Three hundred and seventy-two professional basketball games and four years ago, the Boston Celtics dynasty was crumbling. The team had won four championships in a row, but had been forced to seven games to beat Los Angeles, and the players were old and worn out. Sharman was gone, Cousy was going, Ramsey and Loscutoff were looking for a graceful way to call it quits.
On a sunny summer day of that year Red Auerbach met his first draft choice of the season, John Havlicek of Ohio State, at Red's camp in Marshfield, Mass. Auerbach remembers it well. Havlicek ran up and down the court without taking a deep breath. He cut and jumped and shot among the other Celtics, and Auerbach watched with awe. "I remember I was stunned," Auerbach says. "All I could think of was, 'Ooh, have I got something here! Are they going to think I'm smart!' " Red Auerbach had never seen Havlicek play before.
It is 1966 now, and once again there were seven games with Los Angeles in the title round. But, as always, the Celtics won, and Red Auerbach left coaching with his eighth straight world championship. The man who succeeds him, William F. Russell—of the writing and rebounding Russells—has been the most important player through all of these championship years and, as such, must depend mostly on himself if the dynasty is to continue. Still, growing more and more significant to the Celtics' success with each season is 26-year-old John Havlicek (see cover), who has achieved a supporting role that no Celtic has risen to fill since Bob Cousy was at his peak
From the time in the recent Cincinnati playoff series when Auerbach was down 2-1 and could no longer afford the luxury of keeping him as a sixth man, Havlicek has almost doubled his average for rebounds, and he led the Boston scoring in the series with the Lakers. And Auerbach has kept him on the floor, at both forward and guard, nearly as much as he has played Russell. In the seventh game last Thursday, Auerbach had Havlicek go the whole 48 minutes with Russell, as Boston held off a late Los Angeles rally to win 95-93.
In addition to those accomplishments that can be tallied, Havlicek, like Russell, is one of those rare players who force rivals to alter their regular methods in deference to him. Havlicek is 6 feet 5� and weighs 205 pounds, and he has unusual speed, strength and agility for a man that size. He is too fast for most forwards and too big for most guards to cope with. "No one in the league his size is even close to Havlicek in quickness." Los Angeles Coach Fred Schaus says. "He is entirely responsible for the trend to small, quick forwards."
Havlicek's speed in the corner forced Schaus to abandon his regular lineup, to bench 6-foot-7 All-Star Forward Rudy La Russo for 6-foot-1 Gail Goodrich. Goodrich went to the backcourt with Jim King, while Jerry West (6 feet 3) moved to a corner to battle Havlicek. It became, essentially, a three-guard Los Angeles lineup, making the Lakers extremely vulnerable on the boards. But because of the Celtics' mobility, Schaus figured this was his only chance to win. Elgin Baylor, obliged to concentrate on rebounding, was battered and weakened, yet despite a couple of inept losses, Schaus refused to switch back to his regular lineup. What he did do was start bringing in his rebounding strength (namely La Russo) more often, and the Lakers began to recover. Though they lost the fourth game, too, to fall behind 3-1, they played well and then came back with two straight to tie the series. The little lineup—guerrilla warriors—could match the Boston speed and tire the Boston veterans, and then West would move back to guard and he and Baylor would let loose the big guns.
Suddenly it was Auerbach who was struggling. His bench had never been weaker, his starters never in worse shape. Russell had a broken bone in his foot that he kept quiet. Sanders had a secret chest injury, the five starters wore a total of eight leg bandages—including K. C. Jones's full-length wraparound. On top of all this, in mid-series, 32-year-old Sam Jones started playing up to his age.
Los Angeles does not. however, have a center to handle Russell—who does besides Philadelphia?—and depends too much on West and Baylor for scoring. In the seventh game, when these two turned up unbelievably cold (3 for 18 in the first half), Boston was able to take a big lead and stagger home with it. The final margin of only two points is misleading, however, for the Lakers cut it down from double figures only in the last 30 seconds, when the Boston police lost their annual playoff with the Boston fans.
Each time Auerbach lights his last victory cigar of the season the fans charge the court like Attila's Huns, and there are never enough of Boston's finest on hand. The mob practically kills Auerbach and the players. Russell got knocked down this year, and Sanders lost his shirt in the melee. The Celtics were lucky they did not lose the title. Trying to get the ball in bounds, the Celtics had to out-maneuver the crowd and then work their way upcourt on a surface sticky with spilled orange juice. The Lakers actually had three seconds in which they could have achieved a tie, but K. C. got the ball to Havlicek and the game ended that way, Havlicek hugging the ball and the fans tumbling all over the court.
It was a disgraceful episode, and Havlicek could not excuse it even in the first flush of victory. "Fans expect athletes to keep their poise, never to choke under pressure," he said. "Is it too much for athletes to expect fans to keep their poise, too?"