/RIP, Johnny Neumann and John Havlicek such a study in basketball contrasts

RIP, Johnny Neumann and John Havlicek such a study in basketball contrasts

Thursday, April 7, 2012, was the death of “Hondo”, the great Havlicek of Boston Celtics fame. He was 79 years old. Johnny Neumann, from Memphis and Ole Miss was a great player. He died Tuesday night in Oxford from brain cancer. He was 68. I understand what you’re thinking. John Havlicek, Mississippi? What is the connection? Bailey Howell is the obvious connection. They were good friends and teammates during four great Boston Celtics seasons (1966-1970). Both are inducted into the Naismith (international NBA Hall of Fame). Both were part of the 1968 and 1969 NBA championship teams. In a Friday phone conversation, Howell described Havlicek as “a real pro”, “a pro’s professional,” He came to play every evening. He could run at full speed all night. He was always able to tell you what you were doing, offensively as well as defensively. There was no half-stepping. Neumann was a great teammate, focused and driven. “John was not a very good shooter when he first joined the league. But he worked hard and became a great shot-maker.” Neumann was in many ways the basketball equivalent of Havlicek. He was so skilled, gifted, and a great scorer. He didn’t have that much to do. He didn’t have to work as hard, it turned out. Neumann admitted that he was his worst enemy in a documentary about his career. One observation: I was able to see him play at Ole Miss several times and enjoyed the experience. However, honesty demands that I make this observation: Neumann did not play any more defense than I did at my press table. He only made a few more passes. He was still the star of Ole Miss for his two seasons. In 1968-69, he averaged 38.4 point per game and led the Ole Miss freshman team to a 25-1 record. This was before freshmen were eligible to play for the Varsity. He averaged more than 40 points per game as a sophomore. He scored 57 against Southern Miss and 60 against Baylor, while scoring 63 against LSU. Neumann has never encountered a shot that he didn’t like or would not take. Pistol Pete Maravich, LSU’s Pistol Pete, was his scout and Neumann made many comparisons. Pete was a varsity player at LSU for three seasons, while Johnny Reb Neumann only played one season at Ole Miss. Steve Farese, an Ashland lawyer, was Neumann’s friend and teammate at Ole Miss. Geoff Caulkins, of The Daily Memphian, said Farese that he may have been his best friend. He didn’t stay at the dorm. He was always late to practice and sometimes didn’t show up for practice. Johnny wanted to be the national scoring leader, that was what he was obsessed with.” And that was exactly what he did. He then fled for professional basketball and the Memphis Pros, the old ABA. Neumann, then 19, signed a $2 million contract for five years. In today’s dollars, that’s $12.2million. Neumann was, to put it mildly, not very smart with his money. He did however make a lot of it. Neumann spent seven years playing in the ABA, then the NBA and finally a few years in Europe. He could have used Havlicek’s strong work ethic and willingness to do whatever it took for his team, no doubt. Neumann was no longer playing and became a coach. His coaching career was a worldwide adventure, taking him to Japan, China and Kuwait as well as Israel, Israel, Romania, and other countries. Here’s the truth: He was a great coach. An interviewer from Japan Times asked him this: “I was a bit a jerk as a player, but the experience has made me a better coach.” Neumann returned home after years of being a basketball nomad. He returned to Oxford and Ole Miss to complete his college education. Will Norton, Ole Miss School of Journalism and New Media Dean and frequently an advisor to Neumann, says that his goal was to become a basketball color commentator. John told me that he made basketball and money mistakes but that he wanted the best for the rest of his life. “He was truly repentant during the years that I knew him. Neumann had two and a quarter years of school work to complete at the age of 62. In 43 years, he had never been in a classroom. Norton stated that Norton was impressed by his dedication to the task. He did his homework and took part in class. He received his degree with a grade of B or higher. He set a goal and achieved it.” Neumann, 65 years old, earned his bachelor’s degree from Ole Miss in general studies. Neumann also received minors in journalism and recreation administration. He said that getting his degree was the greatest achievement of his life. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to use it. *** On Monday, Johnny Neumann will be remembered in a public service at The Pavilion Club at Ole Miss. It will take place at 5:30 p.m. The parking garage will be open at 5:05 p.m._x000D