He has sold out four arenas, almost filled three others and lured fans to games on nights when miserable weather conditions normally would have kept them in front of the living-room fireplace.
He has received standing ovations as frequently as he once dove after loose balls and has been given enough plaques, television sets, whirlpools and submarine sandwiches to fill an empty room in his house.
To cynics, it has been pure hokum. But his fans are relishing every moment. The Farewell Tour of John Havlicek has been such a success that P. T. Barnum must be smiling over the promotional genius of it all.
The National Basketball Association certainly has never seen anything like it, but then, there never has been a player quite like John Havlicek.
In 13 cities over the last six weeks, Havlicek has been the focus of the greatest outpouring of adulation in league history. The 14th stop of this extravaganza is scheduled tonight in Capital Centre, and the Bullets expect their supporters to continue this love affair with the man everyone in basketball knows simply as "Hondo."
A crowd of at least 16,000 is predicted for the 8:05 contest against the Celtics. The Bullets, who are averaging 11,000 for games this year, normally would draw about 10,000 for a midweek contest against Boston.
"The fact we had an advance sale of 13,000 has to be attributable to Havlicek's final appearance," said Bullet publicist Mare Splaver. "This is our fans' last chance to see him in person as a player and they obviously have responded."
Fans will receive an autographed picture of Havlicek and his game jersey will be given away in a drawing after the contest. And the Bullets will award him a plaque and a videotape machine while thanking him for an extra $25,000 in gate receipts.
Havlicek says that enriching opponents' treasuries "is the one way I thought I could help repay basketball for all it has done for me.
"People kept on saying, 'Tell me when you are going to retire, so I can see you.' So I wanted to satisfy those desires. And I realize there is some value in a team being able to promote my final appearance. If it's helped them, then I think I've done something good."
Coming from a Reggie Jackson, this would be pure ego speaking. But from Havlicek, it is simple honesty. He obviously is basking in the glory of the applause and affection, but in turn, teams are delighted he decided to go out in such a flashy way.
The farewell tour also has lent class to a league that has treated some of its other major stars shabbily. The Bucks waived Oscar Robertson and the Lakers cut Elgin Baylor before they could retire. Jerry West was so dissatisfied with the quality of his play that he walked out of his final training camp, never to return. Wilt Chamberlain ended his career in the ABA and Bill Russell sold his retirement story to Sports Illustrated.
"Other Celtics, like Bob Cousy and Frank Ramsey announced their retirement early, too," said Havlicek, "It's been a tradition with us and I liked the idea. I've no regrets. Things have been beautiful.
The legend of John Havlicek began simply enough. He walked into the Celtics' preseason rookie camp 16 years ago, fresh from being cut by the Cleveland Browns football team, put on a pair of shorts and began running.
"I'll never forget the look on Red Auerbach's face that day," said Celtic Assistant General Manager Jeff Cohen. "They were scrimmaging on a hardcourt outdoors and here comes this kid who hadn't touched a basketball in weeks and he ran everyone into the ground."
Auerbach chose Havlicek et of Ohio State on the first round of the 1962 draft not knowing if this gifted athlete would decide on a career in pro football or pro basketball. If he could get Havlicek into a Celtic uniform. Auerbach was convinced he had an eventual replacement for Ramsey; a defensive specialist who could come off the bench, help on the fast break and cool down a hot shooter. Whatever offenses he could contribute would be a bonus.
"I wanted to play both football and basketball until they made me select one over the other," said Havlicek. The Browns reduced his options by releasing him; Havlicek then went on to amaze when Auerbach by producing a career that few in NBA history have equaled.
Havlicek and hustle soon became synonomous. His bionic body seemed tireless; he made up for limited quickness by outworking and outscrapping opponents until even they were awed by his determination.
"Joh Havlicek taught me what intensity is all about," said Bullet, forward Bob Dandridge. "The first time I played against him in the playoffs, I couldn't believe the man.
"He was up for every game. He pushed himself to the limit every time out.He had to be exhausted every night; I know I was. But the next time out, he'd be at it again. He just wouldn't stop running."
On a team where role playing was the key to winning championships, Havlicek moved from one part to another during his career so effortlessly that he was able to keep the Celtic dynasty alive longer than it was expected to last.
In the early stages, he made being a substitute an honor. Here was aman who seemed happy coming off the bench to pick up his dragging teammates with a couple of steals or a dashing layup or two.
High school and college coaches suddenly had a model to hold up to their athletes. "You can be a John Havlicek," they would tell their reserves. "You can be our sixth man and do for us what he does for Boston."
He was so talented that Auerbach never could decide whether he should be a forward or a guard. So Havlicek played both spots and eventually made the term "swing man" a major part of the pro basketball vocabulary.
