John Havlicek was a great player who deserves more notoriety
When discussing great players, John Havlicek is rarely mentioned. Maybe it’s because most people only list their Mt. Rushmore or top-10 greatest players, but the 1984 Hall of Fame inductee is often an afterthought even when discussing the best wing players in NBA history.
The shooting guard/small forward was named to the NBA 35th and 50th Anniversary Teams and has his #17 retired by the Boston Celtics. When Havlicek retired, he ranked as the league’s all-time leader in games played and third in points scored.
Yet, outside of Boston, Havlicek is a rare name when discussing legends of the game or comparing styles of play between old-timers and current NBA superstars. With Havlicek being a 13-time All-Star, 11-time All-NBA Team selection and eight-time NBA All-Defensive Team selection, you’d think his name would be thrown around more often.
Hondo, as the Celtics faithful likes to call him, entered the NBA in 1962-63, in the midst of Bill Russell‘s historic run. It was the season the Celtics won their fifth championship in a row, in a run that ended with Boston claiming 10 titles in 11 seasons. Havlicek won the championship in six of his first seven seasons before Russell retired.
The 27.5 minutes per game he saw as a rookie was the least amount of playing time he saw in his career, and the steady increase of minutes helped Havlicek’s production, although he didn’t become a regular starter until after Russell retired following the 1968-69 season. After averaging 14.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game as a rookie, Havlicek’s game was on a different level during Russell’s final season in 1968-69.
The all-around game that we’ve come to know him for was in full stride that season as he contributed 21.6 points, seven rebounds and 5.4 assists per game. He made the All-Star game and was named to the All-NBA Second Team and NBA All-Defensive Second Team, as well.
With that being Russell’s last season, it was the perfect time to have Havlicek start hitting his stride in the NBA as a starter. In fact, Havlicek averaged more points and assists per game in each of the next five seasons and more rebounds per game in four of the next five seasons. He took over as the team’s leader and stepped up as the team’s star when they needed him to.
With steals and blocks not being counted until the 1973-74 season, it’s impossible to know how big of an impact he actually had on that end of the floor. However, with Havlicek being a regular on the All-Defensive Teams, and averaging 1.2 steals per game during his final five seasons when his game started diminishing, it’s safe to consider him one of the better wing defenders of his era.
Besides, he was part of one of the most memorable defensive plays of all-time.
Simply put, there wasn’t anything that John Havlicek couldn’t do. While his 6’5″ and 203 pound frame doesn’t match-up against LeBron James‘ behemoth of a body, they’re more similar than you would first think. Despite their amazing all-around play, John Havlicek was the same athletic specimen that James is today.
As often as people say James could have been a tight end in the NFL, Havlicek actually had that option. He was drafted in 1962 by the Cleveland Browns but decided that he was more interested in making it work with the Celtics. Who knows, if Havlicek had a different mindset he could have been a great wide receiver for the Browns.
It’s an odd thought as Havlicek was this skinny white guy that wasn’t extremely muscular. Although, his pure athleticism was translucent through basketball, baseball and football, having him earn All-State honors in all three during high school.
Despite his unspectacular build, he still put together one of the greatest statistical seasons ever in 1970-71.
During his second full season as a starter, Havlicek led the league with 45.4 minutes per game and contributed 28.9 points, nine rebound and 7.5 assists per game. To top it off, Havlicek was named to the All-NBA First Team for the first time in his career and the NBA All-Defensive Second Team.
With the playoff run that LeBron James just had in 2016, in which he averaged 26.3 points, 9.5 rebounds and 7.6 assists per game, being considered one of the best playoff performances ever, it’s crazy to think Havlicek put up similar numbers throughout a whole season.
Havlicek set career-highs across the board that season, although it wasn’t until 1973-74 that he won his first championship without Russell. On a team that also featured Hall of Famers Dave Cowens and Jo Jo White, it’s hard to give all the credit to Havlicek. However, while he was surrounded in good company, Cowens was only in his third season and White in his fourth.
Cowens still averaged 19 points and 15.7 rebounds per game, but he didn’t average a double-double in the Finals. Also, White chipped in 18.1 points per contest, which went down to 16.6 points per game in the Finals, making there no doubt that Havlicek was the leader of the clubhouse. At this point, it was Havlicek’s 11th season in the NBA, and the only Celtic who played that long was bench player Don Nelson.
Havlicek won the Finals MVP for his 26.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.9 steals per game in the Celtics tough seven-game Finals series win over the Milwaukee Bucks.
More from Hardwood Houdini
- Boston Celtics’ two-way contract decision will be made after training camp
- Proposed trade sends Boston Celtics playoff killer to the Cs from rival
- ‘Face of Germany’s stunning run’ in FIBA World Cup not the only ex-Boston Celtics player to win gold
- Proposed Boston Celtics trade target pitched for reunion with fired coach
- Battle For Banner 18: Will Boston Celtics battle historical foe in 2024 Finals?
Despite all the accolades and championships, John Havlicek is still easily forgotten. It’s hard to remember the short time between the Celtics historic run with Bill Russell and the Larry Bird days. Although, between those eras was Havlicek and his all-around play that is eerily similar to Bird’s.
However, when you played a good chunk of your career with Russell, and the rest on the team he retired from, you become a second thought to most. Havlicek is still considered the third best player in Celtics history by many, but should be given more notoriety when discussing great NBA players, not just Celtics.
Although, when it comes down to it, most will always remember Havlicek for “Havlicek stole the ball!” – one of the greatest sports moment ever.
It’s still nice to reminisce on one of the statistically greatest careers of all-time. Hondo was before his time, and shouldn’t just be remembered for the guy who starred for the Celtics after Bill Russell and Bob Cousy, rather as the great player he was during his 16-year career. Because there are few players who had as big of an impact in all facets of the game as Havlicek did.