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NBA Legends Series - John Havlicek: The Forgotten Superstar

Unparalleled horse lung

Above all, it was this persistence that set him apart from every other player. Havlicek was a miracle of nature in this regard. He just didn't get tired. In every fast break he was first in front, on set play his feet never stood still, defensively he was fast and at the same time strong enough to defend three positions.

Hondo's horse lung is almost unprecedented in league history, perhaps the closest to Allen Iverson would be to do justice to a comparison. In fact, he was born with an abnormally large lung volume, and a "no" in childhood was also helpful: he later said that as a child he always had to run next to his friends because his parents didn't want to buy him a bike.

The incredible endurance as well as the strong athletic prerequisites enabled Havlicek to practice not one, not two, but three sports at all-state level at high school. Although he only played basketball in college, the Cleveland Browns drafted him in 1962 with the aim of making him a wide receiver.

"I wanted to do both sports," Hondo looked back later. He did not make it into the final squad after a few missions in the preseason. "God made me realize that I was meant for basketball and not football." There his perseverance - among many other qualities - was indeed worth its weight in gold.

John Havlicek: assistant to Russell

It enabled him to lead the NBA in minutes as a player over 30 for two seasons in a row. Or to stand in the playoffs for more than 47 minutes per game in '69 and '72. It also enabled Havlicek to play an inhuman 289 out of 291 possible minutes in the 1974 Finals and become the Finals MVP. In 1976, when he was 35 at the time, he played 58 minutes in game 5 of the finals, although the doctors had actually not allowed him more than 25 minutes.

His understanding of the game and his versatility were in no way inferior to endurance. When Auerbach became general manager and Russell took over as player-coach, Hondo de facto became his main assistant, essentially taking care of the offense.

He himself was perhaps the greatest luxury coach Russell had. "Because Havlicek can play at top speed throughout the game and take over multiple positions with ease, he allows Russell to replace any tired or cold player with the best bench player, regardless of their position," said Frank Deford of der Sports Illustrated Hondo's role in the 1960s Celtics.

The legendary Knicks coach Red Holzman was once confused: "With his endurance alone he would have been one of the best players of all time. It would have been fair to those who had to play or coach against him if he only had this inhuman endurance Instead, God had to go one better by making him a good scorer, a clever ball handler and an intelligent defender who also had a quick mind, quick hands and quick feet. "

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John Havlicek: From student to teacher

After Russell retired as the biggest winner in American sport in 1969, things changed for Havlicek too. "In my first seven seasons I was something like the kid on the team. Suddenly I became the 'old guy' that all the youngsters should listen to. That wasn't easy for me," Hondo said in a 2009 interview Celtic Nation back.

However, this short rebuild phase did not last long. Just as Russell, Cousy, Tom Heinsohn and Sam Jones had done for him, Hondo showed newcomers like Dave Cowens, Jo Jo White or Don Chaney what "Celtic Pride" meant and how to behave in the successful franchise . Success soon returned with the undisputed leader Havlicek.

Already in '72 and '73 it was enough for the best record in the East as well as the Conference Finals, in '74 and '76 Hondo then won his titles seven and eight. Only Russell and Jones have more. He leaves a legacy that speaks for itself - one would think.

Jerry West: "A Real Superstar"

Even so, when asked about the best swingmen in history, most people would probably think of ten players before referring to the man named after John Wayne.

Everyone has their favorites, and that's right. But one shouldn't forget with any leaderboard that there was someone playing in the 60s and 70s who met every definition of a superstar and who enjoyed more respect among the players than almost anyone else.

"Superstar is a bad word," Jerry West once said when asked about his longtime rival. "In our league you see guys who dribble through their legs and play spectacularly and say, 'That's a superstar'. I'll tell you: Havlicek is a real superstar. Most of the others came from the mind of some scribbler."