NBA legend John Havlicek dies at 79

·4 min read
John Havlicek (Getty)
John Havlicek played in the NBA for 16 seasons. (Getty)

Basketball legend and eight-time NBA champion with the Boston Celtics John Havlicek has died at 79 years old.

The Celtics announced the news Thursday evening.

Havlicek played 16 seasons in the NBA, all with the Celtics. He made 13 All-Star teams and was an 11-time All-NBA selection before entering the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1984. The NBA named Havlicek on its list of the 50 greatest players to play in the league.

“John Havlicek is one of the most accomplished players in Boston Celtics history, and the face of many of the franchise’s signature moments,” a statement from the Celtics reads. “He was a great champion both on the court and in the community, winning 8 NBA championships and an NBA Finals MVP, while holding Celtics career records for points scored and games played.”

A great among Celtics legends

A shooting guard and small forward, Havlicek averaged 20.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.2 steals over his career. He is the Celtics all-time leader in points scored and games played, ranks second in assists and fifth in rebounds. He was also an elite defender.

A tremendous athlete, he was selected in the seventh round of the 1962 NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns, the same year the Celtics chose him in the first round of the NBA draft.

Havlicek did much of his damage off the bench as a sixth man in his early years during the Celtics dynasty who often found himself in the game at crunch time. He joined an iconic Celtics team that already featured Bill Russell, Bob Cousy and Sam Jones. Known for his stamina and endurance, Havlicek regularly thrived by outlasting his opponents on the court. He averaged 36.6 minutes per game despite coming off the bench for much of his career.

‘Havlicek stole the ball!’

He is perhaps best known for his steal in the waning moments of Game 7 of the 1965 Eastern Conference finals the sealed Boston’s 110-109 win over the Philadelphia 76ers and inspired broadcaster Johnny Most's famous “Havlicek stole the ball” call.

The Celtics would go on to defeat the Los Angeles Lakers that year for the NBA championship.

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Jerry West, the Lakers icon who lost to Havlicek’s Celtics in those ‘65 Finals, spoke kindly of his former rival on the news of his death.

“The thing with John, he competed against you at the highest level and he wanted to win badly,” West told ESPN Thursday. “But he was always a really nice person. I don’t think that I ever heard anyone say a bad word about John.”

Leader of the post-dynasty Celtics

As the legends Havlicek joined in Boston aged and retired, he became the focal point of the team after the Russell dynasty. He eventually led Boston to another NBA title in 1974, where he was named NBA Finals MVP.

Havlicek was also a key member of the 1976 Celtics team that would win him his final championship before he retired in 1978.

NBA reacts

NBA commissioner Adam Silver released a statement on Havlicek Thursday evening.

“John Havlicek was a wonderful friend who represented the best of the NBA. He described himself as a man of routine and discipline — a humble approach that produced extraordinary results, including eight NBA championships with the Boston Celtics, 13 All-Star selections and some of the most iconic moments in league history.

A trusted teammate who prioritized winning, John’s passion and energy endeared him to basketball fans and made him a model for generations fo NBA players. We send our deepest sympathies to John’s wife, Beth, his son, Chris and his daughter, Jill, as well as the entire Celtics organization.”

The Boston Herald reports that Havlicek, who had battled Parkinson’s Disease, caught pneumonia three weeks ago and died after his family placed him in hospice care on Wednesday.

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