectvo znalca. „Všetko od skrinky s liekmi cez šuplíky na bielizníku po garáž je udržiavané týmto spôsobom.”
„John sa asi už tak narodil . . . Nemyslím si, že je to niečo, čo by ste sa mohli naučiť. On by chcel, aby boli také aj deti. Domnievam sa, že si myslí, že to je jeho najväčšie zlyhanie.”
„Hovoríte, že ony nie sú také?” divil som sa.
„Kto je?” pokrčila plecami, v pobavenom údive.
Po celé roky sa Havlicek zobúdzal v Portlande a Atlante a Indianapolise a čítal rovnaké články, takmer odsek po odseku, v novinách Oregonian a Constitution a Star. Bionický Celtic, písali. Pľúca také veľké, že potrebujú dve röntgenové snímky. Pulz taký nízky, že je sotva nažive. Žiadne potné žľazy, o ktorých sa dá hovoriť. Články však nikdy nespomínajú Havlicekovu skriňu – niežeby sme od nich mohli očakávať, že o nej vedia. Avšak práve toto bolo skutočným tajomstvom Hondovskej športovej dlhovekosti.
Havlicekova skriňa a stravovací rituál a tyrkysová misa s ľadom a symetrický kufor. Jednoduchosť je tým pravdivým dôvodom, spolu so zdravým rozumom, disciplínou, plánovaním vopred a štipkou excentricity. Určite ste už čítali narodeninové pocty o 100-ročných írskych babičkách, ktoré sa len držia svojho rozvrhu dňa – porobiť si domáce práce, zjesť ľahký obed, povedať ruženec a dať si hlt whisky pred uložením sa na odpočinok. John Havlicek má v sebe viac než štipku vdovy O’Reillyovej.
Robte všetko rozumne, taká je myšlienka. A robte to rovnakým spôsobom každý deň vášho života. „Ako keď si ľudia vyzliekajú bundy a jeden rukáv je správne, ale druhý je naopak,” hovorí mi Havlicek, vykladajúc jeho 95 téz. „Prečo ju nevyzliecť tak, aby boli oba rukávy správne, takže keď si ju idete obliecť naspäť, je už celá správne? Alebo sveter, stiahnuť si ho naopak. Dáva to zmysel?”
„Robíš všetko týmto spôsobom?” spýtal som sa ho. „Paušálne?”
„Jasné,” hrdo prikývol. „Keď som bol slobodný, nikdy som nenechal tanier až do toho bodu, kedy by bol schopný skôrnatieť. Vždy som ho opláchol, takže sa potom ľahšie čistil. Alebo skladanie uterákov. Do toho som blázon. Alebo kufre – obzvlášť ten druh, ktorý majú Celtics. Ak si ho zbalíte poriadne, potom ak sa nejako stlačí alebo doňho niečo treskne, vnútri ostane všetko súmerné.”
„Ďalšia vec, ktorá ma otravuje, je to, keď ľudia použijú zubnú pastu a nevymyjú ju z drezu. Hovoril som ti už, ako som si odtrhol končeky prstov na Ohio State? Niekto sa holil a nechal fúzy v umývadle. Ja som sa tak nahneval, že som prešiel k zásobníku na papierové uteráky, siahol dovnútra po hrsť a . . .”
Anektody mali tendenciu označiť ho ako kríženca medzi Pánom Whippleom a vaším učiteľom hygieny zo siedmeho ročníka. Do čerta, bol to proste excentrik. Čo je presne to, prečo Havlicek zvládol vytrvať 15 rokov, večer po večeri, v najnáročnejšom športe, aký bol kedy vymyslený, a prečo podpisuje na ďalšiu sezónu.
Áno, usporiadal si šampóny, deodoranty, oleje, krémy, pleťové vody, rôzne náradia a poštu od fanúšikov v premyslenom poradí nad jeho miestom v šatni arény Boston Garden. Ale taktiež poznal požiadavky, obmedzenia a možnosti svojho vlastného tela lepšie než ktorýkoľvek chlap, ktorý hrával basketbal.
Možno bol jediným hráčom v NBA, ktorý si skladal ponožky na vešiak. Ale takisto poznal pravidlá, palubovku, hráčov a vzťahy medzi všetkými tromi lepšie ako ktokoľvek, kto kedy žil. Takto raz prišiel k záveru, že vymedzené územia v aréne Spectrum vo Philadelphii boli o dve stopy užšie – po tom, čo tam hralo šesť tímov a nevšimlo si žiadny rozdiel. Takto získal loptu pred dvanástimi rokmi, dokonca otočený k akcii chrbtom.
Havlicek vedel, že Hal Greer mal iba päť sekúnd na vhodenie lopty, v duchu si počítal . . . 1001, 1002, 1003 . . . a inštinktívne sa pohol.
Ale tým, že sa zaoberáte hlavne jeho idiosynkráciami, by vám mohla uniknúť tá ozajstná šírka a hĺbka, ktorá ich robila pôsobivými. Tam, kde sa väčšina z nás snaží vypratať si kút a žiť v ňom, hromadiac okolo nás chaos a neporiadok ako špinavý sneh, Havlicek zvládol rozložiť si svoj každodenný život do stovky oddelených a dôležitých segmentov a zaobchádzať so všetkými rovnako.
Usúdil, že týmto spôsobom je to ľahšie. Všetko, čo potreboval, bol zmysel rozoznať, čo je nevyhnutné a sebaovládanie vykonávať to deň čo deň, dokým sa to nevyvinulo z rutinnej úlohy cez zvyk až do inštinktu.
„Na výške,” povedala mi Beth Havliceková, „mal John po celý rok pocit, že pitie koly znižuje jeho efektívnosť. Takže ju vyradil úplne. Ak by mu niekto povedal, že má cukrovku a už viac nemôže jesť sladkosti – nikdy –, už by sa žiadnej nikdy nedotkol. Má takýto druh disciplíny.”
Čo nás privádza k Historke o tyrkysovej mise, azda najfundamentálnejšej anekdote o Havlicekovi-ako-Sparťanovi. V 1976 si na začiatku playoff roztrhol šľachu na pravom chodidle; povedali mu, „Ľaduj si to a možno . . .”
A tak si Havlicek zaobstaral tyrkysovú plastovú misu z lacného obchodu s rozličným tovarom, vysypal do nej vodu a ľad („dve Hondove priehrštia,” povedal) a máčal si tú nohu zhruba šesť krát dlhšie ako mu navrhovali. Nakoniec zmeškal len tri zápasy, hral 53 minút v slávnom finálovom zápase proti Phoenixu a získal pre seba prsteň číslo osem.
O tomto bola tá myšlienka, alebo nie? Robili ste to, čo bolo potrebné, nezáleží na tom, do akej miery to bolo neortodoxné. Tri roky skôr, keď mal zranené pravé rameno v sérii s New Yorkom, Havlicek proste vymyslel repertoár striel ľavou rukou a pomohol Celtics zostať nažive.
A minulú sezónu, keď sa mu nazhromaždila tekutina v ľavom kolene – to, ktoré Havlicek používal na nájazdy do koša, skákanie, všetko – a nemohol strieľať normálne ukážkové strely z jumpu, vynašiel strely, pri ktorých vypadal ako baletný tanečník Nureyev.
„Streľba ľavou rukou cez hlavu, pravou rukou cez hlavu, dopich lopty po odskoku z jednej nohy,” povedal by vám, chichotajúc sa nad tým, aké to bolo bláznivé. „Jump shot po odraze z polovičnej nohy a bez rovnováhy.” A predsa všetky fungovali, možno preto, že Havlicek vedel, že budú musieť – jedného dňa – a v skutočnosti niekoľko z nich skúšal vo svojom voľnom čase. Viac než ktokoľvek od doby Hippokratesa doviedol filozofiu malej prevencie do jej logického zakončenia.
Nauč sa, ako robiť všetko, rozhodol sa. Predvídaj čokoľvek. Možno je len reinkarnovaným Paulom Revereom, pracujúcim len niekoľko blokov od svojej starej usadlosti v štvrti North End. Až na to, že Havlicek by vedel, že Briti nakoniec prídu – pravdepodobne backdoorom – a uzavrel by každú middlesexskú cestu v roku 1770.
Dnes by pravdepodobne vedel naspamäť odrecitovať každý detail z jeho nového kontraktu . . . ale stojí za to zavolať do Manhattanu, nie?
Akonáhle zavesí, svetlá sa zapnú a kamery zaostria; Red Auerbach aj Havlicek obaja hovoria o tom, ako sú potešení z tejto najnovšej jednoročnej dohody, a potom Havlicek vybehne na palubovku a absolvuje tréning s mužstvom . . . vo forme a mentálne pozorný. Aká apendektómia?
„Mal si počuť tie fámy,” hovorím mu neskôr, po tom, čo sa osprchuje. „Že vraj ti museli ísť dnu cez chrbát, zlomili tri skalpely na tvojej muskulatúre, museli ti to vytrhnúť vlastnými holými rukami.”
„V skutočnosti,” hovorí Dave Cowens, škeriac sa, „museli ísť dnu cez jeho krk.”
Havlicek sa uškŕňa. „Prečo si mi nezavolal? Aký si to do pekla reportér? Naozaj, nebol to typ zranenia, ktoré je skutočne vážne. Ak by to bola noha, členok, rameno . . . ale slepé črevo nie je niečo, čo potrebuješ.”


4. október
Portland, Maine

Čaká na nás stôl v reštaurácii na prístavisku a prinesené sú parné hrnce a pivo. Havlicek ochutnáva Heineken a spokojne povzdychne.
„Toto je dobré,” prehlási. „Holandské. Viete, Francúzi vyrábajú pivo, ktoré nestojí za nič. Ale ak sa niekedy dostanete do Pobrežia Slonoviny, vyskúšajte pivo Flag. Chutilo by vám.”
Napokon preňho donesú masívneho takmer dvojkilového homára a fotoaparát, a Havliceka si vyfotia s podbradníkom okolo krku, roztopeným maslom pred ním a usmievajúcimi sa čašníčkami na obidvoch stranách.

Jim Ard a Havlicek, obidvaja vášniví rybári, začínajú rozprávať o treskách škvrnitých a morských jazykoch a treskách obecných a kde ich môžete nájsť pri pobreží Nového Anglicka.

18. október
San Antonio, Texas

Bolo po desiatej v čase, keď sme dorazili do Hiltonu, a odpoveďou je mexické jedlo. Päť-minútový dril, Kapitán nariaďuje. Otvoriť dvere, hodiť tašky do izby, strhnúť si kravatu, stretnúť sa vo vestibule. Vychádzame na ulicu South Alamo a Ard, Cedric Maxwell, Curtis Rowe, Dave Bing, Havlicek a ja sa napcháme do dvoch taxíkov a smerujeme do Mi Tierra, nonstop („Nikdy nezatvárame”) kaviarne a pekárne v strede starého trhu s plodinami.

Havlicek, na druhom konci stola, sa hihúňa. „Počul som, že [bývalý hráč NBA Reggie Harding] dvakrát zašiel do miestneho obchodu, aby ho vykradol,” hovorí, „a majiteľ doňho dva razy strelil. ‘Prečo sa tam potom stále vraciaš,’ pýtali sa ho. ‘Lebo viem, že ma nezabije,’ povedal im.”

21. október
Houston, Texas
Celtics 0 výhier – 1 prehra

Kapitán vie, kde chce večerať. „Elan,” rázne povie taxikárovi a behom desiatich minút sme štyria z nás vyložení pri dverách najexkluzívnejšieho večere-a-disco podniku v meste.
Je len pre členov, za niekoľko stoviek dolárov ročne, ale Havlicek kráča priamo k recepčnému pultu a skúša pokorne sebaistý prístup, zatiaľ čo Ard, Kevin Stacom a ja sa hodne namáhame zostať nenápadní.
„Prepáčte, ale sme tu s profesionálnym tímom z Bostonu a pár dní tu zostávame,” začína Havlicek, jemne. „A boli sme zvedaví, či by sme možno mohli využiť vašu pohostinnosť dnes večer . . . snáď si dať nejaké jedlo, vypiť trochu vínka a popočúvať nejakú hudbu. Mohol by som tu nechať meno a hádam, ak máte voľný stôl . . . meno je Havlicek. H-A-V . . .”
Hosteska, dvadsiatnička, prekrásna blondínka, odrazu vzhliadne hore. John Havlicek, jej ústa hovoria, bez slov. Trvá možno tridsať sekúnd, kým dostaneme stôl pre štyroch a rundu drinkov. Odporúčací list od samotného H. L. Hunta nemohol byť viac efektívnejší.
Havlicek sa pozerá na prostredie naokolo – odkrytá tehla, všade visiace rastliny, hrubé obrúsky, kvalitné striebro a krištáľ –, vidí na menu slimáka a stejk, kývne hlavou, spokojný. Miluje život na ceste.

