John Havlicek was a revolutionary player, athletic freak, sixth-man and superstar in one. He won eight NBA titles in two completely different epochs with the Boston Celtics. Yet many today only know exactly one moment of his career.
It is probably the most famous radio call in basketball history, the tones of the late Celtics broadcaster Johnny Most describing the last seconds of Game 7 of the 1965 Eastern Conference Finals between the defending champion Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers.
Leading Wilt Chamberlain and the Philadelphia 76ers by one with just five seconds to go, the Celtics needed a defensive stop on their home court to advance to the Finals. Havlicek got a piece of the inbounds pass, redirecting it to Sam Jones, and Boston dribbled out the clock as time expired and fans rushed the court to mob Havlicek.
“Greer is putting the ball into play. He gets it out deep,” Most intones before his voices rise into a frenzy. “Havlicek steals it. Over to Sam Jones. Havlicek stole the ball! It’s all over! Johnny Havlicek stole the ball!”
The Celtics went on to defeat the Lakers in 5 games for the NBA Championship, the seventh consecutive title in a series of eight straight.
When asked about the best Swingmen in history, most people would probably still think of ten players before referring to the man named after John Wayne. Everyone has their favorites, and that’s right. But one should not forget on any list that in the 60s and 70s, one player played as a superstar and enjoyed more respect among players than almost anyone else.
When asked about his longtime rival Havlicek, Jerry West once said:
“Superstar is a bad word. In our league, you see guys dribbling through their legs and playing spectacularly, saying, This is a superstar. I’m telling you: Havlicek is a true superstar.”
Havlicek went on to score over 26,000 points in an NBA career that lasted 16 seasons, but he is best remembered for that steal immortalized on tape by the late Johnny Most. John Havlicek stealing an inbound pass to win Game 7 of the 1965 Eastern Conference Finals is one of the most iconic basketball plays in history.