Basketball legend John Havlicek was back on campus at Ohio State Sunday to have his uniform No. 5 retired by the school at halftime of its game against Wisconsin.
Havlicek, 64, now lives in Boston, where he was a star with the NBA’s Boston Celtics. Of course, he was a catalyst behind OSU’s teams between 1960-62 that went 78-6, won three Big Ten championships, appeared in three national championship games and won the 1960 NCAA title for coach Fred Taylor.
"This is a great day for me, being from Ohio," Havlicek said during the halftime ceremony. "The first individual accomplishment of a championship that I received came right here in 1960.
"If you look at that team not only was it a great team athletically but academically. Everyone on our team graduated."
In a poignant moment in tribute to Taylor (who died in 2001), Havlicek had the crowd in excess of 17,000 turn and face the NCAA championship banner, point and say, in unison, "Fred Taylor."
"I'll always treasure those memories from St. John," Havlicek said. "But I'll never forget this day because I've been supported tremendously by the state of Ohio. I know that each of you had something to do with my success."
Considered one of basketball’s most revered names – Havlicek was once tabbed by USA Today as one of the 10 greatest players in NBA history and he is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame – the Bridgeport, Ohio, native was asked how this honor stacks up.
“This is really big,” Havlicek told reporters before the game. “Everything started here. I won my first championship here. The great teams we had were the best teams I had played upon. I am from Ohio and I have roots in Ohio. I have always been a Buckeye and will always be a Buckeye.
“I was a Buckeye first. The Celtics come after this – but I wouldn’t trade either of them.”
Havlicek scored 1,223 points (14.6 average) in his three-year career. He grabbed 720 rebounds (8.6 average). He ranks 25th in career scoring at OSU and is one of 41 players to have scored more than 1,000 points.
As a senior in 1961-62, Havlicek averaged 17 points and almost 10 rebounds a game.
He is the fourth OSU men’s player to have his number retired joining a pair of his teammates, Jerry Lucas (11, retired in 2000) and Gary Bradds (35, 2001), as well as Jim Jackson (22, 2001). Women’s basketball star Katie Smith’s No. 30 also hangs in the rafters at Value City Arena.
Havlicek was asked about having such an honor occur at VCA instead of St. John Arena, where his teams became famous.
“That’s progress,” Havlicek said. “I have a lot of special memories there. At least it is still there. I played in the Boston Garden and it’s gone. It’s not even there anymore. The thing about St. John is when we came in it was only one or two years old. It was the state-of-the-art building in the Big Ten. There was nothing any better than St. John.”
He was asked about OSU putting its basketball program back on top.
“I would love for them to win a national championship,” he said. “I think Thad Matta is the type of person who will recruit kids from Ohio. He hopefully won’t let too many kids get away. This job is one of the best jobs in college sports. You have everything you could possibly want. I think it’s a matter of being patient. His recruiting will be something that will be monitored and looked at.
“Hopefully, he will be the one that will bring it back.”
Havlicek was asked about today’s kids and how things are different than when he was recruited.
“Today’s kids are catered to when they are 10 years old,” he said. “They have these AAU teams and they travel all over the world. The shoe companies are also part of it.
“I don’t know that it can go back to the way it was. We all played three sports. Today, they play one sport. They are constantly being catered to by AAU coaches.”
Havlicek reflected on what made his OSU teams unique.
“The thing about our team that was unusual was we were student-athletes,” Havlicek said. “Everyone graduated. We had seven guys get master’s degrees, two Ph. D’s and two MDs. At one point, we had a team GPA one quarter of 3.4. I’ll bet that’s an NCAA record.”
Obviously, OSU fans reflect on the 1960 national title win over Cal at San Francisco’s Cow Palace. But the next two years, the Buckeyes suffered agonizing defeats at the hands of instate rival Cincinnati in the title game. Which one does he remember the most?
“You remember both,” Havlicek said. “The first one was the first time I had ever won a championship in basketball. The other two defeats you wish you could play again. That’s the way it always is. My senior year, Jerry got hurt in the semifinal game. That took a lot away from our offense.”
Havlicek toured St. John Arena on Saturday and also spoke briefly to the men’s team.
“I just told them this is a great point in their life,” Havlicek said. “We talked about respect and how when you’re playing against someone, even if you lose, you want that guy to say after the game was over, `That guy was a hell of a competitor. He made a mark on me.’
“When you come off the floor, you want to say you did the best you could. You can’t ask more than that.”
He also reflected on his former coach, Taylor.
“Fred was the architect,” Taylor said. “Fred told me when he was recruiting me that I was here number one for an education, number two was basketball and number three was your social life. And after the first two, we knew there was not going to be much of a social life.”
Havlicek said he spends four months a year in Boston, four months in a home on Cape Cod, Mass., and four months in West Palm Beach, Fla.
“I own three Wendy’s restaurants,” he said. “I also have a company, Lakeview Farms, based here in Delphos, Ohio, that makes puddings and dips and desserts and gelatins. I am also a PR man for a company that makes PVC compound and wiring out of Worcester, Mass.”
Havlicek was joined for the center court ceremony by his wife, Beth; Taylor's wife, Eileen; former sports information director Marv Homan; his children, Chris Havlicek and Jill Buchanan; Chris' fiancee, Kim Boger; and Jill's son, Walker. OSU athletic director Andy Geiger introduced Havlicek.