In his first scrimmage, Havlicek was matched with Jim Loscutoff, a burly forward known for his physical play. After a while, a winded Loscutoff yelled out: “Hey, you’re crazy. Nobody runs like that. Slow down.”
Havlicek responded, “Quit pushing me so hard and I’ll quit running so hard.”
Havlicek never did stop moving, all the way to April, 9, 1978, when he scored 29 points in a victory over the Buffalo Braves. It was the last time a Celtic wore No. 17.
John Joseph Havlicek was born in Martins Ferry, Ohio, on April 8, 1940, the second son of Frank Havlicek, who had emigrated to the United States from Czechoslovakia at 12, and Mandy (Turkalj) Havlicek, who was of Croatian descent but born in the United States. His parents ran a general store, and the family lived above it, on U.S. 40 in nearby Lansing, an Ohio Valley town of a few hundred residents near Wheeling, W.Va.
Fearing traffic on the busy roadway, Havlicek’s parents refused to let John have a bicycle as a youngster, so he tended to sprint everywhere to keep up with friends.
“Maybe that’s where I developed my stamina,” he wrote in “Hondo: Celtic Man in Motion,” a 1977 autobiography written with Bob Ryan. In a 1988 interview with Sports Illustrated, Havlicek attributed his “exceptional lungs” to all the running he did, claiming that doctors “have to take two chest X-rays to fit them in.”
Havlicek liked to cut through an uphill wooded area on the way to meeting his friends, including Phil Niekro, who lived across the street and, along with a brother, Joe, went on to pitch in the major leagues. On the way home, Havlicek would run all the way downhill, dodging trees, falling often.
“But maybe I developed the instincts for all the shuffling in basketball,” he wrote in his book.
The discipline to keep running, keep working, came naturally, he said, perhaps from watching his parents labor in their store. Frank Havlicek — a fan of soccer, a game John didn’t play — seldom had time to attend his son’s basketball, football or baseball games at Bridgeport High School, in the Ohio River village of Bridgeport, where he was heavily recruited for basketball. (Its gymnasium was named for him in 2007.)