Aj po šestnástich rokoch je pre Havliceka stále vzrušujúce vyraziť si pozrieť Skalnaté vrchy alebo chytať oregonské pstruhy. Starostlivo si usporiada deň na jednodňovej zastávke v New Orleans tak, aby mohol mať veľkolepý obed v reštaurácii Galatoire’s, polnočné šišky a kávu v Café du Monde, a ešte stihnúť aj predzápasové zdriemnutie. Toto viedlo k takým inováciám ako dvojminútový dril po príchode do hotela a k inšpirácii pre NBA reštauráciu týždňa, minirecenzii, ktorú zaraďujem medzi moje nedeľňajšie basketbalové poznámky.
Bežne si Havlicek pýta teľacinu . . . „Ak by som šiel na šibenicu a mohol mať jedno posledné jedlo,” premýšľa nahlas, „bol by to v podstate nejaký druh teľacieho mäsa, na taliansky spôsob.”
Ale dnes večer vidí 23-uncovú kotletu a rozhodne sa, že to pôjde dobre so slimákom a karafou červeného vína. Nakoniec máme všetci stejk, plný stôl cibuľovej polievky, marinovaného sleďa a špenátový šalát umiestnený tu a tam.

Stoly na backgammon lemujú steny a všade sú róby a trojdielne obleky. Nikto by tu od vás nepýtal autogram, čo Havlicek (ktorého podpis je vypracovaný) oceňuje.
Preferuje zostať v pozadí, popíjať biele víno a sódu a pozerať sa, ako ľudia schádzajú a odchádzajú po schodoch. „Pripravení?” povie pred polnocou . . . a sme preč.


…John Havlicek, ktorý by vám vedel odrecitovať jeho vlastných posledných dvanásť jedál…

9. november
Boston, Massachusetts
Celtics 1 výhra – 8 prehier

Prejdem k Havlicekovi a pýtam sa ho, či dokáže nájsť niekde v jeho dvadsiatich štyroch hráčskych rokoch paralelu k súčasnému stavu. „Na strednej škole sme raz mali bilanciu 4 výhry a 19 prehier,” vraví. „Ale nemali sme vlastnú telocvičňu.”

10. november

Maxwell, ktorý nastúpil z lavičky na pätnásť minút proti San Antoniu a strelil 13 bodov, bude zajtra na palubovke pri úvodnom rozskoku namiesto Havliceka, ktorý sa vráti k svojej role šiesteho hráča.

11. november

Dnes podvečer sa okolo Kapitánovej skrinky dve hodiny pohyboval chlapík zo Sports Illustrated. John Havlicek tipoval, že sa objaví. „Hej, ďalší vlk na love,” zachechtal sa Havlicek, potriasajúc si rukami s Currym Kirkpatrickom. Počul to isté vzdialené zavýjanie ako všetci ostatní.

…Havlicek povedal, že mu nevadí prenechať miesto v základnej päťke Maxwellovi…

29. november
Atlanta, Georgia
Celtics 6 výhier – 12 prehier

Cestou do miestnosti pre médiá prechádzam okolo Havliceka v sprchách; stojí tam sám.
„Myslieval som si, že viem niečo o basketbale,” hovorí potichu. „A teraz, ja proste neviem.”


5. december
Celtics 7 výhier – 14 prehier

…Jo Jo White a Charlie Scott, opory z backcourtu Celtics posledné dva roky, sa posadia na lavičku namiesto jedinej 71-ročnej komibinácie v lige, Havlicek a Bing…

15. december
Celtics 9 výhier – 16 prehier

Keďže toto je posledný voľný deň, ktorý Celtics budú mať v Bostone pred Vianocami, termín každoročnej tímovej párty v Boston Garden stanovili na dneskajšie popoludnie.

Ale dnes sa unúvali prísť len Havlicek s Whiteom a ich rodiny.

17. december
Na ceste do Los Angeles, Kalifornia
Celtics 10 výhier – 16 prehier

…Havlicek má úžasnú zbierku škótskej whisky…

Hollywood vpredu pred nami a sám Hondo, sediaci krížom cez uličku, si prezerá reštaurácie na západnom pobreží v hrubej žltej knihe.

20. december
Portland, Oregon
Celtics 10 výhier – 17 prehier

Telefón, film v hlavných úlohách s Charlesom Bronsonom a Leeom Remickom o amerických/sovietskych dvojitých agentoch, sa premieta na poludnie krížom cez ulicu, vraví Havlicek. Možno by sme mali zistiť, či má asistent kouča Tom Sanders, oddávna veľký kinofil (a Havlicekov bývalý spolubývajúci), záujem.

Minulú zimu, keď mával Havlicek problémy s kolenom a jeho streľba riadne klesla, dokríval do toho kina na King Konga a vyšiel odtiaľ cítiac sa celkovo lepšie.
Vždy bol za výlet cez voľný deň, poobede alebo večer, a vedel si spomenúť na zdanlivo málo dôležité detaily z nejasných dejových línií. Raz naša partia vyšla vonku po večernom predstavení v Seattle, smerujúc k autu a na neskorú večeru, ale Havlicek uviazol v dave pri východe a zaostával za nami o niekoľko stoviek yardov.
Keď začul naše výkriky, z ničoho nič začal úplne presne napodobňovať Ratsa Rizza, s konskou nohou a kmitajúcimi plecami, krívajúc pozdĺž stredu ulice v honbe za Polnočným kovbojom.

22. december
Seattle, Washington
Celtics 10 výhier – 20 prehier

Joey „Sonar” Hassett, ktorý vyrastal v Providence, hrával so Stacomom na výške a zbožnoval Celtics. „Hondo,” žasol, pri pozápasovom jedle s Havlicekom. „Nemôžem uveriť, že večeriam s Hondom.”

23. december
Phoenix, Arizona

Sme na letisku a titulok novín Post-Intelligencer v sekcii „Sporting Green” to hovorí drsne: SONICKÝ TRESK ZBOMBARDOVAL VANDRÁKOV Z BEANTOWNU. Havlicek, keď to zazrie, pokrčí plecami. Čo sa dá povedať? Prežúva ohromne hrubý hot dog, páchnuci cesnakom, ktorý si vzal zo samoobsluhy. „Všetko ostatné, čo tam mali, zvyčajne mávam na raňajky,” nazdáva sa.

V batožinovej zóne naliehavo pobehuje televízny kameraman, hľadajúc nejaké výroky.
„John, John, mohli by sme dostať vyjadrenie na kameru?”
„Iste,” povie Havlicek . . . potom, po chvíľkovom uvážení, potrasie hlavou. „Nemyslím si, že chcem. V tejto chvíli je veľa vecí, ktoré skutočne nepotrebujú komentár.”
Kameraman je zúfalý. „Ale no tak John, si kapitán. Všetci ostatní mi hovoria nie.”
„No tak dobre.”
A tak tam Havlicek stojí, v žiari reflektoru, a dáva dlhú litániu, zatiaľ čo sa za ním otáča pás s batožinami a jeho spoluhráči si berú svoje tašky. Problémy počas tréningového kempu, zmätok, čo sa týka rolí v tíme, proste všetko.

…Bing sedáva v šatni vedľa Havliceka; po zápasoch spolu potichu vtipkujú, táto tandemová dvojica rozohrávačov zo zlatej éry basketbalu. „Ja a ‘Cek sme v lige už tak dlho . . .” začal Bing a Havlicek, česúc si vlasy, sa zachechtal…


25. január
San Antonio
Celtics 14 výhier – 29 prehier

„Zas sme boli blízko, že?” povedal Havlicek po zápase, v ktorom Larry Kenon zo Spurs prevzal behom niekoľkých desiatok sekúnd kontrolu nad koncovkou. „Ideme do zápasu mysliac si, že vyhráme. Nemyslím si, že niekto v tíme má porazenecký prístup. Ale vždy máme jednu štvrtinu, kde vybuchneme, nemám pravdu?”

27. január

Tie chýry sme začuli dolu v New Orleans – že Havlicek sa chystá ohlásiť koniec kariéry a v skutočnosti by to už urobil, ak by skoršie v týždni sneh nezrušil formálny obed v Tappoff Clube.
Kapitán ich odbil smiechom, keď som sa o nich vtedy zmienil . . . „Dezinformácia,” povedal. „Totálna fáma. Pravdepodobne sa to teraz každým týždňom zlepší.”
Nevedno, či je to lepšie alebo nie, ale dnes je to silnejšie. Klub zvolal na nedeľné ráno tlačovú konferenciu v Boston Garden. Samozrejme, mohla by byť o čomkoľvek, od Auerbachovho odchodu do dôchodku, ktorému toto leto končí kontrakt, po predaj organizácie Irvom Levinom.

Predsa len, najlogickejší predpoklad je odchod Havliceka. Nespomenul Auerbachovi odchod do športového dôchodku predtým, než začala sezóna? Nechystal sa ohlásiť to počas večere organizácie B’nai B’rith, až pokiaľ ho od toho Auerbach neodhovoril? Nelobovala pre to jeho manželka?
„Áno,” pripustil Havlicek, pred zápasom v aréne Superdome. „Beth si myslí, že je čas.”
Nastal čas, aby som sa trochu zahral na naozajstného detektíva. Najskôr volám Kapitánovi domov.
„Nejaký chlapík z časopisu Time sa ma opýtal, či pôjdem v nedeľu na tlačovku,” hovorí vyhýbavo, „a ja som mu povedal, ‘Hej, ak ma na nejakú pozvú.’”
To hej, ale bude sa to týkať tvojho konca kariéry?
Havlicek sa chichoce. Viem si ho predstaviť, ako má stiahnuté pery a začína sa uškŕňať. „Nemyslím si, že sa niečo deje,” vraví mi. „Zajtra idem na tréning a nemyslím si, že by si mal mať v novinách niečo o mojom konci kariéry.”
Znamená to teda, že nekončís kariéru?
Ďalší chichot. „Naozaj si nemyslím, že je to záležitosť, ktorá stojí za reč. V každom prípade, ak by som išiel ukončiť kariéru, prečo by som mal tú informáciu poskytnúť nejakej konkrétnej osobe? Ozaj som o tom ešte nehovoril ani s Redom. Ale môžeš napísať čokoľvek, čo chceš.”

Volám k telefónu Boba Ryana, najbližšej veci k božskej intervencii, ktorú dokážem narýchlo zohnať.
„Kapitán,” začne. „Pri telefóne je tvoj životopisec . . .”
Prejde pár minút a prevracia očami. Havlicek sa chystá robiť verbálny menuet až do konca víkendu.

Musí to byť Havlicek, nakoniec dedukujem, vracajúc sa k tomu, čo je očividné. Napíšem na stroji tri strany pre raňajšie vydanie; v článku píšem, že „takmer určite” to bude Havlicekov koniec kariéry.

Ako posledné overenie sa rozhodneme zavolať Willovi McDonoughovi, rezidentnému Sherlockovi Holmesovi redakcie.

„Dajte mi päť minút,” hovorí. Potom zavolá naspäť. „Havlicek,” povie, definitívne.

