Hey Waldoboro, what is your definition of an authentic hero? Mine is someone very capable in their field of endeavor while maintaining honorable, truthful, quietly humble, and loyal behavior – a great teammate and family person. John Havlicek, recently deceased, was this kind of person in his 16-year career with the Boston Celtics – coming as close to these lofty descriptions as any fallible human being could. His basketball records stand for themselves – 20,000 points scored, voted one of the 50 best players of the last century, and of course this …
“Now Philadelphia has the ball out of bounds under their basket with the score 110-109 in the Celtics’ favor, and only seconds left in this championship game. Chamberlain looks for Hal Grier; the ball is in the air; AND HAVLICEK STEALS THE BALL! OVER TO SAM JONES. JOHNNY HAVLICEK STOLE THE BALL; IT’S OVER; IT’S ALL OVER! JOHNNY HAVLICEK STOLE THE BALL!”
What basketball fan listening in 1965 will ever forget hometown announcer Johnny Most’s famous call?
Jane’s and my oldest boy, Mark Jr., served as a ball boy for the Celtics for four years – 1972-1976. He worked all home games in that time period, doing everything from cleaning floors to running errands for the players and coaches. He worked very hard, hurrying from school to the train and arriving home late at night. He got to know some staff and players very well. I asked him recently to write down some of his impressions of John Havlicek. Here is what he said:
1. Very nice but quiet guy who was intensely focused at all times on the game. Ultimate competitor and quiet leader on the court.
2. Very precise at all times. Would hang his socks and underwear on hangers, along with the rest of his clothes, while dressed in uniform for the games.
3. Seemed to rarely sweat during games. Always in motion on the court.
4. Triple-overtime game against Phoenix and the leaner jump shot to tie in second overtime. (Mark was standing very nearby that shot when it occurred.)
In the spring of 1983, the Fenn School, Concord, Mass., where we were teaching, had a very famous visitor. John Havlicek and his family were coming to have a tour. One of the boys told me that he and two others were hanging around the library when they heard that the Havliceks were about to come through. They hurriedly cleaned up their books and papers and sat up straight in their chairs to look good! Chris Havlicek was accepted to begin the next year as an eighth grader. Chris was a great guy and did very well in school. He was also a good basketball player – terrific shooter and very smart on the court. He was fairly short at the time, eventually growing to be 6 feet, 7 inches in high school and college. His mom, Beth, and sister, Jill, were also wonderful people. While John was quiet, Beth was very outgoing and bubbly. My wife, Jane, got along very well with her.
John and Beth attended all of Chris’ games, sitting quietly in the small crowds which would be there. John would often pick Chris up after practice and watch the closing minutes. Being the coach, I at first was a bit nervous when he showed up, thinking that he might say something to “improve” things. He never once criticized or tried to change anything we were doing. One day I asked him to run a drill; he did so willingly, but only because I had asked. John and Beth were ideal parents for a coach – and a school – to know. They had done a terrific job as parents – Chris was and is a fine young man – now a dad himself.
Two quotes to complete this story: both in praise of John Havlicek.
1. Bob Ryan, sportswriter, Boston Globe, upon the announcement of John’s passing: “This is an immense personal loss as well as professional for all of us. If all professional athletes carried themselves as well as he did, sport would be a far better place.”
2. Arnold “Red” Auerbach, upon John’s official retirement and the ceremony at the Boston Garden in 1981 to hoist his number 17 to the rafters in his honor: “You folks in this audience know John as a ballplayer; I know him as a person too. And if I had a son, I’d want him to be just like John.”