Wooed By Three Sports
After he graduated, Havlicek was selected as the first round draft pick of the Boston Celtics. There was high interest from other sports as well. Several baseball organizations, including the New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers, and Pittsburgh Pirates, attempted to sign him. Although Havlicek had chosen not to play college football—despite repeated entreaties of Ohio State's football coach Woody Hayes—he was also drafted by the Cleveland Browns. Thinking he might like to play two professional sports, Havlicek reported to the Browns training camp in the summer of 1962 where he was groomed as a wide receiver. It was, unfortunately, a position that the Browns already had well-covered and Havlicek was cut just before the season began. Havlicek later called it one of the two big disappointments of his athletic career. The other was not being chosen for the 1960 U.S. Olympic basketball team.
Havlicek had accepted a $15,000 contract to play with the Celtics. He joined them as they prepared for their 1962-63 season. The Celtics, masterminded by coach Arnold "Red" Auerbach, were a team that put a high premium on speed, team play, versatility, and intelligent basketball. Led by Bill Russell and Bob Cousy, Auerbach's formula had proved to be potent. In the spring of 1962, the team won the fourth of what would become eight consecutive NBA titles. Havlicek, with his speed, endurance, ability to play both defense and offense, and sheer desire to win, was tailor made for Auerbach's style of basketball. Not all observers recognized Havlicek's impressive talents immediately. He was considered to big to play guard yet too small to play forward. Curry Kirkpatrick in an article for Sports Illustrated, quoted Cousy's initial assessment of Havlicek: a "non-shooter who would probably burn himself out."
Despite any early misgivings, Havlicek later said he was accepted right away by the Celtics. He undoubtedly helped himself arriving in August at Celtics training camp in better physical condition than players who had been working out since the beginning of the summer. Auerbach later told the New Yorker's Herbert Warren Wind of the first reaction he and another coach had to seeing Havlicek play. "We were … flabbergasted at what Havlicek was showing us. Here he was, not having touched a basketball for months and he was far and away the best man on the court." From then on Havlicek had Auerbach's full confidence. His first year he split court time with Frank Ramsey, the Celtics veteran sixth man—a player who did not start, but rather came off the bench to spell others as they tired. Auerbach's system placed great importance on having a sixth man who was capable and versatile. Havlicek was that in spades. Auerbach used him at both forward and guard. Havlicek's success was due more to determination and practice than to whatever innate physical gifts he possessed. He worked hard to develop his ballhandling and shooting. In 1963, his second season, he led the team in scoring. The following year, when Ramsey retired, Havlicek took over the sixth-man role full-time.