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But it is altogether unlikely that you will ever see another Havlicek. The dimension John Havlicek has brought to basketball is entirely and uniquely his own, and it will probably go with him once he finally winds down. At that time Geoff Petrie of the Portland Trail Blazers would like to have them "take his body apart and see what's in it."
The record books are not conclusive on the subject of Havlicek: 20,814 career points represent an alltime Celtic high, but a lot of guys can put a ball in a basket. Furthermore, Havlicek does not fit any of the grooves: he plays two positions—forward and guard—not just one. Sometimes he plays them alternately during a game, sometimes interchangeably as a fill-in, though it has been a while since he was known as the Celtics' "sixth man."
The 6'5" Havlicek is what is known in the NBA as a "tweener," an in-between-size player, usually too slow for guard and too small for forward, ff you have basketball in mind, a tweener is not what you want to grow up to be. Havlicek has managed to breach the definition. His play is fast enough for the guards, big enough for the forwards.
"He is the best all-around player I ever saw," says Bill Russell simply. As a forward "he may be the best in the league right now," says Bill Sharman, the Lakers' coach. "The toughest in the league to cover," says Bullet Forward Mike Riordan. As a guard, says Jon McGlocklin of the Bucks, "he's right on your shirt whether you're five feet from the basket or 20. He's harder to get shots on than anybody." "He plays bigger than 6'5"," says Jerry West, late of the Lakers. ("Right," says Havlicek. "I'm actually 6'5�". I think I'm still growing.") "A road runner," says Laker General Manager Pete Newell, "taking you through every ditch, every irrigation canal, barbed-wire fence and cattle guard. You've had a trip over the plains when you've played him for a night."
There are a lot of fine shooters I around," says Al Attles, the Warriors' coach, "but when it gets right down to taking that big shot, the one that really means something, they're off in a corner somewhere." "He'll not only take it," says Sam Lacey of the Kings, "he wants it."
If you gauged worth by pure skill, a veteran basketball observer believes, "Havlicek would not rate in the top five. But if you were playing for a million bucks, he'd be in the top two." Jerry West, a less practical jurist, says: "Superstar is a bad word. In our league people look at players, watch them dribble between their legs, watch them make spectacular plays, and they say, 'There's a superstar.' Well, John Havlicek is a superstar, and most of the others are figments of writers' imaginations."
It would be reassuring for those who become melted butter in his wake to believe that Havlicek is some kind of genetic fluke who grew into a large pair of lungs connected to a long pair of legbones, the whole held together by wire, rubber and whipcord. But in Havlicek's case his particular style was charted by him as surely as if it were a sea voyage. The pivotal moment occurred during his sophomore year at Ohio State, when he was growing in the shadow of Jerry Lucas, just as he would later live in Bill Russell's more encompassing one in Boston.
For the record, Havlicek was born in Martins Ferry in the athlete-rich Ohio Valley, raised on the West Virginia line in rural Lansing, Ohio (pop. 1,000) and schooled in nearby Bridgeport. He was the second son of an immigrant Czechoslovakian butcher, Frank Havlicek, who, until he died last year, never lost his accent and believed soccer was the only sport. While mother and father tended the Havlicek stores John became a prime item at Bridgeport High, his names—Yunch, Boola, Big John, Mr. Clean—on everyone's lips. He never met a sport he didn't like. In baseball he hit .440, and teammate Phil Niekro, now with the Atlanta Braves, says he would have been a cinch big-leaguer.
As a 6'3", 180-pound quarterback, Havlicek was not only the class of the Bridgeport football team but also most of its size. He could throw a football 80 yards, but never had time to because his guards and tackles weighed 130 pounds. To compensate he got to be so good running the split-T option that twice in one game officials blew the ball dead because they couldn't find it.
Of such stuff legends are made, of course, and responsible people enjoy nurturing them. Red Auerbach says he once asked John how far he could swim, having seen him knifing through a motel pool. Red says John replied, "I don't know, it's just like walking to me." There are similar stories about Havlicek hefting a tennis racket for the first time and winning a class tournament at Ohio State, and about his picking up a foil and performing like Douglas Fairbanks. Havlicek laughs them off. Basketball was his best and true love, and he had no illusions about how he had to play it, even as a high-schooler. "It's true I'm not a shooter," he says, "not the way Sam Jones was or Jon McGlocklin. I never had their touch. I learned to score by taking advantage of every opening." He found early on that when confronted with taller players he could "lean back and throw it up, then run get the rebound and put it in." Sooner or later he always put it in. After Havlicek scored 28 of his team's 31 points in one game, the rival coach told the Bridgeport coach he knew how to stop Havlicek. "Put three men on him man-to-man, and play the other two in a zone under the basket," he said. "And every time he gets near the ball complain to the referees that they're favoring him."