Read Leigh Montville and Will McDonough on John Havlicek’s final game
John Havlicek played his final game with the Celtics on April 9, 1978. Read the Globe’s coverage of the night, which ran in the next day’s editions:
At the last, Hondo found it hard to go
By Leigh Montville
The long goodbye was stuck now at the end. It was like some 33 1/3 LP, all the songs having been sung yesterday afternoon, the record still spinning . . . click, click . . . waiting for the man of the house to lift the arm and turn off the machine.
The man of the house didn’t want to move. Not yet.
“The first day I came here, the locker room was . . . you remember the first locker room, don’t you?” John Havlicek said as he stood in his rented tuxedo pants in the present Boston Celtics locker room. “Remember how it was way down at the other end of the building? The ceiling was slanted, so Red had all the short guys dressing on one side. There weren’t any lockers like these, either. Remember? Just nails to hang your clothes on.
“And the trainer’s room. Here I’d come from Ohio State where they had all kinds of great equipment and trainers and here . . .”
He talked, it seemed, just to talk. To procrastinate.
Friends and relations had gone to other places. There was a party waiting at Jason’s, a downtown discotheque. CBS television was long gone to the Master’s golf and to other dramas. The Braves were well on the way to Buffalo. The Celtics teammates, old and new, the ballboys, the gaggle of sportswriters, and broadcasters, the 15,276 true believers, the tears, the emotions, the canoe from L.L. Bean, all the Pepsi Cola a man can drink in a lifetime — everything, all the other parts of this mountain of a Boston Garden day for John Havlicek, had either left or been finished or carted away.
He still talked. To two sportswriters, to one radio guy, to two silent kids who somehow cracked the locker room security, he talked.
“The first day I ever came here, I came with Jack (The Shot) Foley,” he said. “Remember Jack The Shot? We’d played in an all-star game in Kansas and we both had been drafted by the Celtics and we came in to talk contract.
“It was just this time of year. The Celtics were in the playoffs. The first place I ever ate in Boston, right across the street, Hayes and Bickford. We came in that day and Red took us to the locker room. Frank Ramsey got up and shook my hand and said hello. I always remembered that and tried to do the same with anyone else who came in, to make them feel at home.
“The other guys, they were pretty busy. I understood. Do you know what game that was? The Sam Jones game, the game where Sam Jones picked up a chair and went after Wilt. It was the first professional basketball game I’d ever seen in person. Another thing that happened, Guy Rodgers got into it with Jim Loscutoff. Loscutoff chased Rodgers right off the court, chased him around the press table.
“It was a different game then, wasn’t it? More physical. I remember if teams would press us, Cousy could have some big guy set a pick and wham! Guys don’t do that any more. The physical part’s gone. Guys just glide away from picks now on defense. Guys . . .”
He fidgeted. He stalled. He dressed, ever so slowly. One loafer. Talk. Another loafer. Talk. The tuxedo shirt. One stud. Talk. Another stud. Talk.
“You talk about physical,” he said. “I remember one time at Ohio State, Siegfried and I drove for the same loose ball. Arrived at the same time. Our heads collided. I was dizzy for two whole days . . .”
Even when he was fully dressed in his tuxedo — “I find I’ve worn one about three times every year” — even when his hair was blown-dried and combed perfectly, even when he was ready to leave, he didn’t leave. He started searching for a box.
This one? Wrong size. This one? Wrong size. This one? This one? This one?
Very carefully, he loaded the cardboard box. A couple of gifts. A pile of newspapers with retirement articles. A final box score. A long string of telegrams . . . no, he started to read the string of telegrams.
“From John Wayne,” he said. “Hondo’s watching . . . From that manager, even, on that Ohio State team . . From . . .”
He read every one before he folded the long piece of paper and put it inside the box. He checked his locker shelf for anything else that should be taken. He checked his hair again. He checked and checked until there was absolutely nothing left to check and absolutely nothing left to say.
“Well . . .” he said at 20 minutes to six on his last day of professional basketball on the second day of the 38th year of his life.
He turned out all the lights in the room, just as equipment man Walter Randall had asked him to do. He picked up the box, started to leave, then stopped, worried that he might have lost his championship ring. He found the ring in his pants pocket, put it on his finger and stood at the open door in his tuxedo, the room black behind him.
“You should tell everyone that you’ve changed your mind,” he was told. “You should say you’ve decided to play another year. You should be like Gordie Howe, say that you’re going to keep playing so you can play with your son.”
“Geez, what would that take?” John Havlicek said. “Let’s see, he’s seven now, and if he was one of those guys who could come in and play right out of high school, that would be 12 years and . . . geez, I’d be 50 years old.”
Then, the man of the house closed the door. His retirement had begun.