29. január

Kapitán prišiel pred poludním oblečený pre televízne kamery, Beth a deti majúc na sebe svoje najlepšie nedeľné oblečenie, a celú rodinu zoradil za dlhý stôl. „Toto musí byť jedno z najhoršie strážených tajomstiev v histórii,” povedal Red Auerbach, pozerajúc sa na Havliceka, ktorý sa trochu rozpačito usmieval.
„V rozpore s tým, čo si myslíte,” začal Havlicek, zatiaľ čo kamery vrčali a blesky na fotoaparátoch sa blýskali.
„Red mi predlžuje kontrakt na ďalšie dva roky. Ale vážne, toto je môj šestnásty a posledný rok ako hráč. Je to niečo, o čom som dlho premýšľal. Vedel som, že toto bude môj posledný rok, už keď som sa dostavil do kempu . . . Ešte predtým som to prebral s Redom. Toto sa proste zdalo ako vhodný čas oznámiť to. Dá to ľuďom v iných mestách príležitosť, aby ma uvideli hrať ešte raz.”
Oznámenie sa chystalo byť urobené pred týždňom v piatok, ale zasiahla snehová búrka, povedal Havlicek. „V nedeľu bola búrka stále s nami. Toto bola ďalšia príležitosť.”
Takže pokiaľ Celtics nepostúpia do playoff, Kapitán bude hrať svoj posledný zápas 9. apríla proti Buffalu v Boston Garden, deň po jeho tridsiatich ôsmich narodeninách; v ten dátum preňho klub usporiada „deň”, tak ako spravili pre každého Celtica končiaceho kariéru. Takisto bude vyradené jeho číslo a na jeseň vyvesené pod strop haly.
Keď odíde, Havlicek si so sebou odnesie prinajmenšom tri ligové rekordy – najviac odohraných zápasov (1232), najviac odohraných zápasov v playoff (172) a najviac 1000-bodových sezón za sebou (16). Bude mať osem prsteňov šampióna NBA*. A odíde ako stelesnenie tradície, podobnú ktorej asi už nikdy znova neuvidíme.

* Havlicek v skutočnosti nevlastní osem prsteňov šampióna. Hondo v roku 2011 povedal, že za víťazstvo v NBA má päť prsteňov (z rokov 1963, 1965, 1966, 1968 a 1969), dvoje náramkové hodinky (1974 a 1976) a jednu striebornú misu (1964). „Veľa ľudí nevie, že za majstrovský titul sme vždy nedostali prsteň. Tak to proste vtedy bolo. Bill Russell nedostal jedenásť prsteňov, až neskôr mu ich dal David Stern, aby ho mohli s nimi odfotiť. NBA ich pre neho vyrobila. Čo sa týka prsteňov, nosím ten z roku ’69, pretože si myslím, že vyzerá najlepšie, pretože mi najlepšie sadne na prst a pretože nie je taký objemný. Ale taktiež je najšpeciálnejší v tom, že v tej sezóne sme po základnej časti skončili štvrtí a neočakávalo sa od nás, že vyhráme titul. Russell si vzal posledné dva týždne voľno na odpočinutie a každý očakával, že vypadneme hneď v prvom kole playoff.” Pokiaľ ide o hodinky, Havlicek nosí tie, ktoré obdržal po získaní titulu v 1976. „Mal som ich už trikrát renovované. Sú to hodinky Omega, presne také, aké nosieval Red.”

„Kariéra, ktorú som mal, mi priniesla veľký úspech a šťastie,” hovorí teraz Havlicek.
„Snáď všetko, čo hráč môže dosiahnuť, som dosiahol. S Celtics som prešiel z jednej éry do druhej. Som v podstate posledné spojivo medzi Russellovsko-Auerbachovskou érou a touto.”
V roku 1960 bol vynechaný z nominácie do olympijského basketbalového mužstva – jedno z veľkých sklamaní jeho života, tvrdil – avšak Havlicek bol úžasným všestranným športovcom. Cleveland Browns ho draftovali ako wide receivera z Ohio State dva roky na to a len neochotne sa ho vzdali. V tíme už mali jedného z najlepších hráčov na svojej pozícii, Garyho Collinsa, na chytanie prihrávok. Takže Havlicek šiel do Bostonu, kde sa Bob Cousy chystal odohrať svoju poslednú sezónu, a hlásil sa Auerbachovi.
„Päť minút po tom, čo prišiel,” hovoril Auerbach, „som ho dal do tréningového zápasu. A potom som sa otočil ku koučovi Navy Benovi Carnevaleovi – pozerali sme ho spolu – a povedal mu, dívaj sa, akého sakramentsky dobrého hráča sme získali.”
Havlicek vedel hrať na poste forwarda aj guarda, posúvajúc sa bleskovo z jednej pozície do druhej, neprestávajúc behať . . . stále behať . . . a napriek tomu sa nikdy nezdalo, že by sa na ňom objavila čo i len kvapka potu. A bol odolný – za šestnásť rokov chýbal iba v štyridsaťjeden zápasoch. Ak bol Auerbach symbolom trvalosti Celtics, pri postrannej čiare a ako funkcionár, Havlicek bol týmto symbolom na palubovke. Bol Hondo, John Wayne v zelených teniskách, pripravený na čokoľvek, čo sakra prišlo.
Teraz sa chystal . . . iste, bude nablízku, povedal Auerbach. John zostane v definitívnom a priamom spojení s klubom . . . ale to bolo v hmlistej budúcnosti. Teraz je prvoradá rodina, Beth trpezlivo čakajúca jednu dekádu, a biznis záujmy v Ohiu.
Už hovoril s televíziou CBS o tom, že by robil spolukomentátora jej NBA basketbalových prenosov, a zaoberať sa samozrejme bude aj rybárčením. „A,” hovorí John Havlicek, „rád by som videl, ako niektoré z tých ostrovov** vyzerajú v zimnom období.”

** Havlicek hovorí o ostrovoch štátu Massachusetts.


1. február
Celtics 16 výhier – 30 prehier

…Havlicek sa posunul na krídlo, kde nahradil nespoľahlivého Maxwella…

7. február
Indianapolis, Indiana
Celtics 18 výhier – 30 prehier

Dávam Havlicekovi malú fľašu domáceho šampanského.
„To máš na oslavu vášho prvého víťazstva vonku mimo hraníc okresu Milwaukee,” hovorím mu. „Nosil som to so sebou len dva týždne.”
Usmeje sa . . . a napchá si to do svojej cestovnej tašky.

…Cowens a Havlicek, ktorí bývajú v susediacich predmestských mestách…

13. február
Oakland, California
Celtics 18 výhier – 31 prehier

Havlicek, vo svojej funkcii ako Oficiálny uvítač, prešiel za Zaidom Abdulom-Azizom (rodeným Donaldom Smithom), aby s ním podal ruky.
„Nazdar Zaid . . . eh, Don . . . eh, Ziz,” hovorí mu. „Vitaj na palube.”

Po dvadsiatich štyroch rokoch sa Kapitán začína diviť, či ho basketbaloví bohovia znova nepreháňajú cez kolobeh minulosti. Prvý krát sa mu to prihodilo, keď bol druhák na strednej škole v Ohiu; nemali žiadnu domovskú telocvičnu a ich bilancia bola niečo ako 4-19, a frustrácie bolo tak veľa, že sa až rozplakal na palubovke.
Teraz, keďže boli odložené dva zápasy doma, budú mať Celtics na konci tohto nekonečného tripu v New Orleans odohraných jedenásť zápasov vonku za sebou a budú preč z Boston Garden po dobu jedného celého mesiaca. Proste SŠ Bridgeport odznova, negatívna bilancia a všetko to dohromady.

16. február
Celtics 20 výhier – 31 prehier

Nádherná krádež od starého Kapitána v posledných šiestich sekundách. Bola to proste len kontaktná obrana, nič viac, práve tá vec, ktorú John Havlicek používal proti svojmu starému kamošovi z Celtics Paulovi Westphalovi od začiatku zápasu.
„Hej, Havlicek ma držal,” sťažoval sa Westphal rozhodcovi Joeovi Gushueovi v jednom okamihu, „a prechádza mu to celý večer.”
Gushue pokrčil plecami. „Čo chceš, aby som s tým robil? Prechádzalo mu to celých šestnásť rokov.” Takže prečo by mu to nemalo prejsť ešte raz? Havlicek ukradol víťazstvo 98:95 a viac ako 12000 domácich fanúšikov odchádzalo z haly na parkovisko šomrajúc.
„Tu vo Phoenixe?” Cedric Maxwell sa divil, jeho oči naširoko. „Nuž, John je John, žijúca legenda.”
Niežeby išlo o nejaké okaté stiahnutie protihráča, skôr to bola vodiaca ruka, ktorá použila hybnosť centra Suns Alvana Adamsa proti nemu a priviedla celých jeho 206 centimetrov na Havliceka, čo rozhodcovia vyhodnotili ako útočný faul.
A keďže Celtics v tom čase viedli 96:95, a Phoenix vyhral v hale Coliseum šestnásť zápasov po sebe, mohli by ste povedať, že to bolo kontroverzné rozhodnutie. Adams tak urobil.
Sarkasticky sa čudoval, ako mohol tak zrazu stratiť balans . . . bez malej pomoci od priateľa. „Ako som teda celý spadol na jeho telo posledný meter a pol?” pýtal sa Adams rétoricky.
Možno s trochou pomoci od muža, ktorý sa počas šestnástich rokov naučil, že ruka môže byť rýchlejšia než oko . . . aj u súpera vonku. Na druhej strane haly Havlicek podával svoj vlastný pohľad s bezúhonným výrazom na tvári.
„Len som sa snažil zaujať pozíciu,” hovoril, „a držať nohy blízko pri tých jeho a ruky na ňom, aby keď Alvan nadobudol momentum, spadol na mňa. Takže začal padať, a ja som začal ťahať . . .” A tak spadli zamotaní do seba pri základnej čiare, rozhodca Tommy Nunez fúkol do píšťalky a signalizoval, nie, žiadne blokovanie. Prerážanie.

21. február
Celtics 20 výhier – 34 prehier

…Havlicek hral small forwarda v útoku and guarda v obrane…


4. marec
New York, štát New York
Celtics 23 výhier – 37 prehier

Bolo to v grafoch, ešte predtým, ako dnes ráno prišli sem. Kapitán vám o tom mohol povedať počas tohtotýždňového letu z New Orleans.
„Boli sme mimo rytmu, nemám pravdu?” pokýval hlavou dnes večer, po tom, ako boli Celtics porazení 99:91 v posledných siedmich minútach v Madison Square Garden. Tlačové zbory z Gothamu, zvyknuté na viac konvenčné analýzy prehier, bzučali v rozpakoch.
„Zlý biorytmus,” pokračoval Havlicek. „Fyzicky sme boli v klesajúcom cykle . . . a nepadalo nám to do obruče. Čo viac môžem povedať?”
Mohli by ste viniť rozhodcov Jacka Maddena a Mela Whitwortha za ich krátkozrakosť, tak ako to bolo po zápase populárne v bostonskej šatni. Alebo ste sa mohli pozrieť na rytmy, ktoré Havlicek študuje od vtedy, čo mu niekto dal kalkulačku.
Pred piatňajším letom do Loganu* ju vytiahol v tímovom autobuse a rýchlo všetkým vypočítal ich rytmy – fyzické, intelektuálne, emocionálne – na víkend. Ak ste mu dali váš dátum narodenia a ten vašej manželky alebo frajerky, vedel urobiť plnú analýzu vášho vzťahu.
Niekde nad Severnou Karolínou sa o tom dopočuli stevardky z Delty a prišli na výklad. Havlicek získava dátum narodenia, stláča tlačidlá a o chvíľu zdvíha obočie.
„Vy a váš priateľ, vychádzate spolu dobre fyzicky?” pýta sa jednej ženy, ako keby bol lekár. Tá sa začervená, zatiaľ čo jej kolegyne sa chichocú. „Myslím, že ani tak celkom nie.”
„Nemyslel som si to,” hovorí Havlicek vážne. „Ale máte len štvorpercentnú kompatibilitu.” Tom Boswell, sediaci krížom cez uličku, nemôže uveriť tomu, aký potenciál majú tieto pravdivé spovede.
„’Cek,” hovorí. „Kde si si zaobstaral tie prístroje? Paráda.”

* Letisko vo východnej časti Bostonu.

16. marec
Cleveland, Ohio
Celtics 25 výhier – 40 prehier

„Myslím, že naozaj potrebujeme pomoc,” pripustil konečne Havlicek, po tom, čo preskúmal každý dostupný oblak, ale nenašiel ani kúsok dúhy. „V jednom bode som si myslel, že skutočne nebudeme potrebovať žiadnu, ale teraz . . .”

19. marec
Celtics 28 výhier – 40 prehier

Najlepší výkon roka v podaní Celtics, rozdrvenie Denveru výsledkom 122:95.

Prím hrali 37-ročný John Havlicek a 34-ročný Dave Bing, dvojica rozohrávačov zo zlatej éry. V troch zápasoch z možných 288 minút na rozohrávačských postoch odohrali 230; pauzu mali len počas oddychových časov: dali si poriadny dúšok vody, trochu sa vydýchali a potom sa vrátili späť na ihrisko bojovať proti mladším nohám.

