- Peter May, Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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He won eight NBA titles with the Boston Celtics. He won with Bill Russell and without Bill Russell. He won with Red Auerbach and without Red Auerbach.
Of all the Celtics, only Russell (11) and Sam Jones (10) won more championships than John Havlicek. Three other Celtics teammates -- KC Jones, Satch Sanders and Tommy Heinsohn -- also won eight. They won them all alongside the estimable Russell.
Eight titles, eight championship rings. Right? One for each finger on each hand, leaving only the thumbs bereft of bling. Right? Well, not really.
As best as Havlicek can figure, he has five rings, two wrist watches and a liqueur-tray set from his eight championships with the Celtics. Most of the valuables are stashed away in a safe deposit box along with his NCAA championship ring from Ohio State and other memorabilia. He keeps everything, he said.
"What a lot of people don't understand is that we didn't get a ring every time we won a championship,'' Havlicek said. "That's just the way it went. Bill Russell never got 11 rings until [NBA commissioner] David Stern gave him 11 [for a photo shoot]. The NBA made them for him."
Havlicek recalled receiving a ring the first year he won a title as a member of the Celtics, the 1962-63 group. That happened to be Boston's fifth consecutive championship (and sixth in seven years.) The Celtics beat the Lakers in six games in the Finals. One of the interesting quirks of that series: Game 2 in Boston and Game 3 in Los Angeles were played on consecutive days.
Rings also were in order after the Celtics' remarkable championship victory in 1969, the last of Russell's 11 championships and easily the most improbable.
It is that ring, from 1969, that Havlicek wears, even though his most famous moment as a Celtic came in 1965, when he "stole the ball" in the closing seconds of a 110-109 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 of the Eastern Division finals. The Celtics went on to defeat the Lakers in five games in the NBA Finals.
"I wear the one from '69 because I think it's the best-looking, because it fits my finger the best and because it's not so overwhelming,'' he said. "But it's also the most special in that we came in fourth that season and we weren't expected to win. Russell took the last two weeks off to rest and no one even expected us to make it out of the first round of the playoffs."
Without the benefit of home-court advantage in any round, the 48-win Celtics of 1968-69 eliminated the 76ers in the first round in five games (winning three times in Philly), took out the Knicks in six in the conference finals (winning two of the three games in Boston by a single point) and then, famously, knocked off the uber-hyped Lakers in the Finals in seven, winning the finale in the unforgettable "Balloon Game" at the old LA Forum.
Havlicek said he had the rings appraised and the figure was roughly $4,500 per ring. But, as he noted, "It depends on who is looking. It could be $5,000, $10,000 or even $20,000." He's not in any hurry to sell, by the way.
Somewhere between his first ring, in 1963, and the one he now favors to wear from 1969, Havlicek received the aforementioned liqueur set. It was, he said, a gift, from Auerbach. It said "World Champion, Boston Celtics" on the tray, which Havlicek said is roughly 6 inches in diameter. There were cups around the border, one each to represent the number of titles. (There was, Havlicek reported, no actual liqueur, however. Just the empty cups.)
As for the watches, Havlicek said he wears the one he received after the team won the 1966 title, which turned out to be Auerbach's final season as head coach. "I've had it refurbished three times,'' Havlicek said. "It's an Omega, just like the one Red used to wear."
That Celtics team, which won 54 games, rallied from a 2-1 deficit in a best-of-five first-round series against Cincinnati, defeated Philadelphia in five games in the conference finals and then went up 3-1 against the Lakers in the NBA Finals, but still had to go seven games to win it all.
It was Auerbach's ninth and last title. It was Havlicek's sixth. He still had two more to go.
Longtime Celtics reporter Peter May is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.
1mEthan Sherwood Strauss