John M. "Johnny" Most (June 15, 1923 – January 3, 1993) was an American sports announcer, known primarily as the raspy radio voice of the Boston Celtics of the National Basketball Association from 1953 to 1990.
He is perhaps best remembered for his excited call of "Havlicek stole the ball!" during the final moments of Game 7 of the 1965 NBA Eastern Division Finals. The play sealed the victory for the Boston Celtics. The complete call for that play was, "Greer is putting the ball in play. He gets it out deep, and Havlicek steals it!! Over to Sam Jones!! Havlicek stole the ball!! It's all over … It's all over!! Johnny Havlicek is being mobbed by the fans! It's all over! Johnny Havlicek stole the ball! Oh my, what a play by Havlicek at the end of this ball game!"
He was a legend to Boston Celtics fans during the franchise's golden era from the 1950s through the 1980s, and was as well-known a figure in New England as Bill Russell, Bob Cousy and Larry Bird. When watching the Celtics play on television, many fans would turn the sound down on their TV and turn on Most's radio broadcast for his call of the game. He, along with Fred Cusick (Bruins), Ned Martin (Red Sox), Curt Gowdy (Red Sox), Gil Santos (Patriots) and Bob Wilson (Bruins) are considered among the greatest announcers in Boston sports history.
Early life and career
Born to Jewish parents in New York City, he was named after his paternal grandfather, the German-American anarchist newspaper editor and orator Johann Most. Johnny Most was one of the many successful graduates of DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx. After distinguished Air Force service in World War II (see below), he began his basketball broadcasting career in the late 1940s as a protégé of New York Knickerbockers announcer (and 1936 Olympics track star) Marty Glickman. He was hired in 1953 by Boston Celtics owner Walter Brown and coach Red Auerbach to replace Curt Gowdy as the team's radio play-by-play man on the Celtics radio network. He also served as sports director for WCOP Radio in Boston at that time.
In addition to his work with the Celtics, he served as host of a rudimentary Red Sox baseball post-game show on WHDH-TV, sister station to WHDH radio which carried Celtics games. Sponsored by Wheaties and Blackstone cigars, this short scoreboard program consisted of Most reading the scores and rattling off pitching changes and home runs. It began in 1958 and ended when WHDH-TV lost its license just before the 1972 season and the telecasts were moved to WBZ-TV.
In the early 1970s, Most hosted an evening sports talk show on WORL radio which lasted from 5 to 7 PM, and WBZ, owner of the Celtics' radio rights, allowed Most to appear only on the first hour of the program, which was broadcast live from a Boston nightspot, so as not to compete with WBZ's Calling All Sports broadcast.
World War II
Shortly after VE Day, as his unit broke camp in central Italy, Johnny wandered up a nearby hillside to a graveyard filled with American flags, his final visit to fallen comrades before returning home to the Bronx. A prolific poet, he penned these lines:
- “I stood among the graves today and swept the scene with sight.
- “And the corps of men who lay beneath looked up to say good night.
- “The thunder still, the battle done, the fray has passed them by;
- “And as they rest forever more, they must be asking, ‘Why?’”
Most always referred to his perch or radio booth at the Boston Garden (the Celtics' arena) as "high above courtside" at the opening of his broadcasts, and to his usual perch near the scorer's table on most Celtics road games as "directly at courtside".
Broadcasts began with "Hi there once again, this is Johnny Most (high above / directly at) courtside here at the Boston Garden (or other venue), where the Boston Celtics and (foe) are getting set (or about) to do basketball battle." When sponsor tag lines did not get in the way, he ended broadcasts with "This is Johnny Most; 'bye for now." When returning from a commercial break, he would frequently start by saying, "Back out here at the Boston Garden (or other venue)".
