Late this summer, before the Celtics opened their training camp, Havlicek was back in Ohio. Early one sunny afternoon, he turned his Jeep Wagoneer out of the drive of the four-bedroom maple-shaded brick house in Wellington Woods, a suburb of Columbus, and headed out for some errand-hopping prior to an afternoon golfing date and an evening banquet to be held in his honor in downtown Columbus. "Actually," he said, "it's for the Children's Hospital. I'm just a reason to get people there." The Jeep had been the automobile of his choice for winning the MVP award. Its mates in the Havlicek garage were a bottle-green Cadillac convertible, an Audi and a Honda Trail 70 that had only 29 miles on it because all he uses it for is to take mini-rides around the neighborhood with his 4-year-old son Chris snuggled against his chest.
"I identify with the Jeep," said Havlicek, turning into Olentangy Road. "You know, I could do this every day the rest of my life—play golf, fish, play tennis. Loaf around in these." He pulled at the striped beach shirt he was wearing with the faded jeans and a scuffed pair of Adidas sneakers without socks. His hair was longer than it used to be, a concession to style, he said, and to his wife's wishes.
He said it had not been that difficult to adjust his son-of-a-butcher's tastes to his conspicuous success (his salary alone, as the highest-paid Celtic, is $200,000-plus). "We do not try to run up a lot of material things," he said. The Havlicek homes in Ohio and in suburban Melrose outside Boston are tidy and attractive, but not pretentious; no swimming pools, no fancy rec rooms. Beth Havlicek, his college sweetheart, is a pretty girl with cornsilk hair and startling blue eyes. She has kept her cheerleader's figure through two pregnancies (they have Chris and a daughter, Jill, who is one year old) by engaging John in a continuous round of shared activities. Beth took up tennis and golf for him, John took up skiing and horseback riding for her.
Havlicek made a grocery stop, then drove past the International Manufacturing and Marketing Corporation, a small but growing ($1 million assets) manufacturer's rep of which John is vice-president. Under its aegis there is an expanding Havlicek line of sporting goods—five signatured items to date and, coming soon, a John Havlicek basketball game that is played like darts and will retail for $15. The president of IMM wants John to quit playing basketball and run the business full time. John said he told him that as long as he was in the shape he's in he'd forgo the opportunity for a full-time desk job.
He patted his unabundant stomach. "I'm down to 193 now, but it's not unusual," he said. "I always lose in the off-season. I don't go for sweets, and I don't drink much, and in the off-season I run around so much that I don't pay much attention to eating. Once we go to camp I'll go to four meals a day, meat and potatoes, and be up to 205 in no time."
He said he could remember that first Celtic camp as if it were yesterday. "I was absorbed right away. There was no trial period, no feeling out. Red never took a lot of guys to camp, and the old Celtics knew what to expect. All Red did was motivate 'em. They'd all been champions either in college or as pros, and they never thought they should ever lose a game.
"The first year, Frank Ramsey and I divided playing time. Ramsey was near retirement, but he was still great. We were close. That's when I first got to be called the 'sixth man,' Red said, 'It doesn't matter who starts, it's who finishes.' I wanted to finish. I've always taken pride in the ability to play guard and forward. No one else has really done it. Ordinarily a sixth man can handle the offense at either position, but the defense gets him. A guard can't always pin a good forward in the corner, a forward can't stay with a guard up and down court. My defensive background made it easier.
"To Red the idea of a team having character was as important as anything else. He was gruff and tough, but he transmitted something. The Celtics have always had a unity, a feeling for each other. On my first day in Boston, Bill Russell took me all over town to help me find a stereo. The biggest name in basketball. And I was a rookie. There were no factions, no personality conflicts that lasted very long, no black and white problems. There was no scuttlebutt, no rumors. It must have been rough on the Boston writers.
When Russell left as coach, I went from being the youth of the Celtics to the old man. K.C. Jones was gone...Sam...the next year, Bailey Howell. Nelson, Satch Sanders and I were the only vets left. People said, 'Are these the Celtics?' For a long while I didn't think so. A lot of young players today don't want to learn fundamentals, they don't want to feed, block out, learn the plays. They have so much physical ability they try to take shortcuts. Well, I don't want to be on a team that is fundamentally unsound. And that's the way we seemed to be heading.
"In one game we set up two out-of-bound plays, actually called time-out to set them up. On the first one, the in-bounds pass was thrown to the wrong man. On the second the center lined up wrong. I couldn't believe it. I doubt I'd done it before, but I came back to the bench screaming, and I had more to say in the locker room. Afterward I told a writer it was the dumbest team I'd ever been associated with. I said we had seven simple plays, and if a guy comes into this league making $20,000 and can't learn seven simple plays, then he doesn't deserve to be paid. The funny thing about it was we won the game."