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. He could have explained that Russell was simply not a very good basketball player yet, and that New York happened to have three men who could do a better job in the backcourt. He might also have said what he thought of their opinions. But Dick cannot talk like his brother. He mumbled noncommittal answers to the persistent questions, he chain-smoked and fretted through each game and—working under the Knicks' traditional confidence-inspiring one-year contract—he couldn't help wondering if he would soon become the next in a long line of scapegoats. "Every game," he admitted, "is getting to be a potential ulcer."
"Hate to bother you at a time like this, Dick," Al said into the phone, "but I wanted to warn you. Don't give those reporters anything they could hurt me with. You know the standard answer. Just tell them I'm an outstanding Christian gentleman."
He smiled as he said the word gentleman. Off the court the word describes him well. He is handsome, suave and witty, a master recruiter and a smooth speaker; his television shows, radio shows and personal appearances have made him immensely popular in Milwaukee. But Al doesn't really think of himself as a gentleman. At heart, he knows, he has always been a fighter. A winning fighter.
Marquette routed St. John's by 17 points that night. Two days later the Detroit police dropped all charges against Al. During the same week the Knicks—scoring most effectively while Cazzie Russell was on the bench—managed to break out of their slump and maintain their position in the hectic NBA race. Two of the McGuire brothers could stop worrying for the moment. The third and oldest brother could only sit back and admire them. "They're both natural winners," said John McGuire, who is 42. "Al is so tough he'll overcome anything. He'll be the next legend of the Midwest. Dick is a little too nice to people, but look at the job he's done this year. He should be Coach of the Year. Both of them will go a long way. They have tremendous ability. And they have no weakness to hold them back, like I do."
John McGuire's weakness is gambling. In a family of winners he is a solid loser. He and his partner, Norton Peppis, own a large, loud nightclub that has been called the biggest gold mine in the entire borough of Queens. Pep-McGuire's Restaurant is filled almost every night with hundreds of young people spending a dollar a drink for shots of whiskey that measure five-eighths of an ounce.
Yet Pep sold his car in the middle of the last Aqueduct meeting, and John's phone is disconnected. When either of them answers the phone in the bar he puts a handkerchief over the mouthpiece and imitates the porter's voice so he can tell bookmakers and other creditors that he is out of town. "John is so empty," says Pep, who is going fairly well at present, "that he is having a tattoo put on his arm that says, 'No Deposits.' "
"I stay out of touch with John during the season," says Al. "Obviously, Dick and I can't have anything to do with him when he's discussing gambling. But there's no way anyone could suspect us of helping him win. He never wins." Actually John seldom bets on basketball, and he always avoids games in which his brothers are involved. Horses are his main game. To Al, whose only betting interest is gin rummy—at which he is very good—and to Dick, who limits himself to an occasional visit to the track as a $2 bettor, John's habit is beyond understanding. They just shake their heads when they speak of it. "He's got the talent to make a fortune at anything he tries," says Al. "It's a shame he has to waste it."
It is very hard, however, to feel sorry for John McGuire for very long. No one will ever run any benefits for him. At those times when he can't get even-money favorites home, John still lives at twin-double prices. His five children—he has been a widower for four years—are as good-looking as he is, and considerably sounder fiscally, and he enjoys the finest places, the most impeccable clothes and the most laughs available in New York. "If I ever let winning or losing affect my standard of living," he says, "I'll figure I'm in serious trouble." He has been a bartender, a policeman and a nightclub entrepreneur, and he has never yet been in that kind of trouble. "Dick and Al have good jobs, and the family is very proud of them," he says. "I'm the one who's responsible for every gray hair our mother has. But on her birthday Dick still gives her an apron, and Al gives her a plant. I generally come on with a diamond brooch."
Gamblers, of course, tend to remember the diamonds. John is currently in the throes of a losing streak that began a year ago at Hialeah and has never been seriously interrupted by winners. Last winter he alternately enjoyed and suffered through three months of Florida racing; this year he has limited himself to one week. He is in what he calls a "recouping stage," a period of waiting and saving and thinking about getting even at some future date.
"He's acting a little cuckoo right now," says Peppis, who calls himself The Genius and his partner The Enemy. "He talks to himself, he worries, he gets desperate. But a gambler digs that kind of tension. His brothers know all about basketball. But, believe me, John knows all about life. He's the real McGuire."