Here is the newspaper clipping on Montville’s piece, which ran on A1 of the Globe’s evening edition:
Havlicek bows out gracefully
By Will McDonough
He knew that over this, the season of the Celtics’ discontent, there would still be many special moments. Moments that only come to a special handful of men. Men who somehow transcend their peers with a succession of performances to be remembered.
The day after he announced his retirement in January, John Havlicek sat before the TV set in his home, watching Len Berman do his nightly sports bit on Channel 4.
Berman and the WBZ staff had to put together a portfolio of these performances to remember and rolled the tape with the appropriate sounds of “Nobody Does It Better” as background music.
Tears started to come down on the faces of Beth Havlicek and her son, seven-year-old Chris. Chris excused himself and went upstairs. A few minutes later, little Jill Havlicek cautioned her father that Chris was still sobbing heavily in his room.
“I went up to see Chris, and when I walked into the room, he had taken all of the pictures we had taken together over the years and other pictures of me playing with the Celtics, and spread them over the floor. He just sat there looking at them and crying. He is just getting to the age now where he knows what all of this means. To me, it was a very special moment. Something that can only be shared by a father and one of his children.”
Yesterday, John Havlicek shared a lot of those moments with a sellout crowd in Boston Garden that came to say goodbye to the Celtics captain, who did everything in his power to pay back the tribute properly.
“I’m a very disciplined individual,” Havlicek has said many times over the years and repeated it again yesterday. “I’ve thought this whole thing out all the way. I announced by retirement as early as I did because I felt it was in the Celtics’ tradition (as Bob Cousy and Red Auerbach had). I’m glad that I did. I’m happy with the way everything has gone.
John Havlicek, in his final performance, scored 29 points in 41 minutes. He did not play well in comparison with some of his great games of the past. But he did play magnificently in view of the pressure, the trauma, the almost hysterical waves of human emotion that lived in the Garden Sunday.
“When I thought about it all over the past week, I cried three of four times. In a way, I was lucky we’ve played something like eight games in the last 10 days. That way I didn’t have much time to sit around and think about it.
“I’d say I had only about 20 hours of sleep in the last four nights. After the game Saturday night, I stopped in the drug store on the way home, and I got a sleeping pill. I knew I’d have a tough time sleeping.“
The day was filled with nostalgia, which is the way John wanted it to be. He wanted to savor every moment. He wanted it to live in his memory. He wanted it to be special.
“That’s why I wore a tuxedo today, because it was such a special day.
“On the drive in to the Garden, a lot of memories crossed through my mind. I have never driven up into the Garden before, but today I did. Just to do it.”
In the dressing room before the game, he checked to see that all of his game clothing was in proper order and his assortment of bottles were just so on the self in his locker.
At 12:30, he walked out onto the floor for the pregame presentation — the first of two. The first was devoted to the fans and friends, and the gifts they bestowed on him.
“When I came out into the Garden and saw all the fans sitting there waiting, and all the flags (symbolizing the Celtics’ championships flying overhead) I started to get emotional.”
Havlicek didn’t break down during the first presentation. However, at 1:30 p.m. when he ran out onto the court to be introduced into the starting lineup, he couldn’t hold back the tears any longer.
His teammates waited to shake hands at the foul line, but he broke away and raced to center court by himself. There, with the deafening roar of the crowd rebounding off the walls, he bowed to every corner of the building, the tears welling up into his eyes, while his face tightened as he tried to hold them back.
“I knew I was going to do that,” said Havlicek, talking about the symbolism of the gesture. “When you play overseas, this is what you do when you are introduced to the crowd. In other places (during his last trek through NBA cities) I just waved. Here, I wanted to do something different.”
As he ran back to the bench, Havlicek raised his right arm and made a big swirling motion, like a cowpuncher about to lasso a steer. He probably doesn’t know he did it. He probably doesn’t remember how much about the next eight minutes, when the crowd just stood and applauded until it was punched out with emotion.
Throughout most of the game, John did not shoot well. He was tight. “I’m throwing up brights out there today,” he said once when he came back to the bench.
But the Havlicek style is not to be timid — or intimidated. “I made up my mind I was going to shoot the ball. My teammates wanted me to keep shooting, and I didn’t want the game to be all over and have to tell myself that I should have shot more.”
Through three periods, he had only 12 points, working out of the backcourt. Starting the fourth, he asked coach Tom Sanders to move him up front
“My best game is to move without the ball. To create situations. When I started to move, I got my opportunities,” Havlicek said.
And the points started to come, 17 of them in the final period, as the Garden rocked with excitement.
“I’ve experienced that type of feeling here just a few times before. Once I remember was when we scored 20 straight points one time in a playoff game. It’s something to remember — all of it has been something to remember.”
You are too — John Havlicek.
Here is the newspaper clipping of McDonough’s piece:
Here are a couple of other clippings from that April 10, 1978 edition: