Havlicek's famous public moniker, "Hondo," was inspired by the John Wayne movie, but for years his teammates have called him Czech after the last syllable of his name. And when they make fun of him, it is usually about his fastidiousness in the locker room, where Czech places each piece of clothing on a separate hook, lines up his toiletries on the shelf according to height and folds his uniform square to the corners. "Czech's the only man in the NBA who keeps his socks on a hanger," says Celtic Trainer Frank Challant.
"That's not so funny," says Havlicek. "I'm a man of routine and discipline. My socks have to dry out. My whole life has been thought out."
And so, then, the end of his basketball career.
Havlicek wanted to reveal his intentions during the first week of the season, but when the Celtics got off to their horrid start General Manager Red Auerbach persuaded him to hold off.
Slowed by a preseason appendectomy and playing less than usual, Havlicek averaged only 12 points in his first 20 games. As the season disintegrated, with Jo Jo White being shelved with injuries, Charlie Scott being traded and Heinsohn being replaced by Sanders, Havlicek began to be counted on more and more, as in bygone times. He responded by averaging 16 points and 34 minutes a game, second only to Cowens on the club. In March, during one stretch of four games in consecutive days, Havlicek scored 20, 32, 25 and 27 points. Performances like that silenced doubts about his future usefulness, but Havlicek never looked back.
When he announced his retirement on Jan. 29, Havlicek mentioned that as he traveled the league for the last time he wanted to take "a little piece of every building and capture the memories." But in the first couple of cities he tried out his Sarah Bernhardt tour he was nervous and uneasy during the ceremonies, halting in the midst of his valedictory speeches. "I don't take compliments well," he said.
By last week, however, Havlicek had heard and said the same things so many times that the act had become studied. The Celtics were even dozing through it.
Before Boston defeated the crippled Portland Trail Blazers 104-92 on Tuesday in his final appearance in the Northwest, Havlicek was given a prolonged standing ovation during which even the champion Blazers stood up and applauded and saluted him as he turned round and round, waving to the crowd. Still, he was apparently unmoved. Moreover, in Denver the next night, though the sellout crowd was again loud and effusive, the honored guest's remarks were dull, flat, strained—even as wife Beth showed up glowing in a blue suit and enormous corsage.
"The captain's going stale with this thing," said Cowens.
"John's never been emotional," said Beth. "I say, 'Wow, look at that sunset,' and if he says, 'Yes, it's nice,' that means it's a fabulous sunset. He's not one to get lumps in the throat. He's not one to cry."