Peppis shows a rare sensitivity to his partner's feelings. One day last summer John hired a band for the nightclub. The bandleader kept asking embarrassing questions about exactly when he would be paid. Pep overheard and started screaming at the kid. "This poor man," he pointed out, referring to John, "has more responsibilities to worry about than you, you know. He has the flats in the afternoon, the trotters at night—18 important decisions every day. I refuse to let him be bothered by any little business decisions. He's got enough tension." The bandleader backed away with an apologetic look on his face. The band played for five nights during that July week. They were paid on Jan. 16, after Pep bet on Green Bay in the Super Bowl.
During their summer of decision-making, John and Pep spent their days at a special table in the Man o' War Room at Aqueduct; John also spent his nights at one of New York's two trotting tracks. The nights were the serious business. John sat for a while at the private table of the legendary Frenchman who may be the biggest harness-horse bettor in the country. He has also been seen with almost every other serious student of handicapping and wagering on the trotters. "I was with The Brain when he was going good," he says. "I was also with The Eel, The Goose, The Monk. You name a winning outfit and I was probably betting with it at some time. It frightens me to think of some of the scores I've made in my life. But I guess my nervous system couldn't take all that winning. If I had really cared about profit, I probably would have stayed away from Aqueduct."
Aqueduct, the huge and impersonal gambling emporium in Ozone Park, has never been very good to John. But, like a mountain waiting to be climbed, it is there. So John challenges it—almost every day. In recent years Table 108 in the Man o' War Room has been a landmark for racetrack regulars. John and Pep have played host to actors, writers, horse trainers and other turf notables, such as Hymie Limousine, who drove a car for a living and bet $50 on each race, and Mike Raffles, seller and trader of foreign horses both living and dead. Among the guests have been several good handicappers. A man listening to their opinions might have held his own against the track's 17% takeout.
But nobody listened to solid opinions at Table 108. "Give me a story," Pep would scream. "I don't want figures or speed ratings. I want whispers." Eighteen trainers and four top selectors couldn't sway Pep or John if a jockey's wife's friend had told them to bet on the rider that day. A cab driver with a flair could give them a story ("a movie, a spectacular," Pep once demanded) that would mean more than all the sound judgments in the world. The partners eventually relied so completely on this kind of "information" that they stopped studying past performances at all. They would sit at the table, sipping coffee and looking wildly around the room, with Pep screaming for help and John nibbling nervously on the corner of his program, saying quietly, "Just one big score, that's all I want. Not for the money, for the pride."
By late last summer the pride was wounded and the money was gone. Table 108 was abandoned to less colorful bettors as the "recouping stage" began. John and Pep attempted one comeback on the third floor of the Aqueduct clubhouse, where jockeys' agents, horsemen and assorted turf counselors offered even more "movies" about hot horses. They also ventured into the press box, but their stay was brief. Some writers grumbled about their presence, and dissension reached a peak when the only betting machine in the box broke down after Pep bought $1,200 worth of $2 tickets on one horse. The horse happened to lose, and the partners disdainfully walked out of the unfriendly press box and decided to concentrate on the nightclub business for a while.
"It's probably just as well we get broke now and then," says John. "It forces us to improve the business." Sales tend to fall off when the owners are away, because John and Pep are very good at attracting young girls to the club, and the girls, in turn, are pretty much the sole attraction for the male patrons. The size of the drinks—"We guarantee that nobody can get drunk on them," says Pep—does not bring crowds of men who just like whiskey.
John might not be a gambling man today if he had not broken his shoulder when he seemed likely to become a first-rate college athlete. Dick always had the most ability in the family, and Al had the fighting spirit that helped him overcome his physical limitations. But John had unique qualities of his own, and there were times when he appeared to have the best future of all the brothers. "The three of us used to go to playgrounds to play basketball," Al recalls. "Dick and I were the best ball handlers in the neighborhood, and we'd move it around and set John up for easy shots near the foul line. He would always shoot and usually score. Soon he thought he was an All-America, and he was directing us. And if we got tired from all that running and made a mistake he'd scream at us."
