A September 1962 photo in the Boston Herald shows rookies looking to land a spot on the Celtics roster. Tom “Skip” Chappelle is third from the left. John Havlicek is second from the right.

The word came from a friend in Florida to Thomas “Skip” Chappelle late last week.

No. 17 was gone.

Chappelle, the former men’s basketball head coach at the University of Maine, needed no translation. John Havlicek, the consummate sixth man for the Boston Celtics, had finally succumbed to Parkinson’s disease.

Skip Chappelle was selected in the 1962 NBA draft before going on to coach at the University of Maine. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff File Photo

Havlicek was 79, the same age as Chappelle, who turns 80 this summer. They were roommates during Celtics training camp in 1962, staying at Boston’s Lenox Hotel and trying to make an impression on legendary coach and general manager Arnold “Red” Auerbach, who lived on the top floor during basketball season.

“I had great respect for John,” Chappelle said by phone from his home in Veazie. “At the Lenox, (the rest of us) played cards at night, but John didn’t. And we played golf, but John didn’t.”

Auerbach drafted Havlicek in the first round, seventh overall, out of Ohio State, where he had played for the 1960 NCAA championship team led by Jerry Lucas that included a substitute named Bob Knight.


Chappelle, who played at Old Town High and Maine Central Institute before starring as a Black Bear and leading the Yankee Conference in scoring three straight years, was an 11th-round selection by the St. Louis Hawks, 89th overall.  A 6-foot-1 guard, he landed in Boston through negotiations that involved territorial rights.

Training camp, based on the campus of Babson Institute (now College) in Wellesley, Massachusetts, lasted about 12 days, Chappelle remembers, before a handful of exhibition games.

John Havlicek, shown here as a rookie during a March 1963 playoff game versus the Cincinnati Royals, played 16 seasons with the Boston Celtics. Associated Press/Frank C. Curtin

The first thing that stuck out about Havlicek, according to Chappelle? His neck. It was thick and muscular from lifting weights, a practice then considered detrimental to basketball players who needed a delicate shooting touch.

The Celtics weren’t the only team to draft Havlicek, who had been an all-state baseball and football player at Bridgeport High School in Eastern Ohio, across the river from Wheeling, West Virginia. The Cleveland Browns selected Havlicek in the seventh round of the 1962 NFL draft as a wide receiver, and he lasted through training camp before being one of the team’s final cuts.

“When (Celtics) camp started, he couldn’t hit the backboard with a shot,” Chappelle said. “His body was still involved with football. His big thing was, he wouldn’t stop. I mean, his motor just kept running, on defense and offense. Red didn’t have to look too long to figure out, ‘Wait a minute, this is the guy we want.'”

Not that Havlicek’s game was perfect.


“He had a unique flaw,” Chappelle recalled. “Going to his left, he had difficulties putting the ball in his left hand, if you can believe that. I say trouble, but …”

Havlicek’s career turned out OK. He played 16 years for the Celtics and set franchise records for points, minutes and games played. Boston won eight NBA titles with Havlicek, including four straight to start his NBA career and six of his first seven.

As for Chappelle, he learned of his release from Auerbach the day of an exhibition game against the Knicks at Nassau Coliseum outside of New York City. The team was continuing on to St. Louis, and Auerbach offered to bring Chappelle along to see if he could catch on with the Hawks. Having already been offered a coaching job at Fort Fairfield High, Chappelle decided to return to Maine.

“I struggled to tell that tale,” Chappelle said. “I pulled maybe a boner, but I don’t regret it because I met my wife in Fort Fairfield.”

“We were all excited about him having the opportunity (with the Celtics),” said Dick Sturgeon, 80, who played with Chappelle at both Old Town and UMaine and later coached at the University of Southern Maine. “He was the last person cut that year. He probably wouldn’t tell you that, but that is true.”

Despite his release, Chappelle remained connected to the Celtics. For the next five years, when Aroostook County schools such as Fort Fairfield closed in late September to allow students to help with the potato harvest, Chappelle would return to Boston and sometimes worked out with the team. He grew particularly close to K.C. Jones – “the first Celtic to set a screen for me in a scrimmage situation” – and years later helped Jones with an annual basketball camp in Bar Harbor.


“I still went to the gym,” Chappelle said. “I wasn’t involved totally with the (Celtics’) workouts, but we played a little here or there.”

In the fall of 1963, with a Celtics intrasquad scrimmage (a Green-White game) scheduled in Rhode Island, Havlicek was injured, so Chappelle suited up for Bill Russell’s team against a squad led by Sam Jones and scored 29 points, one fewer than Russell.

“It was a clip I hung onto forever,” Chappelle said. “They gave me a uniform. It was 19. That was the one I had in camp, too.”

A few years later, the Celtics traveled to the Bangor Auditorium for an exhibition game. Newly married, Chappelle and his wife invited Havlicek to their home for dinner.

“He didn’t drink, he didn’t smoke,” Chappelle said. “He was the epitome of (great physical) condition.”

Chappelle sounds wistful when he recounts his relationships with the old Celtics. He says he wishes he had gotten closer to Havlicek but is glad he remained close with Jones, who at 86 is facing health challenges of his own.

The death of Havlicek reverberated throughout the basketball world, but particularly in New England. In camps and clinics, Chappelle often made reference to his old roommate.

“He had a motor in him and it never stopped,” Chappelle said. “He just kept going all the time.”

Until last week, when the motor finally went silent. No. 17 was gone, never to be forgotten.

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