Unlike his long-time contemporary Chick Hearn, who criticized his Los Angeles Lakers when he felt warranted, Most was an outspoken "homer" who rarely criticized the Celtics during game play but wasn't shy about criticizing other teams' players or fans (calling them "hysterical with joy" when cheering Celtics losses). For example, during the 1985 season, he nicknamed Laker star point guard Magic Johnson "Crybaby Johnson" after Johnson successfully challenged a referee's call. He called Magic this negative nickname throughout the remainder of the 1980s, announcing lines like "Cry with the no-look pass!" and "Crybaby with the rebound!" He also nicknamed Washington Bullets players Rick Mahorn and Jeff Ruland as "McFilthy" and "McNasty", interchanging the two at his whim, and was very critical of the Detroit Pistons for their physical play during the late 1980s. He was particularly hard on Bill Laimbeer (whom he memorably called a "dirty rotten player"), Dennis Rodman, Rick Mahorn and Isiah Thomas, whom he referred to as Little Lord Fauntleroy.
From 1963 to 1966, Most was the track announcer at the now-defunct Norwood Arena stock car track.
Retirement, death and honors
On October 10, 1990, Most announced his retirement due to failing health. On December 3 of that year, Most was honored with permanent installation of his personal microphone at Boston Garden, silver-plated and encased in a Celtic-green frame and attached to the façade of the vantage point Most had always described as "high above courtside". On January 3, 1993, he died at 69 of a heart attack in Hyannis, Massachusetts in Cape Cod. He is buried in the Baker Street Jewish Cemeteries, West Roxbury, Massachusetts.
Shortly after his death, he was awarded the prestigious Curt Gowdy Media Award by the trustees of the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts for his on-air contributions to basketball. On October 4, 2002, he was inducted into the media sector of the New England Basketball Hall of Fame at the University of Rhode Island.
Other well-known calls
Most is known for three other calls. As in "Havlicek stole the ball!", these three were also in games played in the Boston Garden:
- Game 7 of the 1981 Eastern Conference Finals, saw the Celtics tied with the Philadelphia 76ers late in the 4th quarter. Darryl Dawkins of the 76ers was double-teamed and missed a crucial shot, the Celtics' Larry Bird drove the length of the court and...
|“||The shot off the glass is good!! Boston leads 91-89!||”|
But Philadelphia, down 91-90, had one more chance to win the game, when...
|“||Bobby Jones is gonna put the ball into play, and the pass hits the top of the backboard and it's over! They won 3 in a row, they came from 3 and 1 down and they have won the series!!! It's all over!!!||”|
- In Game 2 of the 1984 NBA Finals, the Celtics trailing the Los Angeles Lakers 113–111 with 15 seconds remaining.
|“||And it goes quickly in now to Magic, back over to Worthy, and it's picked off! Goes to Henderson, and he lays it up and in!! It's all tied up! A great play by Henderson!!||”|
The Celtics forced overtime following the miscommunication between Johnson and Worthy, won the game to tie the series at one apiece and went on to win the title in seven games. Gerald Henderson then commented:
|“||For a minute I could hear Johnny Most going, 'Henderson steals the ball!'||”|
recalling the John Havlicek steal in 1965, Most's best-known call.
- 1985 regular-,season game against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Down 127-126, the Celtics had 2 seconds left on the clock in the 4th quarter. Dennis Johnson inbounds to Larry Bird, when...
|“||...Bird upfakes, Bird takes the shot...it's good! It's good!!! OH MY GOODNESS!!! I CAN'T BELIEVE IT!!! IT IS GOOD FROM THE CORNER! OH MY!!! WHAT A MAGNIFICENT FINISH TO THIS BALLGAME! BIRD!!! BIRD FROM THE CORNER!!! BIRD DID IT!!!||”|
Detroit had a 107-106 lead with 5 seconds left and needed to inbound the ball to secure the victory and take a 3–2 series lead with Game 6 on their home court. (Then, as now, the conference finals followed a 2-2-1-1-1 format.) Isiah Thomas was inbounding the ball to Bill Laimbeer, who was in the backcourt. But...
|“||And......Now there's a steal by Bird! Underneath to DJ, who lays it in!!...Right at one second left!! What a play by Bird! Bird stole the inbounding pass, laid it up to DJ, and DJ laid it up and in, and Boston has a one-point lead with one second left! OH, MY, THIS PLACE IS GOING CRAZY!!!||”|
- Johann Most Page, Bavarian-American anarchist; from the Daily Bleed's Anarchist Encyclopedia
- Mike Carey and Jamie Most (2003). High Above Courtside: The Lost Memoirs of Johnny Most. Sports Publishing LLC.