…Havlicek nastrieľal 27 bodov za tridsaťosem minút na ihrisku…

Havlicek by hral celých štyridsaťosem minút, ak by ste ho nechali. Jeho telo fungovalo efektívnejšie pri väčšej záťaži, myslel si.

27. marec
Tillamook, Oregon
Celtics 29 výhier – 43 prehier

„Chceš chytať pstruhy*?” spýtal sa Kapitán, skôr než sme vôbec odišli z Bostonu. „Naposledy som v Oregone stretol chlapíka, ktorý povedal, že nás zoberie. Mám mu zavolať.”

* Steelhead = pstruh oceľový (pstruh americký).

Havlicek hovorí: „Ten chlapík – volá sa Bob Zwand – nás vyzdvihne na letisku, hneď ako vystúpime z lietadla zo Seattle. Má kompletnú výstroj. Zoberieme so sebou Birda** a pôjdeme priamo na chatu.”

** Prezývka Kevina Stacoma.

Pred polnocou sme vo Wilson Hiltone, útulnom drevenom dome na úpätí hrádze, naokolo ktorej sa rysujú kopce. Všetko, čo by ste potrebovali, je tu – poschodové lôžka, kachle na drevo, kúpeľňa a prívetiví spoločníci na rybačku. Jim a Dave Farleyovci, bratia, budú našimi prievozníkmi. A Dale Ott bude komický filozof.
O šiestej ráno dávame výstroj do truckov, zatiaľ čo všade sa dvíha hmla. Vzduch je studený a jediným zvukom je rieka valiaca sa tridsať metrov odtiaľto. Je to fakt surrealistické.

Neskôr máme výdatné vidiecke raňajky – vajíčka, toasty, klobásy, opekané zemiačky, kávu, džús – v zariadení Big Cheese Grill.

O ôsmej sme na rieke Wilson; predtým sme vyložili člny a skĺzli ich po blatistom brehu na piesok. Stromy – stromy sú tu všade – sú stále zahalené hmlou. Vzduch je svieži a čistý, voda sa trblieta. Švajčiarsko, pomyslím si. Niet divu, že miestni každému hovoria, že tu stále prší. Nechcú, aby tu prišli masy a ničili prírodu. NEKALIFORNIKUJTE OREGON, hlásali nálepky na nárazníkoch.
Wilson je úzky, na niektorých miestach hlboký, ale na iných ležia tesne pod hladinou balvany, ktoré môžu spraviť dieru na dne člna.

Ako sa plavíme dolu prúdom, zdá sa nám, že čas sa pozastavil. Môžete sa tu plaviť dve hodiny bez toho, aby ste videli ďalšieho rybára alebo počuli niečo iné ako vrčanie navijaku, zurčanie vody a vzdialené kvílenie truckových pneumatík na asfalte.

Je poludnie a nikto sa ešte ani len nepriblížil k nejakému pstruhovi. Pozerajúc sa hore prúdom vidíme Havliceka a Otta ako stoja, hádžu udice, navíjajú, znova ich hádžu. Nič.

Zimná migrácia skončila už takmer pred mesiacom, ale Celtics sa tu skôr dostať nemohli.

Ako sa blíži čas večere, ostáva nám už len približne jedna míľa rieky na rybárčenie.

Havlicekovi to, zdá sa, nevadí. Zriedkakedy som ho videl vo väčšej pohode, naozaj. Miluje prírodu a všetko, čo sa týka rybárčenia, a medzi sezónami sú preňho ako únik z reality. Minulé leto chytali so Stacomom ryby v Maine. „Ľúbilo by sa ti to,” povedal mi. „Jedli sme všetko, na čo sme dostali chuť.”
A taktiež si vyrazil do Montany, spolu s koučom univerzity Indiana Bobbym Knightom, bývalým spoluhráčom z výšky, a s niekoľkými ďalšími kamarátmi. Vybrali sa tak ďaleko, ako sa len dalo, s koňmi, panvicami na vyprážanie pstruhov a vysokými rybárskymi čižmami. Aby ste si ráno umyli tvár, museli ste rozbiť ľad na vodnej nádrži. „Skrátka sme si zbalili nejaké veci,” vravel s rozširujúcim sa spokojným úsmevom Havlicek, „a užívali si tam relax.”
Tento dnešný deň voľna si vypýtal od kouča Toma Sandersa pred dvoma mesiacmi, najmä kvôli tej príjemnej izolácii v prírode. Každý chytený pstruh by bol bonus.

Vraciame sa späť do Portlandu a do ďalšieho Hiltonu. Nasledujúci večer, v hale Memorial Coliseum, sa Blazers rozlúčia s Kapitánom; medzi ich darčekmi bude okrem iného aj grafitová udica.
„Šli sme hľadať ryby,” povie Havlicek divákom, „a obišli sme naprázdno. Takže ste mi niečo dlžní.”


9. apríl
Celtics 31 výhier – 50 prehier

Vypožičal si smoking – sako, košeľu, manžetové gombíky, šerpu okolo pása, čiernu viazanku, proste všetko –, pretože si myslel, že rozlúčiť sa s kariérou po šestnástich rokoch by sa mal hráč v takomto oblečení.
„Špeciálny deň,” hovorí John Havlicek, tesne pred poludním, „a na špeciálne príležitosti by ste na sebe mali mať špeciálne oblečenie.”
Bol toho názoru, že na váš posledný deň by ste mali doraziť na pracovisko zavčasu, oblečení vo formálnom odeve a zavesiť každý kus oblečenia na osobitný vešiak. Dres a trenky by ste si mali obliekať pomaly a uistiť sa, či sú šnúrky na teniskách narovno. Mali by ste mať napísaný a nacvičený váš prejav a potriasť si rukou s každým od majiteľa po policajta pri dverách.
A potom by ste sa mali hlboko nadýchnuť a snažiť sa, aby sa to na vás celé nezrútilo. Pod kontrolou ste mohli mať iba určitú časť. Havlicek vedel o darčekoch. Odvtedy, čo v januári urobil to vyhlásenie, v každom meste pri zápase vonku zorganizoval domáci tím na jeho počesť polčasovú slávnosť. V Oaklande dostal sponu na peniaze z čistého zlata, v Seattle prívesný motor, od Denveru Nuggets dovolenku v rezorte. A vo Philadelphii na neho naložili horu lokálnych vecí, všetko od sekanej z mäsa a zeleniny po Zvon slobody, dokopy sedemnásť položiek. Späť do Bostonu sme ich odniesli polnočným lietadlom; torty a hokejky sme strčili pod sedadlá. Päťkilová kóšer saláma skončila u Toma Sandersa, ktorý ju vliekol za sebou, keď sme kráčali dolu chodbou.
Dnes Celtics nahromadili darčeky v strede ihriska, niečo od každého mysliteľného obchodníka od North Endu po Freeport v štáte Maine, a požičali pre Havliceka truck z požičovne, aby si ich mohol na ňom zobrať domov.
A vo vestibule haly člen bezpečnostnej služby dohliadal na 50000-dolárový mobilný dom, objednaný na zákazku klubom. Havlicek o ňom sníval odvtedy, čo ho poznám. „Pamätáš si, keď sme šli na tú výstavu rekreačných vozidiel v Seattle?” vravel mi. „No a . . .”
Ak ste boli aspoň raz v hale, keď klub organizoval jeden z týchto „dňov” pre hráčov Celtics končiacich kariéru, museli ste sa nad tým usmievať. Hráč zvyčajne dostal cadillac, ale dohoda bola taká, že musel odovzdať svoje vlastné auto. Za plne vybavený obytný voz, žartovalo sa, bude musieť Havlicek predať svoju dušu.
Malo to tak trochu kráľovskú auru, ale aj Havlicek prišiel s darčekmi. Minulý večer daroval každému spojenému s klubom, od sekretárok po členov partie štatistikov, špeciálne dizajnované pracky na opasok s logom Celtics a jeho číslom.
A pre ľudí, s ktorými cestoval a delil sa o letiskové raňajky a jazdy autobusmi, mal vyrezávané zlaté vreckové hodinky. Vnútri stálo: ČAS PRE KAMARÁTA. JOHN.
Pred dnešným večerom myslel na všetko – na všetko sa dalo pripraviť okrem haly a divákov v nej. Keď zamieril ku košu kvôli svojmu dvojlayupovému fetišu (vždy trafil dve strely z pod koša hneď po tom, čo bol odpískaný koniec predzápasovej rozcvičky – bola to tradícia Celtics, ktorú zdedil), dostal Havlicek od fanúšikov ovácie, ktoré ho prekvapili. „Nevedel som, že na to čakajú,” pomyslel si.
A keď ho hlásateľ predstavil, Havlicek vyšiel do stredu ihriska a dvakrát sa hlboko poklonil. V tom momente všetok hluk padal na neho. Boston Garden bola vypredaná dva týždne vopred a všade viseli zeleno-biele transparenty. Na jednom stálo: „The Buckeye Stops Here.”*

* Buckeye (pagaštan konský) je prezývka obyvateľov štátu Ohio a taktiež športových tímov univerzity Ohio State. „The Buckeye stops here” by sa dalo preložiť ako „Buckeye tu končí”.

