I never played basketball anywhere except the back yard and phys ed. In the back yards and school gyms of my high school years I mostly played with and against black guys who almost always took a game or two to accept I might belong with them–perhaps even be better than them. For whatever reason, several different guys, independently of each other, took to calling me “Havlicek” which, in those pre-Larry Bird days, was their idea of the baddest white boy around. Eventually, it stuck.
He wasn’t my favorite player, even when I rooted for the Celtics (which I did after Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain retired from the Lakers, in deference to Boston being my dad’s favorite team).
But I was always happy to be compared to him, however tangentially. He epitomized personal and athletic class while winning eight NBA championships. He was the best player on about four of them, including a couple that still had an aging Bill Russell. Early in his career, he elevated the role of the “sixth man” to enough of an art form that there was bound to be a day when they gave a seasonal award for it. Once he made starter he became one of the twenty best players in the history of the NBA.
He passed away yesterday after a long, quiet retirement which he spent fifty miles from my sister’s place. Who knew? That he–the most tireless player in the history of one of the world’s most physically demanding sports–was taken by complications due to Parkinson’s is only the latest proof that all glory is fleeting.
But, oh what glory…