"He wasn't the best," adds Dick, "but he was always the boss, the regulator." John put his abilities to even better use in football and was looking forward to a college scholarship when he was hurt. Then he went into the service. When he returned in 1945 he began tending bar in his father's place on 108th Street. "He was the best bartender I've ever seen," Al says. "If a kid came in and said he was home from the Army, John would have everybody in the place calling him a Medal of Honor winner in a half hour. He kept everybody happy."
"I've always known how to handle people," John says. "But I didn't really plan to stay in that bar forever. Not enough excitement." He was introduced to new forms of excitement the day a stranger came in and sat over a beer, mumbling something about 17 in a row.
"Seventeen what?" asked John. The man explained that a handicapper in Florida had just given him 17 winners. Then he handed John a small, folded publication on grainy paper with perforated edges. In later years John was to become quite familiar with the scratch sheet. But on that day he quickly looked over the long list of names and numbers and focused on one name, Matinee Ride, that was circled. "Is this the 18th selection?" he asked.
It was, and John rushed to a bookmaker he had heard about and bet $5. "The horse paid $6.60," he says. "I ran into the bar that night and told my father, 'I'm no bartender, I'm a horseplayer.' I figured I'd never have to work again. Six months later I was a cop."
People now familiar with John's suave and sophisticated manner generally assume he was some kind of plainclothes detective or distinguished undercover agent during his 10-year career on the force. Actually, he was a patrolman blowing a whistle at street corners in Manhattan. "I did go for one interview to become a plainclothesman," he says. "The inspector agreed that I had all the qualifications. But he knew me a little too well. He said I'd probably turn Manhattan Island into a private parking lot. So I went back on my regular beat."
But no beat John ever had could be called a regular one. "I was impossible to find," he says. "Anyone in the precinct who could tell the sergeant where I was got a two-day vacation. I set the all-time record for sick days."
One person who did find John was a photographer for the New York Daily News. On Nov. 20, 1953 John's picture appeared on the front page of the News, showing him as he stood guard outside U.N. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge's hotel suite protecting Lodge against a threatened attack by anti-U.S. terrorists. It was an impressive picture, very suitable for the scrapbook that Winifred McGuire had filled mostly with clippings of Dick and Al playing basketball. But it did not impress John's superiors. He was standing at attention, all right, as he guarded the ambassador, but he was wearing neither cap nor gun.
The situation could have been even worse. "When the photographer first arrived," John says, "I was asleep in a chair. I had to persuade him to give me time to stand up and pose. That way, I figured, I could at least talk my way out of trouble."
Which is what John did throughout his police career. He joined the force because he needed the money, and he welcomed the chance to serve his community. The most important consideration, however, was the fact that one of his potential superiors was a basketball fan who loved Dick and Al and would help John get good assignments. Unfortunately, that officer retired right after John joined up. "I decided that as long as I was already there I might as well make the most of the opportunities," he recalls.
The main opportunity he wanted was the chance to go to the racetrack every day. Soon he maneuvered his way onto the midnight-to-8-a.m. shift, which allowed him to make both the flats and the trotters as long as he could catch a little sleep on the job. In fact, he found that being a policeman could even be an advantage to him at the track.
He and his patrolman friend Jimmy Weston—who also proved too big for the police department and now owns a Manhattan restaurant—were once in the profitable little business of betting on photo finishes at the old Jamaica track. This is a lucrative form of betting mainly because you only bet on sure things. One man—usually Weston—stands at the finish line and sees which horse wins. As the photo sign goes up, he signals his partner, who stands farther down the stretch at an angle from which it is impossible to see who has won. Then, when someone wants to bet on the result the partner obliges—as long as the person wants to bet on the horse that didn't win.
Once a man lost this kind of bet to John and became very upset. He reached into his wallet dramatically and produced a glistening badge. "This is illegal betting," he said. "I won't pay, and I might just report you." John and Weston, who had joined them, squinted at the badge and began laughing. "It said he was an honorary sheriff of Suffolk County or something," Weston recalls. "So John and I simultaneously took out our own wallets. 'You lose the photo,' we told him, 'you lose your bet and you lose the badges. We got two of them. New York City Police.' The guy was so shocked he couldn't move. We took the money he lost out of his hand and said goodby."
