2.16.2013

Hondo's Turquoise Dishpan



The Boston Celtics began the 1975-76 season on a mission to regain what they believed they had given away the year before--the NBA title. The Celtics posted a 58-24 regular season record, on their way to an Atlantic Division crown and a first round date with the Buffalo Braves.



In game 1, John Havlicek felt a sharp pain shoot through his left foot after making a steal in the first quarter. Having suffered an injury that ended the Celtics title hopes during the 1973 playoffs, Havlicek refused to believe that he had injured himself again. So he ignored the injury and kept playing.

X-rays later showed he had torn his plantar fascia, the tissue in the arch that connects the ball of the foot to the heel. The doctor told him that if he iced the foot for two hours a day and kept it elevated another two hours, Hondo might be able to return in six weeks.

"Six weeks?" Hondo exclaimed. "You've got to be kidding. The playoffs will be over in six weeks."

Local sports writers said Havlicek's season was kaput.

But Hondo had different ideas.

He figured that if the doctor said he should treat his foot for four hours a day, he could return much faster if he treated it for eight, ten, or maybe even twelve hours a day.

And so it was.

Hondo bought (yes, with his own money) a turquoise-colored, plastic dishpan at a local five-and-dime. The Celtics guard-forward carried the two-dollar dishpan around with him everywhere he went. At home, on the plane, at practice, even on the toilet, it didn't matter.

Havlicek made sure that his size 14 left foot was constantly submerged ankle deep in ice. By the time the Celtics had dispatched with Buffalo in six games, Havlicek told the team he was ready to play a bigger role in the Eastern Conference Finals against Cleveland. The doctors agreed, so long as he iced his foot while sitting on the bench.

In game 1, however, Hondo re-injured his foot on a drive to the hoop. Now the pain shot from his left foot throughout his entire lower left leg. Again, number 17 returned to his personal rehab program, only now he was sleeping upright at night, with foot firmly planted in the ice-filled turquoise dishpan.

The Celtics defeated the Cavaliers 4-2, and were poised for another appearance in the NBA Finals, their second in three years, this time against the upstart Phoenix Suns. Havlicek told the team doctors that his injured foot was healthy again, but the doctor's weren't persuaded. It wasn't until Coach Tommy Heinsohn agreed to play Havlicek no more than 20 minutes per game that the doctors assented.

Heinsohn started game 1 with Hondo on the bench. But Don Nelson and Charlie Scott both got into foul trouble early, so Heinsohn called Hondo's number with four minutes remaining in the first quarter. Havlicek never left the game again, playing 40 minutes and scoring 23 points on 7-12 shooting from the field. The Celtics won games one and two, despite Havlicek playing in what he described as debilitating pain.

Hondo was getting his money's worth out of the $2 dishpan.

Heinsohn also played Havlicek extended minutes in games 3 or 4, both road games that ended in defeat for the green. Now tied two games a piece, the series returned to Boston for a pivotal game five.

A few hours before tip-off, Hondo expressed doubt whether he would even suit up for the game. The pain was so bad, Havlicek didn't get any sleep the night before, and now, a few hours before the game, the foot had swollen up on him.

Nonetheless, Heinsohn asked Havlicek to give it a try. "Don't worry about it, John," Heinsohn assured his star. "We'll only play you if we need you."

Turns out Heinsohn needed Hondo for 58 minutes.

In what became one of the most memorable games in NBA history, the Celtics defeated the Suns in triple-over time, a game that the Celtics may have lost if it wasn't for a basket made by Havlicek.

At the end of the second overtime, Havlicek was supposedly in so much pain he couldn't take a step without locking his jaw and grimacing. Down by one with only seconds remaining, Heinsohn called a play where Havlicek was the fifth option.

Don Nelson, responsible for the inbounds pass, got nervous and passed the ball directly to Havlicek. Hondo now had the ball and could barely move. He ambled down the court, drew a double team, somehow split the defenders and banked in what everyone thought was the game winner.

As it turns out, instead of winning the game, Hondo's hoop prevented the Celtics from losing it on Gar Heard 's turn-around, 20-foot jump shot at the buzzer. In the third extra frame, little used but fresh-legged Glenn McDonald came off the bench to lift the Celtics to victory.

Heading in to game 6, all of the Celtics and Suns starters were exhausted and sore, except for one, Charlie Scott. The Celtics shooting guard had fouled out during regulation of game 5, logging only 33 minutes. So while everyone else was dragging tail, Charlie Scott ran circles around them, leading the Celtics to their 13th world championship.

Havlicek wasn't sure which made him happier, winning the game or knowing that his days spent in close proximity to the dishpan were now numbered.

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