More than 50 summers ago, I first laid eyes on John Havlicek. He and his Ohio State teammates Jerry Lucas, Bobby Knight, Larry Siegfried, Mel Nowell and Dick Reasbeck, (whose father drove our school bus in Martins Ferry, Ohio), were playing for the NCAA Men's Division National Championship in 1961. The flickering black and white TV images are still ingrained in my memory, and I can hear my father pointing out that Havlicek was from the same tiny village where he was born-Lansing, Ohio (pop. 300). They lost to Cincinnati that day, but the long-ago tournament was the start my admiration for the rangy 6'5" Havlicek, who went on to a storied 16-year career in the NBA with the Boston Celtics.
Nicknamed "Hondo", (a name inspired by a John Wayne movie of the same name), Havlicek was a local legend in eastern Ohio, and for many, including me, a lifelong role model. He was one of us, who with other local sports heroes, baseball's Joe and Phil Niekro (the winningist brother pitching combination in MLB history) and football's Lou "The Toe" Groza, were the boys who made it out of the mines and factories and into the limelight of major league sports.
For me Hondo Havlicek was The Man, but until last week, just a name on my unfulfilled bucket list of people I would like to meet.
As publicist for the historic Bimini Big Game Club Resort & Marina, I've reviewed names of many celebrities to bring to the legendary Bahamas out-island for some R&R and fishing and diving. Early this month, our promotional partner Bob Svetich, who hosts a national radio show "The Sporting Life" from Colorado(630 KHOW and iHeartRadio), called and asked how I would feel about bringing John Havlicek over for some backcountry bonefishing.
Besides his credentials as eight-time NBA Champion and 13-time All Star and a hall of famer, I knew Havlicek was an outdoorsman hunting and fishing with Curt Gowdy on the old American Sportsman TV Show and fishing with tarpon fishing legend and hall of fame angler Stu Apte. He was someone who would fit our Bimini sports celebrity profile to a T.
It was a major coup and with Big Game Club manager Michael Weber onboard, Bob confirmed and set the date for last week-two days fishing on Bimini's legendary flats for grey ghosts and permits.
Havlicek, who lives on a Jack Nicklaus' designed golf course in West Palm Beach, Florida joined us last Tuesday for the 30-minute flight over to Bimini, courtesy of Tropic Ocean, the Bahamas seaplane carrier.
He was exactly as I pictured him-a regular guy, who despite his status as NBA and Boston Celtics royalty, is a fella who delights in recounting the old days, catching blue gill and crappie in the local Ohio Valley lakes.
First day out on the water, John, guided by Bonefish Tommy out of Alice Town, worked the flats a couple of miles or so landing a 22lb permit after a half hour fight and eluding a hard charging and hungry shark with a deft maneuver to save his catch.
Four knee operations and 74-years non-withstanding Hondo, according to Svetich, "held his ground and played the fish perfectly."
"He definitely knew what he was doing," said Svetich, who played four years in the Pittsburgh Pirates system as an outfielder.
Hondo also hooked six and landed five bones, ending the day in late afternoon. The following morning with guide Eagle Eyes Fred at the helm wind and light rain put a damper and an early close on the day's fishing.
"With the wind and overcast skies it was tough to see them, much less reach them," said Havlicek over dinner that evening.
For the last 32 years, Havlicek and his wife, Beth, have worked with the Genesis Fund Board of Directors to host the Annual John Havlicek Celebrity Fishing Tournament on Martha's Vineyard. Proceeds go to The Genesis Foundation for Children to help children with special needs.
"Fishing has always been something I've enjoyed," said Havlicek. "I've certainly have heard about but haven't had a chance to fish Bimini. It was great, and the Big Game Club were great hosts."
With my bucket list fulfilled, it was with some sadness that I said goodbye to my boyhood hero, a guy that will always be Hondo from Lansing, Ohio.
I wished him Godspeed and tight lines and headed home with a net full of memories.
From the Lucayan Indian word meaning "two islands", North and South Bimini along with its smaller cays, is part of the Bahamas, an archipelago of 700 islands sweeping across 500 miles of open ocean.For generations of angling and diving enthusiasts, Bimini has been and remains the gateway to the Bahamas, a portal to adventure and experience perched at the edge of a sheer underwater cliff and the eastern edge of the mighty and mythical Gulf Stream.
Ernest Hemingway was an early apostle to the Bimini experience in the 1930s, where he drank, brawled and wrote his way through several fishing seasons, traveling back and forth between home in Key West and his beloved "Island in the Stream". His creative workshop was the Compleat Angler and his characterizations came from a world populated by giant blue marlin, bluefin tuna and schools of sharks almost too large to count. With his literary acclaim and sporting prowess, Hemingway, together with countless other kindred spirits, established Bimini as the Big Game Fishing Capital of the World-home today to more than 50 world record catches and counting.
About The Bimini Big Game Club Resort & Marina
The Bimini Big Game Club Resort & Marina, a legendary outpost for fishermen and host to numerous major sport fishing tournaments for more than half a century, officially re-opened in 2010 following completion of a $3,500,000 renovation that included all guest rooms, cottages and suites and the new Bimini Big Game Bar & Grill, Also featured is the PADI Dive Center with a 60 foot dive boat with bathrooms, PADI dive instructor and a free dive resort course for all guest to learn how to dive or refresh their skills. The property also features a Watersports Center for kayak, paddleboard and sailboat rentals and the legendary table and board games on property. More recently owners have added the white wedding tent on the water for weddings, groups or meetings and the Gulfstream Conference Center. The legendary Hemingway's Rum Bar & Social Lounge has also been renovated. The Outfitter store offers an array of souvenirs and Big Game liquor has all the island favorites. Customs is located on property and immigration across the street, making it convenient for boaters when arriving in Bimini. Bimini Bull Run Shark Cage and Shark Bar in the Marina is a great adventure for all ages. For information on the Big Game Club Resort and Marina go to www.biggameclubbimini.com.
Contact: John Bell firstname.lastname@example.org