"Of course you don't always win the badge-matching game," says John. "One night I was assigned to guard the Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Selassie, when he visited New York. Everything was quiet in his hotel, so I went to sleep." It is not too unusual for a cop on night duty to doze off, but John McGuire did it with a characteristic flair. "I didn't believe in wrinkling my uniform if I could help it," he says, "and I didn't like to be uncomfortable. So I would find an empty room in the hotel, take off all my clothes and go into a sound sleep. On that night a guy had to slap me for five minutes to wake me. It scared me for a minute, but it was just another cop who couldn't sleep and wanted to play gin. We played for a while on the bed, but then some detectives came in. The other cop panicked, threw all the cards on the floor and ran out onto the street in his underwear to get away. But not me. I calmly put on my pants and pulled my silver shield from the pocket. I gave him the big smile and said let's forget it. But he pulled out his shield, and it was gold. I said, 'O.K., I'm a sportsman. I lose this time.' The next day I was back directing traffic on Second Avenue."
And it was there on Second Avenue, the favorite folk tale of Pep-McGuire's recounts, that Norton Peppis once went through a light and John McGuire pulled him over. The fact that Pep talked John out of giving him a ticket is not in itself remarkable, since John cannot remember ever giving a summons to anyone in his entire tenure as a policeman. "But he also talked me out of my job," John claims, "and right into the nightclub business with him."
It didn't really happen that fast. John stayed on the force for several years after he met Pep. But he was beginning to get the idea that he did not fit too well into the police mold. One sergeant threatened to fire him when he learned that John had been driving the squad car in Greenwich Village with the siren at full blast. "I explained that the car was out of control," John says, "but they couldn't figure out how I was able to park it so easily."
A precinct captain became even more incensed the day John entered the station in his usual dapper civilian clothes, with a portfolio under his arm. ("I always carried one," John explains. "And, of course, I stood out among the cops that would come to work in T shirts or old chinos or something.") John looked so unusual that the captain immediately ushered him into his private office, poured two drinks and started chatting. "Gradually I realized that he was making a terrible mistake," says John. "He hadn't recognized me, and since it was Christmastime he had assumed I was bringing the annual gift package from the Copa or someplace. Finally he got impatient and asked politely who I was. 'Patrolman McGuire, sir,' I said. He jumped up and screamed, 'Put that damn drink down and get the hell out of here.' I was in trouble all the time from then on.
"I ended up on day duty at the foot of the Manhattan Bridge in Brooklyn One day I was driving to work in the snow, and I knew I had to make a decision about my life After all, it was the last day of the Aqueduct meeting, and a horse named Mr. Willie was running. I loved Mr. Willie. He had been very good to me. But I had already set the sick-day record. I knew one more day and I'd be through. But I said to myself, 'What do I really need this job for?' Then I thought of my wife, my five kids and the 11 loan books in my pocket. I guess I did need the job."
Finally, although Mr. Willie lost his race that day, he won out over the police department in John's mind. McGuire called in sick, went to the track and several policemen were assigned to find him. It was not hard. A squad car followed him from the Aqueduct gate to Rock-away. When he saw the car John slowed down, made a turn and circled around to begin following it. "I usually handled those things diplomatically," he says. "But I had lost at Aqueduct, I was nervous with the anticipation of a night at the trotters and I just wasn't in the mood to be friendly. I pulled them over in front of my house and confronted those guys. 'How many times have you been out sick?' one of them asked me. I told them I wouldn't answer. In fact, I said, I interpreted the whole thing as a personal vendetta. Then I screamed at them to get off my lawn. They left, and I went inside and called Pep and told him I was ready to open that joint with him."
It took Dick McGuire much less time to find his place in life. Basketball was his only game, and he was always very good at it. Yet he is so shy and unassuming that he has come, close to missing many opportunities that his brothers would have grabbed in a minute. He got into the habit of passing off to his brothers on the playgrounds of Rockaway, and he never changed. In high school, at La Salle Academy in Manhattan, he managed to escape the coach's attention so often that he didn't even play on the first team. But he and Al starred in a CYO league, and both eventually played for the astute Frank McGuire (no relation) at St. John's.
