1984 NBA Finals
Larry v. Magic: Game-by-Game Summary
Larry v. Magic: Game-by-Game Media Coverage
It will become part of his identity - like a shaved skull, a winning megabucks ticket or an Academy Award.
Celtics guard Gerald Henderson will forever be the man who made The Steal. He is condemned to a lifetime of recounting how he snatched victory from the jaws of defeat by intercepting a lazy crosscourt pass by James Worthy in the closing seconds of what appeared to be a decimating defeat for Boston on Thursday night.
"I explained it a couple of hundred times last night," Henderson says. "You really don't know the importance of something like that until the next day. It's just exploded all the more today."
John Havlicek knows what Henderson is feeling. In the waning seconds of the seventh game of the 1965 Eastern Conference finals, Havlicek preserved a 110-109 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers by stealing Hal Greer's inbounds pass to Chet Walker.
. . . Havlicek stole the ball. The album version knocked the Beatles off the charts in the late '60s.
"I really don't tire of talking about it," says Havlicek. "It came up a lot when I was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and I'm being asked about it now. It's like Willie Mays' catch or Bobby Thomson's home run.
"People are going to be reminding Gerald of it for a while. If this had been the last game it would have been much different, but he definitely won the ballgame with that steal. He not only made the steal, he made the basket. That's double duty."
Havlicek and Henderson will always be special to Bill Russell and Kevin McHale. Havlicek bailed out Russell, who had lost the ball by tossing it off a wire support moments before Hondo's saving steal. Henderson rescued McHale, who missed a pair of free throws with the Celtics trailing by two and 20 seconds left in regulation.
"I remember Russell saying, I'm glad you stole the ball, because I was wearing the goat horns,' " recalls Havlicek.
"Kevin really didn't mention it," says Henderson. "But I just heard him say what a great play it was about 20 times."
Details of Henderson's grand theft were a little hazy immediately after the Celtics' series-tying 124-121 overtime victory. Henderson thought Cedric Maxwell had been covering Magic Johnson (Larry Bird was), and almost everybody thought Magic had inbounded to Worthy.
Here's the setup:
Down, 1-0, in the best-of-seven championship final, the Celtics trailed by two and had surrendered the ball when Magic rebounded McHale's second free throw miss with 20 seconds remaining. LA called time.
Worthy, who was guarded by McHale, inbounded from the left sideline in the backcourt. He passed to Magic, who was guarded by Bird. Magic was immediately double-teamed by McHale. He couldn't advance the ball over midcourt, because Maxwell had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar covered. On the far side of the backcourt, Danny Ainge was chasing Byron Scott and Henderson was with Bob McAdoo.
Worthy was the only man open when McHale came over to double up on Magic. Magic passed the ball back to Worthy. Ainge left Scott and came over to take Worthy. McAdoo broke toward midcourt andHenderson started with him. Worthy saw Scott unattended and lofted a crosscourt lob toward him. Anticipating the pass, Henderson had already started streaking toward Scott. He picked it off in stride and went in for two.
The Lakers failed to get a shot off in the final 13 seconds, and Scott Wedman hit the winning jumper in overtime, securing Henderson's spot in Boston sports history.
"I don't think Byron saw me coming," says Henderson. "Nobody saw me coming. I couldn't wait for the pass to be released. I had to be in a position to steal it. I'm sure Worthy thought he was wide open. I couldn't understand why he just sort of threw it soft.
"I'll tell you this - If Byron Scott had stepped in, it would have been a helluva collision. I had tunnel vision for that ball."
Henderson says the Celtics were optimistic before the big play. "We've been in situations like this before and we just decided we had to get a steal. We didn't want to foul McAdoo or Magic. We knew we had to put pressure on the ball and apply full-court pressure. I kept telling myself that I had to come up with a steal. It had to happen and it did."
Henderson took a long look at the play on his home video machine at 2 a.m. "I couldn't get to sleep till 5 in the morning after that. I tossed and turned for a couple of hours, thinking about the replay and how it happened, and where we'd be if it hadn't happened.
"I got to thinking about Scotty's big shot and Robert (Parish, who also had a big steal in the late moments). I hope this picks him up. And I thought about the big game Max had. I hope this sends us on our way."