John Havlicek is the reason I fell in love with basketball. I was 10 years old when “Hondo” and the Celtics upended the mighty Milwaukee Bucks in the 1974 NBA Finals. It was, is, and always will be my greatest sports memory. Yes, greater than covering four Red Sox World Series wins, nine Patriots' Super Bowl appearances and two Celtics' NBA Finals.
As a kid, everything was pure about sports. Of course, growing up to work in this business of sports media, that purity becomes quickly diluted by the reality that professional athletes are flawed and very, very human.
John Havlicek is my one exception.
One night, I left the Garden to walk over to the Ace Ticket studio to co-host Celtics Postgame Live with Donny Marshall, when I heard a soft and friendly voice say, “Hi, Gary.” You could say the voice was pure.
I turned to see it was my boyhood hero, John Havlicek. I was around the Celts quite bit but had never had the pleasure of running into Hondo. Now, I have been fortunate enough to interview Ted Williams, Larry Bird, Tom Brady, Kevin Garnett and talk rinkside with the greatest hockey player of all-time, Bobby Orr. However – none of those experiences came close to meeting John that night.
We walked and talked as he told me he despised the 3-point shot. Of course, he did! It wasn’t pure. It wasn’t John Havlicek basketball. Let’s face it, the THREEEEE…is lazy hoop. Knock down a few of those babies and you don’t have to work as hard. John loved to work, and he could run forever. I often wonder how he would have done in the Boston Marathon.
No one played the game with a greater understanding of motion that Hondo. Cut, screen, roll, slide, head fake, pull up, fill the lane, fast break, left hand, right hand and on and on and on.
Havlicek didn’t need the 3-pointer to make it to the Hall of Fame. Think about Larry Bird without the 3-point shot or Hondo with it. To me, that would’ve been the great equalizer.
Other than the 3-ball, two other advantages Bird had over John were four inches in height (6-9 to 6-5), and the fact the NBA was much more popular in the '80s than the '70s. Do not tell me that.
Havlicek was not as good as Bird if you did not watch Hondo play seasons of basketball as I did. I will tell you this: Defensively, Larry couldn’t carry John’s jock. Cedric Maxwell, who played with both, will back me up on that.
The Celtics have lost a great one and a pure one. No one was purer on the parquet than John Havlicek.
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