During his eight years with the Knicks Dick may have been the best ever to play for the club. He was traded to Detroit in 1957 and became the Piston coach two years later. For four years his team was picked to finish last in the Western Division of the NBA; four times they made the playoffs. It was becoming clear that this mumbling, worrying introvert was a pretty good basketball coach. But he was also a very unhappy one. He quit the job in 1963. Typically, Dick talks only about his personal reasons for quitting. His wife, Teri, had not wanted to move their four kids from their Huntington, Long Island home; he was lonely and bored living in hotels. He seldom mentions that Piston Owner Fred Zollner put considerable pressure on him and also had a custom of trading the team's best players—notably Gene Shue in 1962—out from under the coach. Dick quietly left Detroit and began looking for another job.
It wasn't easy. Dick had never gotten his degree from St. John's, and the low-pressure high-school and college jobs he would have loved usually were unavailable to men without degrees. That left the pros, and if he wanted to stay with his family the choice narrowed down to the Knicks. The team management did not exactly rush to his door.
"Sure, I wanted the Knick job," he says now. "It was the only thing I ever really thought about after leaving Detroit. But I can't demand things like that. John or Al might have walked in and told them that they were the greatest, and soon the management would have believed it. But I couldn't do it."
So he waited, trying to sell insurance—he was a very bad salesman—or tending the service bar at Pep-McGuire's. Finally, with the team hopelessly buried in the cellar in November of 1965, the Knicks hired him. They showed their enthusiasm by granting a contract for five months. He did fairly well with the weak club and was given another chance this season. Now he is doing even better, but he is under more pressure than ever.
"At the start of the season I said we would shoot for .500 ball," he says. "Everybody thought that would be a hell of an achievement. Now we're near that goal, but nobody's happy. They're saying we're gonna blow third place. Who ever thought we'd be ahead of Cincinnati to have even a chance to blow third place to them?"
"Don't let him tell you he hasn't done tremendous things for that club," says his brother Al. "In knowledge of the game Dick is the best I've ever seen. And even though he's no speechmaker he can express himself very well—and very simply. Take the other day. I asked him why the Knicks were having trouble holding onto leads late in the games. He paused a second and said, 'Indecision.' That summed up the problem. With me, it would have taken two cocktails' worth of time before I could have explained that to you." The Knicks' improvement under Dick indicates that professional players respond to his kind of coaching.
For relaxation Dick turns to the playgrounds. "He always loved to play with kids," says his brother Al. "Even when he was a pro, the king of New York basketball, he would go down to the playground at Rockaway and play for a few hours. Not just once to get attention or anything. He did it often, because he loved it." Now Dick takes his two oldest boys to a Huntington playground whenever he gets a chance. "That's where you can really enjoy the game," he says.
People who watched Dick McGuire play basketball remember him well. The clever ball handling, the perfect passing, the ability to pick up a whole team and get it going. People who watched Al McGuire recall different things. Brash challenges to the great Bob Cousy and claims that Al knew how to stop Cousy. Fights with Bob Brannum, the Boston Celtics' hatchetman of the time who was assigned to stop Al from stopping Cousy. Wild scrambles for the ball against bigger and stronger men, and fierce and hopeless arguments with referees. "Sure, I played hard—maybe too hard at times," says Al. "I'd do anything to win. It was the only way I could ever hold my own."
Al still looks back with some wonder at the three years in which he did hold his own among the pros. "I may have been the worst player ever to last that long in the NBA," he says. "I couldn't even make a layup. The crowd would cheer when I even hit the rim. Anyone else with my ability would have been gone in six weeks. But I stayed around, partly because I was lucky enough to be Dick's brother and partly because of all the talking and fighting I did."
Al likes to think that he talked or hustled some better player somewhere out of his rightful spot in the NBA; now he is a coach, and he figures he can do the same thing to some teams that, on form, should beat his Marquette club. He came to Milwaukee three years ago, after seven years at tiny Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina—seven years of recruiting tall and tough New York City ballplayers and building a team far too good for Belmont's small-school rivals. He took a stab at the vacant Marquette job in 1964.
"From the minute I started coaching," he says, "I knew that one way or another I'd make it to the heavyweight division." But the first time he applied for that division, he considered himself "about a 100-to-1 shot." He didn't know, however, that some important people were backing him as if he were a heavy favorite. His former bosses, Joe Lapchick and Ned Irish of New York and Doggie Julian of Dartmouth (where Al had worked as an assistant), all wrote unsolicited letters to recommend him to Marquette officials. So did the late Walter Brown, then owner of the Celtics.