"If John could have played guard his whole career," said Bullet Coach Dick Motta, "I'd hate to think what he would have done. He was so strong and big (six-foot-5) there weren't many guards who could handle him. At forward, he was always giving away inches. But you can't knock what he has done playing both, can you?"
After Sam Jones retired in the late 1960s, Havlicek at age 29, became a starter. The Celtics no longer needed defense and inspiration from him; they needed scoring and Havlicek respondedby averaging 28.9 and 27.5 points in back-to-back seasons.
"There isn't anything on a basketball court he can't do," said Auerbach. "Just take a look at his career and that becomes so obvious. He's a man who has taken great athletic gifts and made the most of them."
In the process, he has carved out a gigantic niche in the NBA record book: Third all-time scorer behind Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson, most games played (1,254 and counting), most field goals attempted, second only to Chamberlain in field goals made, second to Chamberlain in minutes played, sixth in assists and sixth in foul shots made.
At age 30, he was averaging almost 46 minutes a game; last season, at 36, he averaged 37 and scored 17 points a contest despite the Celtics' effort to limit his playing time.
"I've had to change things the older I've gotten," he said. "But my body always has been able to hold up pretty well. The more I move around, usually the better I've felt.
"I've always found that if you keep moving, something is bound to happen. Even if you run without a purpose, when you keep moving, you're liable to free yourself. I know the toughest person in the world to watch is one on the move."
But many Celtic fans point to a losing game as their most memorable Havlicek moment. Boston was in the seventh game of a semifinal playoff series against New York in 1973 and Havlicek, despite a dislocated right shoulder, suited up and played.
"We lost," said Cohen, "but even left-handed, he was better than most of the guys out there."
Before this season, Havlicek had decided he would retire. But he wanted to make the announcement at the right time, "when it would mean something and when I could give teams enough notice."
So he waited until late January, after the Super Bowl, to reveal his plans. Then he was named to the All-Star team for the 13th time by Commissioner Lawrence O'Brien and his farewell tour got off to a rousing start in Atlanta, site of the game. Doug Collins of Philadelphia, voted to start for the East team at guard, voluntarily stepped aside to let Havlicek open in his place.
At Indiana, 13,614 fans ignored a snow storm to see the Pacers give him a recliner chair. One of Kansas City's top five crowds of the season turned out in a driving snow to see him accept a whirlpool machine. The 11th sellout crowd of the year at Golden State watched as the Warriors gave him a gold money clip and owner Franklin Mieuli tossed in a trip to an undisclosed location.
Another sellout in Phoenix got a taste of the Havlicek of old. He took a charging foul from Alvan Adams in the final six seconds to win the game for Boston. A usually staid Los Angeles gathering of 15,677 (sixth largest of the year) in the Forum stood and applauded for three minutes, which one Laker official described as "the most spontanous ovation I've ever seen here."
Buffalo handed out postcards with his picture on the front; the crowd of 9,325 was the fifth largest of the season. He attracted the Nets' third sellout and the turnout of 8,645 in Atlanta was worth an extra $15,000 in gate receipts for the Hawks.
More than 18,000 New Yorkers stood and clapped in Madison Square Garden and another 16,417 fans in Cleveland, including his mother, were on hand as he received a color television set and a lifetime pass to the World Series of Golf. And in Philadelphia, before yet another sellout crowd, he was given individual gifts by the 76er players. All were products manufactured locally, including scrapple and a six-foot submarine sandwich that the Celtics ate in a postgame meal.
After tonight, there are stops left in Seattle, Portland, Denver and Chicago, but already Havlicek's presence has drawn crowds larger than the average attendance in all except two of the first 13 cities. And teams have realized at least $250,000 in additional gate revenue.
The best is yet to come. Boston ends the season with three home games, including one on Havlicek's 38th birthday. The Celtics are planning a three-day celebration that will end April 9. They say they could sell out Fenway Park that day.
could play,' said Havlicek. 'Even though I haven't been happy with cur season, at least I feel I haven't embarassed myself.
"It's been hard to stay with my routine and I've finally had to cut things off a little. Everyone wants an interview or wants you to speak. But I need to get my nap on game days and eat properly."
He has had a splendid season, averaging 15 points and 33 minutes a game. In the last seven contest, he has tossed in 151 points, including a season-high 32.
And he has managed to keep out of the internal problems that have rocked the Celtics all season. His ability to remain clean-cut and clear of controversy during his career, especially in this age of the outspoken athlete, might have been his most difficult achievement.
"He is the All-America boy, the person you would like your son to grow up just like," said Knicks' Coach Willis Reed. "Basketball won't be the same without him."