The great John Havlicek died yesterday April 25th, seventeen days after his 79th birthday. I have been a Boston Celtics fan since 1966 and attended my first game that same year. He was my number one boyhood hero. Many others idolized him and respected him as well. When I worked with Hall of Famer Chris Mullin at ESPN, Mully told me that the reason he wore number 17 was to honor Havlicek. Hondo touched many people over the past six decades and we all have stories. This is mine.
The 1992 Summer Olympics took place in Barcelona, Spain. I was with NBC Sports as the senior studio producer of the Olympics TripleCast, which was a joint pay per view venture between NBC and Cablevision. My bosses were Cablevision Godfather Chuck Dolan, NBC Sports President Dick Ebersol, and Terry Ewert who was the TripleCast Executive Producer. Our studio operation was responsible for providing content between live events on all three channels (Red, White, and Blue) during the days and nights of competition. It was a very busy operation.
There were many memorable moments for me during those games, but having the opportunity to meet John Havlicek was at the top of the list. When John, his wife Beth, and their son Chris arrived for John’s segment, they showed up an hour early. Since we were not on the air yet, there was no way to record his segment, so we asked if he could wait and do it at the time that was scheduled. Thankfully, they all agreed. What followed was one of the most enjoyable hours ever.
I went to my first Celtics game when I was nine years old, and the C’s have always been my favorite team, so I had plenty of things to discuss with Hondo and his family. Although Havlicek and fellow Hall of Famer Dave Cowens led the Celtics to NBA Titles in 1974 and 1976, I told him that I felt the best Celtics team of the post Bill Russell-pre Larry Bird era was the 1972-’73 team that lost to the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference Finals. That team won 68 regular season games and finished 11 games in front of the Knicks in the standings. But in game 3 of the Eastern Finals, Havlicek injured his right shoulder after being nailed on a screen by Dave DeBusschere, missed game four and played games 5, 6, and 7 left-handed. Although Hondo performed heroically, he was only able to play 23 minutes in game seven, scoring just 4 points. The Knicks won the series and went on to beat the Lakers in the 1973 NBA Finals four games to one. When I asked John where the 1973 team ranked in relation to the 1974 and ’76 teams, he did not bemoan the fact that he was injured, he simply said matter of factly that it was the best team of the three. That was so typical of this humble legend.
When we were done with “the pregame,” and it was time to send him to the studio, I asked if he and Beth would mind taking a picture with me. Beth asked Chris if he would take my camera and shoot the photo, which is one of my most prized mementos. And much to my surprise, Beth then handed Chris their camera and asked if I would take a picture with them! During John’s career and beyond, Beth
was a very popular member of the Celtics family as well. It was a moment to remember and a reminder that sometimes the heroes of our youth turn out to be even better people than they were players.
John Havlicek may be gone, but his memory will live forever in the hearts of Celtics fans, especially in the heart of a nine year old kid from Brockton, MA who may be in his 60’s but will always cherish boyhood memories of this incredible athlete and human being. RIP Hondo.