With such strength behind his application, Al got the job and took over the team that had fallen to a 5-21 record, worst in Marquette history, the year before. "You don't get miracles by teaching kids a lot today," he said. "The only coaching secrets left in the game are in recruiting." Then he began trying his best to disprove that statement. With the undistinguished squad he inherited he used every trick he knew to win games. He experimented with the phase of the game he knew best and came up with what he still calls "our wild defenses." He installed a "scrambled eggs" team of subs to come off the bench and harass opposing stars, trying to intimidate better teams into losing. When other coaches complained about these tactics he calmly said, "I don't tell them how to play the game. They don't have to tell me, either." When the shouting was over Al's club had managed to win eight games, including a delirious 78-50 rout of his alma mater and the eventual NIT champion, St. John's.
Last year Marquette moved up to a 14-12 record, and this year, at 17-8, it was invited to the NIT. Al's first personal recruits are now sophomores, and the two who have become starters are typical of the kind of team he is building. One is George Thompson, a burly 6'2" forward from Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn. He is a good jumper and strong driver, and he makes up for lack of height with the kind of elbows kids develop on New York City playgrounds. The other is Jim Burke, a quick, tough six-foot guard from Queens, who is very close to being the ideal basketball player for an Al McGuire team. "When he loses he cries," says Al. "To me that's the first sign that he's definitely my kind of kid."
Al has shown a remarkable ability to make kids into "his kind." He seems to transmit his own all-out drive and mental sharpness to his team, and he insists on loyalty: "It has to be a personal thing. A kid has to be willing to give all he has for you. I won't get mad if the team plays well and gets beaten. But I don't hesitate to give them hell after a sloppy win." He looks for lean and hungry players—"kids that don't need big steaks, kids that can win on Pepsi and pizza"—and when he gets them he tries to mold them in his own slightly suicidal image. "There are two things you can do when a guy goes in for a layup," he says. "One, you let him go. Two, you try to stop him. And if you're going to stop him at all you better hit him hard. I never learned the first way, so I got pretty good at the second."
Al played with broken jaws and broken noses as a pro, and he clearly expects the same from his players. In return he treats them like men—men he happens to like and respect. "I coach on a man-to-man basis," he explains. "I don't set strict rules. I just tell them not to hurt the university or me. In return I'll protect them at all costs."
The cost almost got to be very high last January, after Marquette had lost in a two-point upset at the University of Detroit. Al was walking slowly off the court, not saying anything or paying special attention to anyone around him. "I still remember what I was thinking," he says. "I was wondering who we could upset to make up for that loss. Then all of a sudden I saw Pat on the ground." Reserve Center Pat Smith had been jostled by some happy Detroit fans and, in turn, had knocked someone down. Now Smith was being pinned against the bleachers by two guys in blue shirts. "They had no caps on, and I just thought they were ushers or something," says Al.
One man happened to be Patrolman James Tanderys of the Detroit Police Department. But even if Al had known that, it is doubtful that he would have reacted any differently. His kid was down, and he almost instinctively moved to pull the man off him. The cop somehow caught a hand or elbow in his face during the skirmish and quickly blamed Al. For several days Al worried about the bad publicity and the charges, until the patrolman decided that nobody had hit him after all, and the affair was dropped. "If I had hit him," Al said, "don't worry, he wouldn't have had any doubts about it."
During the basketball season Al dominates the sports pages and television and radio shows in Milwaukee, partly because Milwaukee is not the liveliest of sports towns, but even more because he is wonderfully frank and stimulates controversy every time he opens his mouth. Before his big game with St. John's a few months ago he quipped on a pre-game show: "I was hoping it would snow last night. That way maybe St. John's would have been flown to some other city and been forced to take a long bus trip. About 10 hours on a cramped bus could have made them very susceptible to my coaching genius." During a New York luncheon, he dropped the casual remark that "Lew Alcindor won't last the four years in college. He'll get tired of all the defensive guys ganging up on him and sign a big contract with a pro team."
