In the NBA, only teammates Bill Russell and Sam Jones won more championship rings during their playing careers. Havlicek is considered one of the best NBA players in history, especially on defense, and was inducted as a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1984. He was a three sport star at Bridgeport High School in Bridgeport, Ohio and one of his boyhood friends was Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro. The Bridgeport High School Gymnasium was renamed the "John J Havlicek Gymnasium; in January 2007. He shares the honor with National High School Hall of Fame member,Frank Baxter, A long time coach at Bridgeport High School. The court is named after Baxter.
Perhaps the most famous play-by-play call in NBA history came on April 15, 1965, when legendary Celtics broadcaster Johnny Most exclaimed "Havlicek stole the ball!" after Havlicek intercepted Hal Greer's inbound pass to clinch the Eastern Conference Championship against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Havlicek was drafted by both the Celtics and the NFL's Cleveland Browns in 1962. After competing briefly as a wide receiver in the Browns' training camp that year, he focused his energies on playing for the Celtics, with head coach Red Auerbach later describing him as the "guts of the team". He was also known for his stamina, with competitors saying that it was a challenge just to keep up with him.
Nicknamed "Hondo", (a name inspired by the John Wayne movie of the same name), Havlicek revolutionized the "sixth man" role, and has been immortalized for his clutch steal in the closing seconds of the 1965 Eastern Conference championship.
In the seventh and final game, played at Boston Garden, the Celtics led the Philadelphia 76ers 110-109 with five seconds left, and only needed to inbound the ball underneath their basket to secure the victory and advance to the NBA Finals. But Bill Russell's pass struck a wire that hung down from the ceiling and helped support the baskets, the turnover giving the 76ers and Wilt Chamberlain the ball and a chance to win the game -- and the series. Hal Greer was set to throw the inbounds pass for the 76ers. Havlicek stood with his back to Greer, guarding dangerous Chet Walker.
"Greer is putting the ball in play. He gets it out deep and Havlicek steals it! Over to Sam Jones! Havlicek stole the ball! It's all over...It's all over! Johnny Havlicek stole the ball!"Veteran referee Earl Strom, who wrote about this in his memoir "Calling the Shots," called Havlicek's reaction one of the greatest plays Strom ever saw in his 32 years as a professional official.
John Havlicek is the Celtics all-time leader in points and games played, scoring 26,395 points (20.8 points per game, 10th all-time in points scored in the NBA), and playing in 1,270 games (4th all-time). He became the first player to score 1,000 points in 16 consecutive seasons, with his best season coming during the 1970-71 NBA season when he averaged 28.9 points per game.
In the second overtime of Game Five of the 1976 NBA Finals ("The Greatest Game Ever Played") Havlicek made a leaning, running bank shot that appeared to be the game-winner, as fans spilled onto the floor. But, Havlicek's shot went in with one second left and Phoenix was allowed one final shot (after JoJo White sank the technical for Phoenix's illegal timeout), which Garfield Heard sank to force the third overtime. The Celtics went on to win the game in triple overtime.
During the 2008 NBA Finals, the ABC commentators would frequently single out Havlicek in the crowd, and compliment his appearance.