Potom sa Havlicek s chvejúcimi sa perami a so slzami na krajíčku rozbehol k postrannej čiare, nad hlavou mávajúc rukou v kruhu.
„Poďme už,” zakričal na spoluhráčov, zatiaľ čo sa rev divákov stupňoval, chvíľu vrcholil a potom sa opäť začal zvyšovať. Tento hrmot pokračoval celých osem minút, ozdobený rytmickým skandovaním HON-do, HON-do, HON-do.
Nedalo sa robiť nič, len počkať, kým to skončí. K aplauzu sa pripojili aj hráči Celtics. Dave Cowens, ktorý daroval Havlicekovi od hráčov kuchynskú sadu spoločnosti Cuisinart, sedel sám na lavičke, hľadiac uprene pred seba a pískajúc dvoma prstami.
A potom Havlicek zobral svoj tím na palubovku naposledy. Predtým sme sa rozprávali o tom, ako chcel odohrať tento posledný zápas proti Buffalu. Odohraj celých štyridsaťosem minút, povedal som mu. A posledný kôš musí byť smeč, rovnako ako tvoj prvý kôš v 1962. Havlicek sa zaškeril. Malo to istú symetriu.
„Budem robiť všetko trochu pomalšie,” mienil, „aby som si to potom pamätal.” Tom Sanders postavil Havliceka do backcourtu s Daveom Bingom; rýchlo zariadil prihrávky na štyri koše, ale žiadny vlastný mu tam nepadal. Minul strelu z odskoku z vrcholu oblúka nad čiarou trestného hodu. Potom sa jeho strela z výskoku po zadnej obrátke odrazila od obruče. Ďalšia bola čiastočne zblokovaná.
„Dnes hádžem kopu tehiel,” povedal cez jeden oddychový čas.
„Si nervózny?” bol som zvedavý.
„Nie,” pokýval hlavou. „Silu mám. V tom problém nie je.”
Štyridsaťštyri sekúnd pred koncom štvrtiny to konečne prišlo: Kermit Washington mu poslal prihrávku a Havlicek sa prešmykol cez vymedzené územie a presne zakončil. Fanúšikovia zaburácali.
Dva ďalšie koše prišli v druhej štvrtine, ale Havlicek teraz dostával naložené. Po jednej rane od obrancu pod košom mu na moment stŕpla ruka. Lakeť Larryho McNeilla mu prerezal peru. A pred polčasom na neho odpískali tri fauly. Sanders ho musel na tri minúty posadiť na lavičku.
Havlicek dal svoj polčasový prejav cez napuchnuté pery, snažiac sa, aby sa nezrútil. „Veľa hlbokých nádychov,” povedal. „To bol jediný spôsob.” Poďakoval Redovi Auerbachovi, že ho draftoval, jeho rodine – Beth, Chrisovi, Jill a jeho matke – za podporu a fanúšikom za to, že za nám stáli.
„Dodali ste mi veľa vzrušení,” povedal im. „Najviac si budem pamätať vás, ľudí na tribúnach, a tie visiace zástavy nado mnou. Čo viac môžem povedať? Ďakujem ti, Boston, milujem ťa.”
Potom odišiel k postrannej čiare, zatiaľ čo mužstvá vychádzali zo šatní na druhý polčas. „OK,” povedal John Havlicek spoluhráčom. „Poďme ich sfúknuť.”
Boston mal zápas takmer v suchu. Celtics šli do šatne s dvanásťbodovým vedením a v druhom polčase náskok zvýšili, kedy sa im zachcelo. Jedinou otázkou bol teraz smeč. Podarí sa mu prekĺznuť za obranu a zasmečovať?
„Budem ho hľadať,” zaprisahal sa Ernie DiGregorio ešte v prvej štvrtine. „Tomu sakra verte! Budem ho hľadať prihrávkou v každom útoku. Sledujte.”
Sanders ho poslal do zápasu dve minúty pred koncom, a posunul Havliceka na post forwarda. „Bol by som rád, keby som mohol improvizovať,” povedal mu Havlicek.
A tak ho DiGregorio hľadal . . . a posledné dve minúty boli magické: 15000 kričiacich a dupajúcich ľudí a Havlicek behajúci ako šialenec.
„Posledné dve minúty ma nechaj hrať,” povedal Sandersovi. „Lebo na konci chcem byť na palubovke. ”
Zostávalo už len minútu a deväť sekúnd, keď sa DiGregoriovi konečne podarilo doručiť loptu Havlicekovi, ktorý zakončil donáškou po nájazde. Na smeč tam nebol priestor – Poodles Willoughby, podpriemerný hráč, ktorý sa ešte ničím konkrétnym nevyznamenal, nechcel, aby sa skrz neho niekto zapísal do histórie.
O jedenásť sekúnd neskôr ho DiGregorio našiel znova . . . a znova sa musel Havlicek uspokojiť iba s donáškou o dosku po podbehu koša. Štyridsaťjeden sekúnd pred koncom mal Havlicek ďalšiu šancu, ale jeho strela sa odrazila od obruče a po doskoku musel vystreliť z vymedzeného územia. Pri jeho poslednej skutočnej príležitosti o dvanásť sekúnd neskôr ho faulovali a Havlicek premenil jeden trestný hod, jeho 26395. kariérny bod v jeho 1270. zápase.
„Snažil som sa uniknúť a zasmečovať,” hovoril po zápase, „ale proste sa mi to nepodarilo. No o ten smeč by som sa pokúsil, ver mi. Po tom všetkom, čo som netriafal (dnes poobede premenil z poľa 11 z 33 pokusov), som usúdil, že najlepšie bude skúšať strieľať ďalej. Ukázať všetko, čo som kedy vedel. U nás doma mám kôš na dvore, vysoký okolo 215 centimetrov, pre syna. Možno by som mal ísť domov a zasmečovať na ňom.”
Nakoniec – bolo pätnásť sekúnd do konca a Scott Lloyd z Buffala stál na čiare trestného hodu – dal Sanders pokyn Bingovi.
„John, chcem ťa vystriedať,” povedal Sanders už skôr, ale Havlicek potriasol hlavou. „Moju kariéru som začal v behu a chcem ju aj ukončiť v behu.”
Ale teraz, usúdil Sanders, bol na to vhodný čas. Bing, ktorý sa celý rok v šatni prezliekal vedľa Havliceka, vbehol na ihrisko a objal ho. Rovnako tak urobil aj Don Chaney, ktorý strávil s Havlicekom v Bostone takmer osem sezón a podieľal sa s ním na dvoch majstrovských tituloch.
Havlicek potom odkráčal k lavičke, zdvihol ruky smerom k fanúšikom, posadil sa . . . a vzlykal, hľadiac na časomieru, s uterákom okolo krku. Jeho tvár bola skrútená, spodná pera sa mu chvela. Skončilo to 131:114 a ihneď potom ho hnali – všade dookola boli policajti – na masovú tlačovú konferenciu, kde mohol prísť v podstate hocikto. Tam dal svoj posledný rozhovor, so zakrvavenou gázou napchatou v ústach.
Čakal na neho telegram. Stálo v ňom: HAVLICEK. HONDO SA POZERÁ. GRATULÁCIA, JOHN WAYNE.
„Možno mu zavolám,” povedal Havlicek. „Bol veľkou súčasťou môjho života. Nikdy som ho síce nestretol, ale nosil som jeho meno dobrú časť môjho života.”*

* Mimochodom, J. Wayne zomrel v júni 1979.

Dlho potom, čo sa na ten film zabudne, si ľudia budú pamätať tú prezývku. Havlicek povedal, že skoršie v roku pozeral televíznu koláž svojich najlepších momentov, a jeho rodina sa zhromaždila okolo neho. „Chrisovi a mojej manželke sa zaslzili oči,” hovoril, „a Chris potom šiel po schodoch hore. Jill šla neskôr hore za ním, a keď prišla dolu, povedala, že ešte stále tam plače. Šiel som teda hore ja a Chris mal na podlahe rozložené všetky fotografie, na ktorých nás spolu odfotili, a na niektorých som bol ja ako dieťa. A on na ne uprene civel a vzlykal pri tom.”
Celtics pre neho prichystali pozápasovú párty na jednej z bostonských diskoték – malo na ňu prísť iba osemsto jeho najbližších priateľov. Ale Havlicek sa chcel aspoň na chvíľu zastaviť a vychutnať si to. Dlho potom, čo sa dav vypratal zo šatne, bol stále v svojom drese a trenkách; rozprával sa s tými, čo sa ešte zdržali dnu, a spomínal. Rozpamätal sa na prvý zápas, ktorý videl v Bostone, na playoff sériu s Philadelphiou, keď sa Wilt Chamberlain rozbehol po Samovi Jonesovi a Jones, celý vydesený, zdvihol v obrane stoličku fotografa. Prvé jedlo v Bostone jedol v jedálni Hayes-Bickford cez ulicu. A v jeho prvý deň ako hráč Celtics prišiel k nemu Frank Ramsey, aby ho privítal. Havlicek povedal, že si to zapamätal a v neskorších rokoch sa sám vždy snažil zájsť za nováčikmi.
Nakoniec prišiel k Havlicekovi Walter Randall, správca klubovne. Bolo 17:30, takmer dve hodiny po záverečnom klaksóne. „Hej John, vypni svetlá, keď pôjdeš, prosím ťa,” zamrmlal. Havlicek kývol hlavou. A po tom, čo sa osprchoval, poskladal dres a upratal si okolo svojej skrinky – všetko napchal do kartónovej krabice, spolu s jeho poslednými štatistikami (41 odohraných minút, 29 bodov, 9 asistencií, typická Havlicekovská produktivita), pomaly sa obliekol do smokingu, zapínajúc si gombíky pekne jeden po druhom.
Potom sa uistil, že okná sú zatvorené a svetlá vypnuté a zamieril k dverám. Odrazu sa však zastavil a zalovil vo vreckách na saku. Vytiahol svoj prsteň šampióna. „Vedel som, že tu niekde jeden mám,” zamrmlal.
A potom, s objemnou krabicou pod pazuchou, John Havlicek zamkol dvere jednej éry na Causeway Street*.

* Ulica, na ktorej bola hala Boston Garden (domáca aréna Celtics v rokoch 1946 až 1995).


-Epilóg: Leto 1978-

Na začiatku júla šiel Auerbach na Manhattan a Knicks mu tam urobili ponuku. Reorganizujeme a ty budeš prezidentom. Štvorročná zmluva s najväčším platom v histórii ponúknutým funkcionárovi v NBA. Auerbach sa vrátil do Bostonu, jeho myseľ rozhodnutá. Rozhodol sa odísť.

Potom mu jedného dňa zazvonil telefón a na druhej strane bol Havlicek. Ak tu nezostaneš, Kapitán mu povedal, Celtics môžu zabudnúť na vyradenie môjho čísla.
„Bolo to celé tak sakramentsky lichotivé,” povedal mi Auerbach.

…a tak sa Auerbach vrátil na Manhattan na posledný rozhovor…

…rozprával sa s novým majiteľom Celtics Johnom Y. Brownom, povedal mi Auerbach, a dohodli sa, že to bude partnerstvo…

…a tak Celtics ohlásili viacročný kontrakt, zatiaľ čo Auerbach sa škeril a mával cigarou a nešetril anekdotami pre kamery a zápisníky. Ľudia v Bostone ma dostali, povedal. Bolo to „neuveriteľné v histórii športu”, že generálny manažér meniaci zamestnanie spôsobil taký veľký rozruch…



John Havlicek Collection


The Green Running Machine

by John Underwood
October 28, 1974

When John Havlicek was a rookie Boston Celtic, one of the most important second-string players on the Boston team was Jim Loscutoff, the National Basketball Association equivalent of a middle linebacker. Loscutoff was sometimes called “The Enforcer.” In the first scrimmage of that 1962 training camp at Babson Institute in Wellesley, Loscutoff introduced Havlicek to the realities of a noncontact sport. The more noncontact Havlicek had with Loscutoff, the closer he figured he was coming to the emergency ward at Massachusetts General. Loscutoff outweighed him by 25 pounds, and was not disposed to coddle. The shoe rubber, Havlicek recalls, was screeching on every play.

Rookie Havlicek responded to this intimidation by running. He ran veteran Loscutoff into the floor, as surely as if he were a 10-penny nail. It is a style peculiar to Havlicek and, since it requires the physiology of an Arabian saddle horse, impossible to imitate. Havlicek runs and runs (scoring, rebounding, defending tenaciously, making key passes, setting up plays), and when his opponent begins to go under, he runs some more.

“Hey, you’re crazy,” panted Loscutoff as they lined up during a free-throw lull. “Nobody runs like that. Slow down.”

Havlicek explained that he was not an unreasonable man, and that if he was making Loscutoff look bad, he had a solution.

“Quit pushing me around,” he said, “and I’ll quit running so hard.” The compromise at least saved Loscutoff from an early swoon, but it has not saved the rest of the NBA from Havlicek in these intervening 12 years. Red Auerbach, then the Boston coach and now its president and general manager, remembers that first scrimmage, and having thought, “Oh, have I got something here. Are they going to think I’m smart!”

Smart Red had drafted Havlicek off the Ohio State campus at a time when his Celtic team was a philharmonic of Cousys, Heinsohns, Russells and Joneses. Eventually Red relinquished the baton to Russell, and the blend was altered to include Sanders, Nelson and Howell. Then Russell, too, turned it over, this time to Heinsohn, and the empty chairs were filled by a brassier medley of Cowens, Chaney and Jo Jo White. And always the insatiable Celtics won—well, seven out of 12 NBA championships is almost always—and always there was Havlicek.

Then at an age (34) when he was at last showing some faint signs of breaking into a sweat, Havlicek emerged last winter into total light as the physical, spiritual and appointed leader of the Celtics in their seven-game championship decision over the Milwaukee Bucks. Havlicek was named Most Valuable Player in the series.

The vote was academic. A case could have been made that Havlicek was more like Most Valuable in the Game Today. Or the Best Athlete the NBA has ever had—which would rank him right up there universally because few other sports demand anywhere near as much of an athlete as pro basketball.

Pshaw, you say. How can that be? How can such things be said of a guy who doesn’t shoot as well as the best, isn’t strong enough to smother a backboard, doesn’t have breathtaking speed, can’t dribble behind his back and isn’t 7 feet tall? How can that be as long as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is alive and living on the basket rim?

There is no arguing Abdul-Jabbar’s preeminence. Basketball is a game divided between centers and other fellows, and the best big man will get the franchise owner’s vote. The best centers are called “dominant forces.” Abdul-Jabbar, as the reigning dominant force, follows the skyline of George Mikan, Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. But inevitably he will make way for another. Already there are pretenders: a redhead named Walton in Portland and an adolescent named Moses in Utah. It is only a matter of time.

But it is altogether unlikely that you will ever see another Havlicek. The dimension John Havlicek has brought to basketball is entirely and uniquely his own, and it will probably go with him once he finally winds down. At that time Geoff Petrie of the Portland Trail Blazers would like to have them “take his body apart and see what’s in it.”

The record books are not conclusive on the subject of Havlicek: 20,814 career points represent an alltime Celtic high, but a lot of guys can put a ball in a basket. Furthermore, Havlicek does not fit any of the grooves: he plays two positions—forward and guard—not just one. Sometimes he plays them alternately during a game, sometimes interchangeably as a fill-in, though it has been a while since he was known as the Celtics’ “sixth man.”

The 6’5″ Havlicek is what is known in the NBA as a “tweener,” an in-between-size player, usually too slow for guard and too small for forward, ff you have basketball in mind, a tweener is not what you want to grow up to be. Havlicek has managed to breach the definition. His play is fast enough for the guards, big enough for the forwards.

