By Mary Cunningham
It’s hard to believe that there was a time when the Sixers and the Boston Celtics were two of the best teams in the NBA and had the most heated rivalry.
Fifty years ago tomorrow night, April 15, 1965, marked one of the hardest-to-watch moments in Sixers history — the night:
Havlicek stole the ball!
That is how gravel-voiced, annoying Celtics announcer Johnny Most described an inbounds pass in the seventh game of the 1965 Eastern finals that, if the Wilt Chamberlain-led Sixers had won, would have sent them to the NBA finals against the Lakers.
The Celtics were ahead 110-109 and the great Bill Russell prepared to inbounds a pass that somehow hit the guide wire that secured the backboards in those days in the old Boston Garden.
So Philly got the ball back and Hal Greer attempted to inbounds a pass to Chet Walker, which the Celtics’ Sam Jones tipped to John Havlicek, who dribbled around till the clock ran out.
Five members of the 1964-65 team Celtics’ team gathered at a waterside Boston hotel to talk about that play, with Havlicek describing how Russell came to the huddle after a turnover and asked teammates to bail him out, setting up the steal.
“The person who made it what it is is Johnny Most,” Havlicek told the audience. “Without Johnny this thing would never have happened. It would have been an ordinary steal. Johnny parlayed it to legendary status.”
Havlicek said he waited until the four-second count and then darted in front of Philly’s Walker for the steal. Havlicek deflected the ball to Jones, who threw it back to Havlicek, who tossed the ball in the air as the buzzer sounded. He was mobbed by Celtics fans at the Boston Garden.
“I [would] like to know where that ball is today,” Havlicek said. “Back then memorabilia wasn’t that big a thing.”
“You should have never taken the shot,” Heinsohn retorted.
Havlicek said he was grateful for the play that defined his career.
“Here we are 50 years later and I have two generations [after me] I’m working on,” he said. “They weren’t even around when all this happened.”
Russell spoke about the play via video while the group also discussed other Celtics greats such as K.C. Jones and Bob Cousy. Havlicek, the Celtics’ leading scorer, won eight titles, including two in the post-Russell era (1974, 1976).