BOSTON — Ohio's John Havlicek, the Boston Celtics great whose steal of Hal Greer's inbounds pass in the final seconds of the 1965 Eastern Conference final against the Philadelphia 76ers remains one of the most famous plays in NBA history, died Thursday. He was 79.
The Celtics said the Hall of Famer died in Jupiter, Florida. The cause of death wasn't immediately available. The Boston Globe said he had Parkinson's disease.
Havlicek was a native of Martins Ferry, Ohio, who went on to star at Bridgeport High School in Bridgeport, Ohio, and then at Ohio State University. With Havlicek a key cog, the Buckeyes, coached by Fred Taylor, won the national title in 1960 by beating California 75-55, then lost in the championship game to the University of Cincinnati the next two years. The Buckeyes won the Big Ten each of those years.
Nicknamed "Hondo" for his resemblance to John Wayne, Havlicek was drafted in the first round in 1962 out of Ohio State by a Celtics team stocked with stars Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, K.C. Jones, Sam Jones, Tom Sanders, Tom Heinsohn and Frank Ramsey.
Boston won NBA championships in Havlicek's first six years with the team. He went on to win eight NBA championships and an NBA Finals MVP award with Boston, setting Celtics career records for points and games. He was named one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history and enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1984.
Gravel-voiced Johnny Most's radio call of Havlicek's 1965 steal against Philadelphia — "Havlicek stole the ball! Havlicek stole the ball!" — helped make the play one of the most enduring moments in NBA history.
The 6-foot-5 Havlicek was also an outstanding football and baseball player in high school and was given a tryout by the Cleveland Browns after graduating from college. The Bridgeport High gym is named after him.
At Ohio State, Havlicek was an All-American who helped the Buckeyes to a 78-6 record in his three years as a starter. His No. 5 jersey hangs in the rafters at the Schottenstein Center, having been retired in 2005.
As his jersey was making the 136-foot ascension from hardwood to ceiling, Havlicek stood alongside former coach Taylor's widow, Eileen, and experienced a series of emotions and thoughts.
"You feel very proud and you start to reminisce about all the things you did while you were in school, regardless of whether it was a class or a practice or a game or travel," Havlicek said. "You bring them all together and figure out the best parts of what happened while you were there, and it's just a wonderful feeling. To have the whole stadium cheer you is something you'll never forget."
As a sophomore at Ohio State, he scored 12.2 points a game as the Buckeyes won the national championship. All five starters from Ohio State's title team — which included Jerry Lucas and future Celtic teammate Larry Siegfried — played in the NBA. Backup Bob Knight went on to a Hall of Fame coaching career.
In the pro ranks, Havlicek was known for his durability as much as for his deadly jump shot or his heroics in Boston's triple-overtime NBA finals victory over Phoenix in 1976. He played at least 81 games in each of his 15 seasons with the Celtics, and he didn't just play: He was on the run constantly and was perpetually in motion.
In his NBA career he scored 26,395 points in 1,270 games. He seldom rested.
His No. 17 was raised to the rafters in old Boston Garden and now resides in TD Garden, retired soon after he retired in 1978.
Upon learning of Havlicek's death, the Celtics released a statement Thursday that said, in part:
"John was kind and considerate, humble and gracious. He was a champion in every sense, and as we join his family, friends, and fans in mourning his loss, we are thankful for all the joy and inspiration he brought to us."
Havlicek remained in Boston after his retirement, managing investments. He later split time between New England and Florida. He occasionally returned to Ohio State for reunions of the championship team.
Information from The Associated Press and Dispatch archives was used in this story.