This column was originally published on April 8, 1978.
Flying downcourt at 97 miles per hour and then stopping and BANKING FROM DOWN THE MIDDLE. Try that one sometime . . . Taking off his socks and laying them over a hanger. “Dries ’em out.” . . . Doing his Don Nelson imitation . . . At age 35, unable to practice for a month (injured foot), and then saving the 1976 championship with the key basket while playing 58 minutes of three-overtime sixth Phoenix game . . .
Scoring more than 1000 points 16 years in a row . . . “Jarring John, the Bouncing Buckeye from Ohio State, on the line for two.” . . . Seven million career three-point plays, and, in almost all of them, the basket coming with him laying on the floor watching the ball drop through the hoop . . . Meticulously trimming the fat off his sirloin and then incredulously adding, “You’d eat that?” if so much as a sliver entered your mouth . . . Eating a banana split for breakfast at O’Hare Airport . . .
Related: Read Leigh Montville and Will McDonough on Havlicek’s final game
Scoring 54 points against the Hawks in the first game of the ’73 playoffs . . . Shooting his arm up and holding his index and middle fingers aloft when agreeing with the foul call . . . Placing the ball under his arm and stomping after the official when disagreeing with the foul call . . . Seldom getting into foul trouble, and always knowing how to operate with five fouls when he did (21 disqualifications in 1270 games while never failing to play proper defense) . . . Rebounding his own foul-line miss and scoring over Abdul-Jabbar to create the second overtime in Game 6 of the ’74 finals . . .
His locker stall in the Celtics’ room always ready for the general’s surprise inspection . . . Shooting those two layups at the conclusion of the pregame warmups . . . More assists than all but Robertson, Wilkens, Cousy, Rodgers and West — all full-time guards . . . Nobody’s counting, but possibly only Oscar ever had as many double-figure games in points, rebounds and assists . . . Being named first team All-Defensive at age 35 . . . Scoring 26 points in the ’68 All-Star Game, the last at the Old Garden in New York, and uncharacteristically but sincerely declaring, “I think I should have won the MVP award.” . . .
Related: The sound of John Havlicek’s steal still reverberates
Winning the MVP award in the ’74 playoffs. One reason: scoring nine of the team’s 11 points in the second overtime of Game 6 . . . In one eight-year stretch, matched three times and exceeded five times his regular-season scoring output in the playoffs . . . Third leading scorer of all-time . . . Ten straight double-figure All-Star games . . . Patiently answering every question, whether posed by syndicated columnist or high school kid working on a term paper, after every game, home or away, win or lose . . . “I’d give my right arm for his stamina” — Matt Guokas . . .
Averaging over 45 minutes a game, at top speed, in both ’70-’71 and ’71-’72 . . . Scoring on passes from Bob Cousy and Ernie DiGregorio . . . Rooming with Dan Swartz, “whose suitcase was always packed” . . . Taking away Dr. J’s drive for seven games at age 36 . . . First- or second-team All-Star 11 times . . . “This is the dumbest team I’ve ever played on.” . . . Throwing the baseball pass better than anyone since Cousy . . . Taking more shots than anyone in NBA history except Wilt . . . Taking more charges than anyone in Celtics’ history ...
“He gets it out deep and HAVLICEK STEALS IT! OVER TO SAM JONES . . . IT’S ALL OVER! IT’S ALL OVER! . . . JOHNNY HAVLICEK SAVED THIS GAME . . . BELIEVE THAT! . . . OH, BOY, WHAT A PLAY BY JOHN HAVLICEK!”
Related: Ryan: Remembering the great John Havlicek
Tearing up his shoulder in the third game of ’73 New York series and coming back in Game 5 to score 18 points, including four left-handed shots . . . Being told to ice his damaged foot for three 20-minute intervals during Cleveland series in ’76, and instead doing it for seven of them . . . Soaking foot the following evening in Cleveland, replenishing the ice in the little turquoise dishpan he used with the cry “Two Hondo handfuls!” . . . Patiently suffering the endless, boring, gushy tributes of strangers, day after day, year after year . . . Being named by acclimation as the most admired professional athlete, personally and professionally, by other athletes . . . Leading the team in scoring, assists and rebounds in ’69-’70 . . . Clinching the championship in ’74 by improvising a play, up-faking Mt. Abdul-Jabbar and driving by him for a three-point play which put Game 7 out of reach . . . Shooting over 80 percent from the line in his last nine seasons ... Making more sensational downcourt retrieves of errant long passes than Lance Alworth, Harold Jackson and Harlan Hill combined ... Swishing those one-handed overhead sets ...
Making every one of the 1270 games he ever played a study in concentration, discipline and dedication. Giving fans and himself the benefit of a thoroughly honest approach to a game he loved . . . Leaving those of us who love that game, and him, with irreplaceable memories, the kind that literally make life itself worth living.
This is John Havlicek’s legacy.
Bob Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.