“He is the best all-around player I ever saw,” says Bill Russell simply. As a forward “he may be the best in the league right now,” says Bill Sharman, the Lakers’ coach. “The toughest in the league to cover,” says Bullet Forward Mike Riordan. As a guard, says Jon McGlocklin of the Bucks, “he’s right on your shirt whether you’re five feet from the basket or 20. He’s harder to get shots on than anybody.” “He plays bigger than 6’5″,” says Jerry West, late of the Lakers. (“Right,” says Havlicek. “I’m actually 6’51”. I think I’m still growing.”) “A road runner,” says Laker General Manager Pete Newell, “taking you through every ditch, every irrigation canal, barbed-wire fence and cattle guard. You’ve had a trip over the plains when you’ve played him for a night.”

There are a lot of fine shooters I around,” says Al Attles, the Warriors’ coach, “but when it gets right down to taking that big shot, the one that really means something, they’re off in a corner somewhere.” “He’ll not only take it,” says Sam Lacey of the Kings, “he wants it.”

If you gauged worth by pure skill, a veteran basketball observer believes, “Havlicek would not rate in the top five. But if you were playing for a million bucks, he’d be in the top two.” Jerry West, a less practical jurist, says: “Superstar is a bad word. In our league people look at players, watch them dribble between their legs, watch them make spectacular plays, and they say, ‘There’s a superstar.’ Well, John Havlicek is a superstar, and most of the others are figments of writers’ imaginations.”

It would be reassuring for those who become melted butter in his wake to believe that Havlicek is some kind of genetic fluke who grew into a large pair of lungs connected to a long pair of legbones, the whole held together by wire, rubber and whipcord. But in Havlicek’s case his particular style was charted by him as surely as if it were a sea voyage. The pivotal moment occurred during his sophomore year at Ohio State, when he was growing in the shadow of Jerry Lucas, just as he would later live in Bill Russell’s more encompassing one in Boston.

For the record, Havlicek was born in Martins Ferry in the athlete-rich Ohio Valley, raised on the West Virginia line in rural Lansing, Ohio (pop. 1,000) and schooled in nearby Bridgeport. He was the second son of an immigrant Czechoslovakian butcher, Frank Havlicek, who, until he died last year, never lost his accent and believed soccer was the only sport. While mother and father tended the Havlicek stores John became a prime item at Bridgeport High, his names—Yunch, Boola, Big John, Mr. Clean—on everyone’s lips. He never met a sport he didn’t like. In baseball he hit .440, and teammate Phil Niekro, now with the Atlanta Braves, says he would have been a cinch big-leaguer.

As a 6’3″, 180-pound quarterback, Havlicek was not only the class of the Bridgeport football team but also most of its size. He could throw a football 80 yards, but never had time to because his guards and tackles weighed 130 pounds. To compensate he got to be so good running the split-T option that twice in one game officials blew the ball dead because they couldn’t find it.

Of such stuff legends are made, of course, and responsible people enjoy nurturing them. Red Auerbach says he once asked John how far he could swim, having seen him knifing through a motel pool. Red says John replied, “I don’t know, it’s just like walking to me.” There are similar stories about Havlicek hefting a tennis racket for the first time and winning a class tournament at Ohio State, and about his picking up a foil and performing like Douglas Fairbanks. Havlicek laughs them off. Basketball was his best and true love, and he had no illusions about how he had to play it, even as a high-schooler. “It’s true I’m not a shooter,” he says, “not the way Sam Jones was or Jon McGlocklin. I never had their touch. I learned to score by taking advantage of every opening.” He found early on that when confronted with taller players he could “lean back and throw it up, then run get the rebound and put it in.” Sooner or later he always put it in. After Havlicek scored 28 of his team’s 31 points in one game, the rival coach told the Bridgeport coach he knew how to stop Havlicek. “Put three men on him man-to-man, and play the other two in a zone under the basket,” he said. “And every time he gets near the ball complain to the referees that they’re favoring him.”

Old-worlder Frank Havlicek rarely saw John play anything, never having gotten over soccer, but Mrs. Havlicek became a devotee. She harbored a mother’s qualms about John playing football, though the football scouts came after him in droves. She found a sympathetic ear in Fred Taylor, the Ohio State basketball coach. Taylor has never been overly fond of what he still calls “oblong ball.” “Mrs. Havlicek,” he told her, “if you don’t want John to play football, then he’ll play it over my dead body.”

Even that might have been arranged at Ohio State, because Woody Hayes himself wanted Havlicek. John told Hayes he didn’t think he could hack basketball, baseball, football and the books, too, and he had a mind to play basketball and baseball. “How do you know until you try?” replied Hayes.

But Woody finally relented, and he told Havlicek he was the kind of boy they wanted at Ohio State “even if you don’t play football. So come on, and I won’t bother you again.” And Hayes didn’t, says John. His assistant coaches did. For the next four years they scattered hints like rose petals every time John passed by. Hayes himself was just slightly more subtle. He would introduce Havlicek to his football recruits as “the best quarterback in the Big Ten who isn’t playing.”

The 1960 Ohio State basketball team was the NCAA champion, led primarily by sophomores—Jerry Lucas, Mel Nowell and John Havlicek. It was just before that season began that Havlicek came unilaterally to the conclusion that very likely made his career.

He walked into Coach Taylor’s office, as Taylor recalls, and respectfully informed him there was “only one basketball, and you’ve got plenty of guys who can shoot it. I’m going to make this team on the other end of the floor.”

“At the time,” says Taylor, “we were trying to sell our kids on defense. Defense is hard to sell, but here was John literally jumping at the chance. I never saw anything like it. And of course I never saw anything like John. By midseason I was usually assigning him to the opposition’s best player automatically, whether it was a frontcourt man or a backcourt man.”

In his three years, during which Ohio State won one NCAA championship and lost two in the finals, Havlicek drew them all: Lenny Chappel of Wake Forest, Terry Dischinger of Purdue, Cotton Nash of Kentucky. “We even put him on a couple of centers,” says Taylor. “He’d get upset if he didn’t think he was guarding the best.”

And Havlicek himself made a discovery: “I knew from the first time I played this game that the toughest guy to score on was the guy who kept after me all the time, nose-to-nose, basket-to-basket. The opposite is also true. The toughest guy to defend against is the guy who keeps running. Who never lets up. Never lets you relax. Who sneaks one in on you the first time you drag your feet. I never worried about the physical part, killing myself running or anything like that. I read once where a doctor said you’d pass out before you did any real damage. I never passed out.”

Dervishes are an ascetic order, and so are stoics, and Havlicek is one of those, too. Shy, self-disciplining (he punishes himself for athletic failures by running great distances or denying himself Cokes), a noncomplainer. He played hurt, and still does. In a 1973 semifinal series with the Knicks he played three games with a partially separated shoulder, his right arm virtually useless at his side. Against Los Angeles in the 1969 finals he played with an eye swollen shut by an accidental gouging. “I don’t think you should mind a little pain if you’re paid to play,” he says.

In that 1960 NCAA championship he played with a severely cut middle finger on his right (shooting) hand. Taylor remembers a time when John’s knee was in such pain from strained ligaments that he finally consented to try an elaborate homemade brace the trainer called an “octopus.” When Havlicek appeared on the practice floor his teammates whooped at the contraption, and John retreated to the training room. “I can’t wear this thing,” he said. “Take it off. It’s embarrassing.”

Havlicek was also quietly self-effacing about scoring, and Taylor finally suggested that John might want to take a shot himself now and then. He had been averaging no more than six or eight points a game. There followed a game in which Havlicek led the Buckeyes in scoring. When an astonished teammate asked what had gotten into him, Havlicek said, “Coach told me to.” In his All-America senior year Havlicek led Ohio State in scoring seven times. He was voted team captain on all ballots but his own, which he cast for Lucas.

Having played no football at Ohio State, Havlicek was nonetheless drafted by Paul Brown of the Cleveland Browns in the seventh round of 1962. In all, five NFL clubs sent him feeler letters.

Havlicek was drafted by the Celtics, too, in the NBA’s first round, but in those days basketball owners were throwing dollar bills around as if they were hatch-covers. The Celtics’ original offer was $9,500, with no bonus—”your bonus will be the playoff money,” Havlicek was told. Unbeknownst to Havlicek, Taylor called Celtic Owner Walter Brown to plead for a better deal. “You college coaches are all alike,” said Brown, “always thinking your player is worth more.” “Mr. Brown,” replied Taylor, “the NBA never had a player worth more than this one.”

The offer was raised to $15,000, which equaled that from the Browns, except that the Browns agreed to throw in an Impala convertible. Not having satisfied an itch to try football at a level where the tackles weighed more than 130 pounds, Havlicek gathered up the keys to the convertible and reported to the Cleveland camp.

“On the first day, at the first meal, I loaded up my tray and took a seat by myself,” he says. “I wasn’t planning on doing much talking anyway, and I’d heard about the things they did to rookies in the NFL. Suddenly I began to hear these barking and growling noises, like they were maybe directed at me. But when I looked up there was this guy with two T-bone steaks on his plate. He was eating them raw. I thought, ‘Boy, this football is going to be tough.’ “

As a 6’5″, 205-pound wide receiver, Havlicek was called “The Spear” by the Browns. He ran the 40-yard sprints in 4.6 seconds and, he says, “caught the ball as well as anyone in camp, but the team was loaded with fine receivers—Gary Collins, Bobby Crespino, Ray Renfro. And there was a lot I didn’t know about blocking.”

Against the Steelers in the second exhibition, at Municipal Stadium, Brown sent Havlicek in. “The crowd gave me a big hand,” he says. “They were curious to see if a basketball player could play football. Somehow I made my block, on the cornerback, I think. A perfect block. Jim Brown ran a sweep 48 yards to the Pittsburgh two.

“Somebody in the huddle said, ‘O.K., Spear, do it again.’ I was feeling pretty good. This time it was an off-tackle play. I lined up looking into the face of Big Daddy Lipscomb. When they peeled everybody off the pile I was the bottom, my shoulder pads twisted around and the part of my helmet that was supposed to be over my ear was jammed against my nose. I said to myself, ‘Boy, this football is tough.’ “

Havlicek was the last receiver to be cut by Brown. “I liked Brown,” says Havlicek, “the way he ran things, the way everything was so precise. My kind of coach. He was very nice about it when he let me go. He seemed to know I had something to go to.”

Red Auerbach once said, “John Havlicek is what I always thought a Celtic should be.” A rival player, Jim Washington of the Hawks, perceives a more spiritual relationship. John Havlicek, says Washington, is what the Celtics have become. “They are one and the same,” says Washington. “He gives them leadership and inspiration, and their style of play is his style. It is a rare, beautiful thing.”

Late this summer, before the Celtics opened their training camp, Havlicek was back in Ohio. Early one sunny afternoon, he turned his Jeep Wagoneer out of the drive of the four-bedroom maple-shaded brick house in Wellington Woods, a suburb of Columbus, and headed out for some errand-hopping prior to an afternoon golfing date and an evening banquet to be held in his honor in downtown Columbus. “Actually,” he said, “it’s for the Children’s Hospital. I’m just a reason to get people there.” The Jeep had been the automobile of his choice for winning the MVP award. Its mates in the Havlicek garage were a bottle-green Cadillac convertible, an Audi and a Honda Trail 70 that had only 29 miles on it because all he uses it for is to take mini-rides around the neighborhood with his 4-year-old son Chris snuggled against his chest.

“I identify with the Jeep,” said Havlicek, turning into Olentangy Road. “You know, I could do this every day the rest of my life—play golf, fish, play tennis. Loaf around in these.” He pulled at the striped beach shirt he was wearing with the faded jeans and a scuffed pair of Adidas sneakers without socks. His hair was longer than it used to be, a concession to style, he said, and to his wife’s wishes.

He said it had not been that difficult to adjust his son-of-a-butcher’s tastes to his conspicuous success (his salary alone, as the highest-paid Celtic, is $200,000-plus). “We do not try to run up a lot of material things,” he said. The Havlicek homes in Ohio and in suburban Melrose outside Boston are tidy and attractive, but not pretentious; no swimming pools, no fancy rec rooms. Beth Havlicek, his college sweetheart, is a pretty girl with cornsilk hair and startling blue eyes. She has kept her cheerleader’s figure through two pregnancies (they have Chris and a daughter, Jill, who is one year old) by engaging John in a continuous round of shared activities. Beth took up tennis and golf for him, John took up skiing and horseback riding for her.

Havlicek made a grocery stop, then drove past the International Manufacturing and Marketing Corporation, a small but growing ($1 million assets) manufacturer’s rep of which John is vice-president. Under its aegis there is an expanding Havlicek line of sporting goods—five signatured items to date and, coming soon, a John Havlicek basketball game that is played like darts and will retail for $15. The president of IMM wants John to quit playing basketball and run the business full time. John said he told him that as long as he was in the shape he’s in he’d forgo the opportunity for a full-time desk job.

He patted his unabundant stomach. “I’m down to 193 now, but it’s not unusual,” he said. “I always lose in the off-season. I don’t go for sweets, and I don’t drink much, and in the off-season I run around so much that I don’t pay much attention to eating. Once we go to camp I’ll go to four meals a day, meat and potatoes, and be up to 205 in no time.”

He said he could remember that first Celtic camp as if it were yesterday. “I was absorbed right away. There was no trial period, no feeling out. Red never took a lot of guys to camp, and the old Celtics knew what to expect. All Red did was motivate ‘em. They’d all been champions either in college or as pros, and they never thought they should ever lose a game.

“The first year, Frank Ramsey and I divided playing time. Ramsey was near retirement, but he was still great. We were close. That’s when I first got to be called the ‘sixth man,’ Red said, ‘It doesn’t matter who starts, it’s who finishes.’ I wanted to finish. I’ve always taken pride in the ability to play guard and forward. No one else has really done it. Ordinarily a sixth man can handle the offense at either position, but the defense gets him. A guard can’t always pin a good forward in the corner, a forward can’t stay with a guard up and down court. My defensive background made it easier.

“To Red the idea of a team having character was as important as anything else. He was gruff and tough, but he transmitted something. The Celtics have always had a unity, a feeling for each other. On my first day in Boston, Bill Russell took me all over town to help me find a stereo. The biggest name in basketball. And I was a rookie. There were no factions, no personality conflicts that lasted very long, no black and white problems. There was no scuttlebutt, no rumors. It must have been rough on the Boston writers.

When Russell left as coach, I went from being the youth of the Celtics to the old man. K.C. Jones was gone…Sam…the next year, Bailey Howell. Nelson, Satch Sanders and I were the only vets left. People said, ‘Are these the Celtics?’ For a long while I didn’t think so. A lot of young players today don’t want to learn fundamentals, they don’t want to feed, block out, learn the plays. They have so much physical ability they try to take shortcuts. Well, I don’t want to be on a team that is fundamentally unsound. And that’s the way we seemed to be heading.

“In one game we set up two out-of-bound plays, actually called time-out to set them up. On the first one, the in-bounds pass was thrown to the wrong man. On the second the center lined up wrong. I couldn’t believe it. I doubt I’d done it before, but I came back to the bench screaming, and I had more to say in the locker room. Afterward I told a writer it was the dumbest team I’d ever been associated with. I said we had seven simple plays, and if a guy comes into this league making $20,000 and can’t learn seven simple plays, then he doesn’t deserve to be paid. The funny thing about it was we won the game.”

Heinsohn, his old roommate in the ’60s, gave Havlicek carte blanche to do and say what he pleased but Havlicek said he’d already figured it out. “I had a responsibility to pass on the Celtic tradition, to instill it if I could. I didn’t have to be told.

“The difference on the floor, compared with the old Celtics, is that we’ve shifted the emphasis from defense to offense. Russell was the greatest defensive center the game has ever known. Dave Cowens can’t be a Russell, but he’s a better shooter. K.C. was a great defensive player. Jo Jo’s a better shooter. I’m counted on now more for scoring than I was. Sure, I want the ball in a tight situation. I feel I know more what I can do, and I’m not bothered if I miss. As long as you know it’s the best you could have done, you should not second-guess a shot.

“The maturity we reached last year was remarkable considering how short a time we had had to rebuild. I could see it in the playoff series with Milwaukee, the very first game. We knew what we had to do, we did it. We played tough defense, made Oscar [Robertson] keep the ball as long as possible, get the time down to 18 seconds or so before he could get the ball to Jabbar. Let Jabbar have his 50 points. One guy won’t beat us.”

Havlicek steered the Jeep back into his driveway, turned off the key and settled back in the seat. “I’ve got two years on my contract,” he said. “You never know how you’re going to feel, so I’m not ruling out anything. This is a good business and I like it, but I’m going to play as long as I can play well. I’ll know. I’m not as fast as I was. I’m not as reckless on defense, partly because I’m smarter, partly because I’m called on more offensively. Partly because I’m older.”

That afternoon Havlicek drove his Jeep to play golf with his old Ohio State teammates Bobby Knight, now head coach at Indiana, and Gary Gearhart, who sells class rings in Columbus. Since Havlicek has not yet taken golf seriously, he suffered what would have been damage to his ego had he not been having so much fun. Only Knight really suffered. On the 12th hole he hit nine consecutive balls into the water. Havlicek and Gearhart tried to stifle their giggles.

“No wonder you can’t do anything,” said Havlicek, hefting a club from Knight’s bag. “These look like the covers of Mason jars.”

“My salary,” said Knight acidly, “is not dependent on my purring this hole.”

Their carts side by side on the next fairway, Knight looked over at the grinning Havlicek and shook his head.

“Greatest guy in the world. And he’s always been the same, from the beginning. Except now he’s rich.”

“You’d be surprised how naive we were,” said Gearhart. “John especially. Didn’t smoke, barely drank, probably never cut a class.”

“I had to study,” said Havlicek. “There were so many of you smart guys around I sure didn’t want to be the dumb one.”

“The wildest thing we did was go to the movies on Saturday night and throw peanuts around,” said Gearhart. “Lucas wouldn’t go with us. Havlicek would, but once inside he’d move away.”

“It would be embarrassing to get arrested for throwing peanuts,” said Havlicek.

“The fact is you were too cheap to buy them,” said Knight.

“Thrifty,” said Havlicek.

Havlicek’s next tee shot, a resounding whack, split the fairway and was past them all.

“Watch how I did that,” he said. “I never hit it the same way twice.”

Clank. Havlicek’s second shot, like a stricken toy plane, dived erratically into the left rough. John waved at it.

“In my opinion,” said Knight, “John Havlicek is the greatest basketball player who ever lived, bar none. I’m not saying he has more ability, I’m saying he’s the greatest player, because he can beat you so many ways, and nobody, nobody goes as hard for as long as he does.”

Bonk. Havlicek’s third shot, struggling to get airborne and out of the rough, hit a tree and caromed off into a sand trap. “My game,” said Havlicek, “has gotten itself together.”

“How can the world’s greatest athlete be so bad at golf?” asked Gearhart.

Schlump. Kerplop. Havlicek’s sand shot took off nicely but landed in a pond by the green. Havlicek raised his club into the air as if it were a standard.

“I’ll tell you a story,” said Knight. “At Indiana we were playing Providence after we’d lost in the NCAA semifinals. Playing for third place. John suddenly appeared at our team meal. He went around introducing himself, as if my players did not know who he was. Then he told them, ‘You have to play for third place tonight. It’s the best you can do. So you should do your best.’ Later, after we won easily, a writer asked me how I got ‘em so keyed up for a third-place game. I said I hadn’t.”

At the Havlicek banquet that night the menu included Boston Celtic parfait, and a group of ladies in green and white uniforms who called themselves the “Havlicettes” sang a medley of Havlicek, Super Celtic Handy and Give John’s Regards to the Buckeyes. There were film clips of key games and TV commercials John had made—Diet Rite among them—and a nostalgic reel or two of his wedding. Perhaps accidentally, the pictures of his high school football games came on the screen upside down.

People influential in Havlicek’s life got up to pay him tribute. His old high school coach told the audience that whenever he sees John on TV “I tell my son, “That’s John Havlicek. I coached him.’ It’s the greatest honor I could have.” Fred Taylor said that Havlicek was probably the only man in Ohio who could bring such a crowd together “on the eve of oblong ball season.” Bobby Knight said he wished he had Havlicek’s money. When John’s mother was called on to be recognized from the floor, John, on the podium, stood up and the audience followed. Mrs. Havlicek’s blush could be seen across the room.

Then the occasion himself came to the microphone. He said in his familiar, pleasing baritone that it was “hard for me to accept compliments very well,” and that the only reason he was there was that there were children who needed help. After that he and Beth passed out the door prizes—balls, posters, etc.—that John himself had donated.

When it was over and the dance band was whipping up a rock tune, Knight and a small knot of old Ohio State players and friends gathered around Fred Taylor near the podium. Taylor said he had called Havlicek after the final NBA championship game with Milwaukee. “I got him out of the shower. He said, ‘Fred, it’s the only time I ever won anything by myself,’ meaning without a Lucas or a Russell to take the spotlight. I said, “John, you’ve been winning all your life.”

“You know, I had a call just the other day, one that I seem to get all the time. The guy said, ‘Fred, I have a prospect for you. He’s another John Havlicek.’ I stopped him right there. I said, ‘Don’t ever tell me that. There’s no such thing. There’s only one.’ “


Classic SI Photos of John Havlicek:

Iron John

by Bob Ryan
August 24, 2006

He could have played with Larry Bird, you know.

John “Hondo” Havlicek would have been 39, but so what? He didn’t quit because he could no longer play. He retired from basketball in ’78 because he didn’t like going to work everyday any longer.

He had been used to teammates like Bill Russell and Dave Cowens, and by the ’77-78 season, he was saddled with the likes of Sidney Wicks and Curtis Rowe. Part of the deal for him was living the life; when the life became a drag, he thought it was time to say good-bye. But if he had really known what Larry Bird was going to be all about, well, who knows? He could have played until he was 40 or 41 and told the grandchildren that he had played with both Bob Cousy and Larry Bird. He would have been the linkage for 41 years of Boston Celtics, and NBA, history. As it was, he didn’t miss by much. He scored 29 points in his dramatic final game, averaged 16.1 points per game for the season—no surprise, because, as you’ve already heard, the man could still play.

Playing with Bird would have been fun, and to some degree it would have represented a full circle. It would have borne some similarity to playing with Cousy, which Havlicek did in The Cooz’s final season. “All I did offensively in my rookie year,” Hondo once said, “was run around and make lay-ups on passes from Cousy.” He could have gotten passes from Bird in much the same way, and he knew it.

Of course, the truth is that he did play with Bird and against him. It’s just that the public was not privileged to bear witness to the annual April 8th ritual of the late 70’s and early 80’s. April 8th is Havlicek’s birthday, and every year, then-coach Bill Fitch took full advantage of the opportunity to bring Havlicek in for a workout with his team. At ages 39, 40, 41, and beyond, Havlicek demonstrated that he could still play. A terminally-awful left knee ended all that, but not before the point had been made to youngsters who might not have fully appreciated that John Havlicek remains one of the handful of greatest basketball players who ever lived.

It was fashionable in his time to anoint either Oscar Robertson or Jerry West as the game’s best all-around player, and in the early days there was also plenty of sentiment for Elgin Baylor. Havlicek was regarded as the game’s pre-eminent sixth man, no more—until he stopped being a sixth man and became the Bionic Man.

The fact that Havlicek was not a full-time starter during the first seven years he spent with the Celtics was utterly irrelevant. As legendary coach Red Auerbach was forever fond of saying, “It’s not who starts the game, it’s who finishes it.” And Auerbach knew what he had right from the start: as a rookie in ’62-63, Havlicek was third on the champion Celtics in minutes played. The next he advanced to second. And when it got to be what Magic Johnson called “Winnin’ Time,” Havlicek was on the floor, because he was one of the truly rare offensive players of note who is just as good on defense. Or maybe the other way around.

He did not exactly arrive in Boston amid great fanfare. Even though he had been a first-time All-American at Ohio State, Havlicek wasn’t even the most publicized player on his own team. That honor belonged to Jerry Lucas, a megastar in high school who was the acknowledged star of a Buckeye team that won the NCAA title in ’60 and finished second to Cincinnati in each of the next two years. Havlicek was the other guy.

He was the last man taken in the first round of the ’62 draft, and before he presented himself for Auerbach’s summertime inspection, he stopped in Cleveland to try out for the NFL Browns. They had drafted him as a quarterback even though he had not played since high school, but when he reported to their camp he was almost immediately converted into a wide receiver, a position he had never played. He performed in exhibition games and very likely could have made a weaker club. As it was, he was cut in favor of Gary Collins, a name any good football fan must recognize.

At 6-5 and around 210 pounds, John Havlicek had an ideally adaptable athletic body. His hands were large and exceptionally strong. He was amazingly flexible. And then there was that stamina.

That gift.

Other people got tired when they ran. John Havlicek didn’t. He attributed his exceptional stamina to his rural upbringing. He had grown up in the southeastern Ohio town of Lansing, where there wasn’t much to do besides play sports and play in the surrounding hills. Havlicek didn’t ride in a car—he ran from place to place. He didn’t bike. He ran. Everywhere. All the time. Just a way of life.

Of course, there was also the matter of the lungs. Jumbo-sized lungs so big they could not fit on a single X-ray plate. Havlicek always needed one and a half. True story.

John Havlicek was lucky to join the Boston Celtics, and he would be the first to tell you that. He walked onto a team that was in Year Six of an amazing 11-NBA-Championships-in-13-years run. Bill Russell was the sport’s reigning king. Cousy was still around. The Jones Boys, Sam and K.C., were ready to roar. Tom Heinsohn had three years left. Frank Ramsey was perfecting the sixth man art, and he would pass on his secrets to The Kid—starting with the practical suggestion that he take off his warm-up pants and drape the jacket around his shoulders, ready to spring into immediate action when his name was called.

Most of all there was Auerbach, who wasn’t just any coach because he didn’t think like other coaches. Looking at a player, he saw what was good and feasible, not the good and inefficient. He could deal with mismatched parts, always envisioning how they could be molded into a team.

When Havlicek entered the NBA, he wasn’t a terribly accomplished shooter. No problem—he was told to run lanes and move without the ball and subsist on leftover garbage points. He was told that if he played aggressive defense, the offense would take care of itself, and it did. The eager, athletic, thoroughly unpolished Havlicek averaged 14 points a game as a rookie.

When the ’62-63 season ended, he went home set on improving. He shot thousands of jump shots that summer, and returned a jump shooter with great range. He averaged 19.9 points a game his second season, and over the next 11 campaigns never averaged fewer than 18.3. It was classic Havlicek to identify a problem and address it so capably.

The defining moment of his career took place on April 15, ’65. He was in his third playoffs and already considered the game’s best sixth man. But by making one play at the end of one ballgame, he became a folk hero, and he would remain one until the end of his career.


It was Game Seven of a grueling Eastern Conference Finals series with Philadelphia. The Celtics led 110-109, with four seconds left, but the 76ers had the ball out of bounds underneath their own basket, following a bizarre Russell turnover in which an inbounds pass hit a guide wire running from the backboard to the first balcony. It was a scary moment. The 76ers had options ranging from jump shots by Hal Greer or Chet Walker to a power move by Wilt Chamberlain to an offensive rebound. But Havlicek prevented all that, deflecting a Greer inbounds pass intended for Walker over to Sam Jones.

What transformed the play from timely feat to historic moment was the late Johnny Most’s broadcast description, the most famous call in Boston sports history—it consisted of more than a minute of frenzied screaming in Most’s unique, raspy voice. Re-played the following morning by radio station WHDH, it enraptured the town. “Havlicek Stole The Ball!” later became the title cut of a best-selling album.

“I was starting to make inroads” Havlicek recalls, “but after that play people realized I was going to be around for a while. And the album definitely influenced the way people thought of me.”

Phase I of his career ended in ’69 with another championship (his sixth) and the retirements of both Russell and Sam Jones. At this point Havlicek was a perennial All-Star and the unquestioned number-one sixth man in the game, but his name was absent from the Oscar-West discussions. That was about to change

Few remember that rookie coach Tom Heinsohn wished to maintain Havlicek’s role as the consummate sixth man when the ’69-70 began. That last about three games—until Heinsohn realized that a) the team was not good enough to enjoy that luxury, and b) Havlicek might as well start since he won’t get tired anyway. There have been other great players, but nearly 30 years later, it’s very easy to contend that no one has ever played basketball the way John Havlicek did for the next five years. He was the ultimate king on the chessboard, giving his coach an All-Star player at two positions for as long as he was needed.

During the ’69-70 season Havlicek led the Boston Celtics in scoring, rebounding and assists while averaging a league-high 45 minutes a night. Understand that 45 Havlicek minutes were unlike any other player’s 45, because in the John Havlicek scheme of things there was no standing around. It was pedal-to-the-metal all the time.

And that’s not even the half of it.

With Russell and Sam Jones gone, the Celtics were in transition. There were young players coming in, but they didn’t know anything about the NBA; suddenly Havlicek was left with precious few allies from the old days. There were Don Nelson and Satch Sanders, and then there were kids. Havlicek had to do the scoring, the rebounding, the passing and the thinking for just about everybody.

His ’70-71 season was a reasonable carbon copy of the ’69-70 season, in which he had elevated into the league’s ultra-elite. He gained rebounding help from 6-9 center Dave Cowens, but Havlicek was still responsible for the heavy-duty scoring (a career-high 28.9 ppg), defending and playmaking. He was regularly submitting triple-doubles, except that back then we didn’t know enough to label them as such (that honor goes to Bruce Jolesch, a Laker PR man in the Magic Johnson era). The record keeping was less sophisticated than today, and it’s impossible to reconstruct the box scores, so the actual number of Havlicek triple-doubles is lost. Suffice it to say that, along with Robertson and West, he had plenty.

Havlicek had moved into the category of legend, a man who could play heads-up with the finest forwards and guards in the game. A man who needed no rest. Other coaches had to find places for their stars to take a blow, but not Heinsohn. If Hondo played 48, he played 48. He might not practice that hard the next day, but if there was a game the following night, he could go 48 again. “I’d give my right arm to have his stamina,” says Matt Guokas, then a journeyman forward.

Nothing seemed to deter Havlicek. After suffering a painful injury to his right wrist, he developed his let hand more fully. This adaptability served him very well in the ’73 playoffs, when the Celtics had won 68 games and with the Lakers were co-favorites for the championship. But first they needed to get by ancient rival New York, and the Knicks matched up very well with them, physically and psychologically. The teams were tied at a game apiece, and in Game Three, Havlicek found himself wedged between Dave DeBusschere and Bill Bradley while fighting through a pick. He wound up injuring his right shoulder.

The Celtics lost that game, and worse yet were informed that Havlicek would not be able to play in Game Four at Madison Square Garden. Boston put up a sensational Havlicek-less effort but lost that game in double overtime. Havlicek made it back onto the floor for Game Five, despite the fact that he had limited use of his right arm and shoulder. He scored 18 points on six baskets—four of which were left-handed—as the Celtics kept the series alive. He was somewhat less effective in the sixth game, another Celtics triumph, and he was not functional at all in Game Seven, a 94-78 New York win. But that incomprehensible performance in Game Five had reinforced his legend.

Havlicek was simply unlike other men. He was inherently disciplined and organized to a frightening degree. He was the only NBA player, before or since, known to hang his knee-length socks on a hanger. He arranged his colognes, talcum powder, etc. by ascending height on the shelf. His locker always looked ready for an inspection.

Such a man looks at the world in its simplest, most logical terms, one reason why Havlicek never attempted to coach. He knew himself and that his thought processes were not like everyone else’s. He could never understand the woeful failings of mortal men—men who, unlike himself, could not play a single game against a team and figure out all of its plays. What was obvious to John Havlicek was quantum physics to many of his mates.

No man, not even John Havlicek, could have reasonably continued to carry the physical and mental load of the early 70’s for very long. Fortunately for him, the team did get better, and his overall burden was lessened. By the time the Celtics won their first post-Russell title in ’74, Havlicek was sharing the spotlight with Jo Jo White, Don Chaney, Paul Silas and most of all Dave Cowens, by then a three-time All-Star.

Havlicek was 34 and in his 12th season. Heinsohn was taking him out of ballgames every once in a while, but when he needed his big gun to go the full 48, it was no different from six or seven years earlier. Havlicek was Havlicek, still an elite player. He was upset when the team failed to win the title in ’75, after bouncing back from a 9-8 start to win 60 games. The ’75-76 team sputtered somewhat, but hopes were higher when the playoffs began; it was potentially devastating when Havlicek sustained a foot injury in the very first game.

Thanks to some Cowens fourth-quarter heroics, the team pulled out a dramatic Game One comeback win, but as the team assembled for practice at the Boston Garden the following day, it was greeted by the sight of John Havlicek being wheeled down the corridor on a dolly. He had a torn plantar fascia (the connective tissue in the arch) in his left foot, a very painful injury. The prescription was to soak the foot for three hours a day in ice. Havlicek being Havlicek, he reasoned that if three hours a day was good, six or seven hours a day would be twice as good. He was ready to do whatever it took to get himself back in the lineup. And so, for the rest of the playoffs, from Boston to Cleveland and finally to Phoenix, Havlicek carried around a turquoise dime store dishpan. Day and night he would shuffle to the ice machine and load the dishpan with what he laughingly referred to as “two Hondo handfuls” of ice, then soak his foot as he watched TV.

At no point in those playoffs was he ever really himself physically, but he played. He played his two-position game as hard as he could through the six-game conquest of the Buffalo Braves and the six-game conquest of Cleveland and into the Finals. He never practiced, just suited up for the games. Bad foot and all, he played 58 out of 63 minutes in the Celtics’ stirring, triple-overtime victory in Game Five. He hit what seemed to be the winning basket, a difficult bank shot with one second left in the second OT, only to see it trumped by Gar Heard’s buzzer-beater. Two nights later in Game Six, Boston locked up the championship.

Havlicek had always been a major playoff performer, whether he was stepping into the starting lineup in a pinch back in the Russell-Auerbach days, scoring a team playoff record 54 points in the first Atlanta game in ’73 or executing the back-breaking three-point play to put away Game Seven against Milwaukee. That would continue to be the case the following year, when he submitted what may be his most noble showing of all. The opponents were the rollicking, frolicking Philadelphia 76ers, and Havlicek’s task at age 37 was to do something about Dr. J—Julius Erving, then 27 and very much at the all-around peak of his game. For seven games, Havlicek devoted himself to defense, and the good Doctor never went off. He never even got so much as a step on Havlicek, and the underdog Celtics took the Sixers to a seventh game before the overall Philly superiority came to the fore.

Havlicek would play one more year, not a particularly happy one. The team won 32 games. The atmosphere was bad. The only real interest was his Farewell Tour, and the only game that got anyone aroused was his last. He always had a good sense of propriety, and so he arrived at the Boston Garden for his 1,270th and final NBA game in a tuxedo. In the game, he went out and had a little fun. Never afraid to put up shots (he once went 15-40), Havlicek fired away 33 times. The Celtics were in control throughout, and as the clock wound down the crowd really got into it. Ernie DeGregorio was in the game for Boston, and the only man on his radar screen was Havlicek. Hondo had begun his career catching passes from Bob Cousy, and now he was ending it by catching passes from the only player alive who saw the game the way The Cooz did. In one 11-second span, Ernie D twice found Havlicek on sneakaways. He scored nine lightning points to an amazing roar, finishing with 29—a phenomenal farewell.

Havlicek was a man of his own time and place, and he retired with no major regrets. “If I hadn’t hurt my shoulder in ’73, we definitely would have won that year,” he says. “And if we had held onto [Paul] Silas and [Paul] Westphal, we might have squeezed out one more at the end. Other than that, no regrets.”

He’s been gone for 20 years, and we have not seen his like since. The only multi-positional players anywhere near his level have been Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, and Jordan never really played much forward. Pippen, meanwhile, can only dream of possessing the legendary Havlicek stamina. As is the case with all special playres, people try much too hard to find equivalents. For a year or so, Dan Majerle was supposed to be the new Havlicek. He’s a nice player, but please.

If anything, Hondo would be even more effective in today’s game, if only because he had three-point range. He was every bit a “modern” ballplayer, and if you combine the sophistication and brainpower he brought to the game, it would really be something. On defense he’d be sinful—his lateral quickness and anticipation would fit perfectly into a modern scheme. But perhaps he’s better off not being around today. The NBA externals, the arena noise and the emphasis on irrelevant folderol would have irritated him.

No, John Havlicek played at the right time and was revered by his rivals, who knew him as both a great player and a great person. Playing against John Havlicek was a challenge and an honor, and Bill Bradley sums it up best in his wonderful book, Values of the Game.

“John Havlicek,” writes Bradley. “The guy drove my crazy. He drove everybody crazy. Covering John Havlicek was like trying to hold mercury in your hand. He worked harder than any player out there, constantly running, using screens, getting the ball at the right time, taking only the good shots. The ultimate competitor.”

True then, true now.


John Havlicek GettyImages Pictures