Editors’ note: On initial publication, this post consisted of a reprint of Pete Axthelm’s 1967 Sports Illustrated story “When The Real McGuire Stood Up.” After publication, we were made aware that a permission given by Axthelm’s family to reprint his work did not extend to this article, as we had mistakenly believed. We regret the error; the full Axthelm article, which more than lives up to the wonderful lede below, can be read in full at SI’s website.
Although his brothers, Al and Dick, were famous basketball players and are now prominent coaches, John has well earned the reputation of being the real McGuire. A devoted horseplayer and all-round bon vivant, he spent 10 years on the New York City police force driving sergeants apoplectic with his outrageous behavior. Once, assigned to protect U.N. Ambassador Lodge, he fell asleep at his post. Awakened by a photographer, he managed to scramble into the pose shown opposite. Unfortunately, as his superiors noted, he was not wearing his cap or his gun.
It was a fairly typical day in the lives of the three sons of John and Winifred McGuire of 108th Street in Rockaway, Queens. Al, the youngest brother, was pacing nervously behind a desk in Room 101 of the old athletic department building at Marquette University in Milwaukee. Al coaches the Marquette basketball team, and on this afternoon he was worried about beating St. John’s in the most important game on his schedule. He was also worried about beating a small assault charge that a Detroit policeman had filed after a postgame melee four nights earlier. “Funny how your perspective can change,” he said. “For a month all I’ve thought about was beating St. John’s. Now this cop claims I hit him, and all this publicity could be really damaging. In fact, I’d better get Dick on the phone in Detroit. Those reporters there could get him to make a statement that might hurt us.”
Dick McGuire, who is 41 (three years older than Al), coaches the New York Knickerbockers. He was in Detroit during one of those four-towns-in-four-nights road trips that fill the National Basketball Association season, and he had plenty to worry about himself. His team, generally picked to finish last, was in third place, but it was losing. Some writers and fans were already forgetting the fact that the Knicks had had six straight cellar finishes before McGuire arrived. They wondered why Dick had not improved the team even more, and they particularly wondered why he was not using Cazzie Russell, the $200,000-bonus rookie with all the All-America clippings.
Al McGuire could have told them why.
Image by Sam Woolley.
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