But behind all the flamboyance and controversy—the side of Al that comes closest to resembling his brother John—there is also a solid-citizen, character-molding instinct in Al. Out of all the brawling and hustling and conning that go into big-time college basketball he expects to come up with some pretty good people. "The biggest thing in this game to me," he insists, "even more important than winning—and you know how I like to win—is to make sure that these kids aren't prostituted for the game. I demand that everyone I coach go on to get his degree. That's my proudest achievement in all my years of coaching—I've never had a letterman who failed to get his degree." It is, of course, a standard coaches' theme, and in many cases you wouldn't believe it. But Al McGuire makes it a point to say what he thinks, to avoid the standard themes and tired clichés. When he goes back to one like this you've got to believe he means it.
But behind the success of Dick and Al McGuire there lurks a secret force, a rare athlete and genius guiding them in their careers. Just ask John: "Dick and Al know that they can't make a mistake with me watching. I know all the moves. One slip and they know they'll hear about it. I know it all, and my brothers know that."
John has never stopped being a sportsman. "I'm quick and agile," he says, "I've never lost a sprint." His friend Weston recalls a night in a diner near Monmouth Park racetrack. "John was broke. He had only $5. So he took off his shirt and yelled at a bunch of kids in the diner, 'Think you can beat an old man running?' The kids agreed to lay $50 against his $5. John went out onto the street in his underwear and won the sprint by five lengths. But we had let the kids hold the money. They just kept running, and we couldn't catch them because John wasn't as good over a distance of ground."
Another time John asked a kid in a Rockaway bar, "What do you do best? Shoot baskets? Box? Run?" The kid chose running. John won a sprint easily but tripped and broke his collarbone. He stood in the middle of the street, an off-duty cop and a victorious athlete—but badly hurt. The sweat was pouring off his face and his mouth was twisted in pain, but somehow he remembered to look at his watch and make a decision. Suddenly the pain was secondary, and he said he didn't want any doctors for four hours. "The wait was well worth it," he recalls. "I fell downstairs in the precinct that night and got 100 sick days to spend at the track.
"But I'm good at teamwork as well as individual effort," he adds. "Look at how Pep and I work together. I know all about politeness, and he knows all about administration. More important, neither of us gets too mad when the other gets to the money first." Teamwork is probably the main factor in the success of the bar. When the partners started—with "$300 borrowed cash and two bad checks"—they found a solid method of facing bill payments. If a whiskey salesman named Cohen came in, John would scream that he was prejudiced against a poor Rockaway Irishman who was trying to make good. When a linen man named Brady tried to collect, Peppis, who is Jewish, would charge anti-Semitism.
Looking back on his career in and around sports, John can cite almost as many records as his brothers: the most days off in the police department, the biggest loan in the history of Rockaway finance companies. When he was going badly in Florida last winter, he received from Pep the largest money order in the history of the Hallandale, Fla. post office. But he is not looking to his laurels now. "I'll get back in action soon," he claims. "Just one big score and I'll be going strong again."
"John is impossible to understand," says Al McGuire. "He works so hard at handicapping and worrying about horses, and he's got nothing to show for it. I work just as hard at coaching and speaking to people and public relations, but I get a lot out of it."
But John gets a lot out of his work, too. "Pride when you win, tension when you lose," he says. "It keeps you going." It was keeping him going at Aqueduct on a day when an inspector on the police force asked Pep to take him to the races. The inspector and his wife sat at a table with Pep and John, and split $2 show bets on each race. He didn't know John, who was still a cop at the time, and John didn't say who he was. But in the eighth race the inspector's horse got up by a nose to beat John's selection. "We've got him," said the inspector's wife. "We've got him to show, but he even won. Isn't that great?" John stood up and glared at the woman, not in rage but in the abject frustration that even his politeness cannot always hide. Without a word he threw down 14 $100 win tickets on the horse that had run second. Then he turned and walked away.
"Who was that man?" asked the inspector.
"He's with the police department," said Pep.
"With that kind of money? He must be a full inspector."
"No," said Pep, "he's a patrolman."
The inspector stood up and looked across the room in John's direction. He opened his mouth, but he couldn't say anything. Finally he motioned to his wife. "Cash that ticket, and let's get out of here," he said.
John McGuire smiled and waved to them as they left. Then he walked back to where Pep was. "They think you're nuts," Pep said. "They don't believe you're real." John sat down, adjusting his gold tie to fit smoothly under his blue cashmere blazer. Both the pride and the tension were visible in his face. "They're right, of course," he said. "Now, who do you like in the ninth?"