Even to casual hoops fans, Dick and Al McGuire are legendary basketball names in this diocese.
Both products of the former St. John’s University Brooklyn campus, Dick was a seven-time NBA All-Star for the New York Knicks and Detroit Pistons in the 1950s, while Al is most known for his days coaching men’s hoops at Marquette University, Milwaukee.
So much has been said and written about this duo. Yet the fact that we’re still talking about them years after their deaths — Al in 2001 and Dick in 2010 — shows the impact they had on the local basketball community.
Such is the sentiment of the McGuires’ little sister Kathleen Mann, 89, and her husband, Gene, 91. The Manns reside in Cornelius, N.C., just north of Charlotte. After all these years, Kathleen still remembers the early days of seeing her brothers carve out their sports legacy in the Big Apple.
Kathleen was four years younger than Al, who was two years younger than Dick. The oldest McGuire brother, Johnny, was two years older than Dick. Their parents were true immigrants, with their father coming from Ireland and their mother from England.
The family settled in St. Camillus parish, Rockaway Park. It was during the summers in the Rockaways that Dick and Al began showing their penchant for athletics.
Of course, we know of their basketball resumes. However, as Gene recalled, the McGuire brothers excelled in a game called dog ball. Played with a hard tennis ball, dog ball resembled baseball, yet the game was played on the beach by players not wearing any shoes.
“People would line the boardwalk to watch this game every night after dinner in the summer- time,” said Gene. “That’s when people started to realize that Dick McGuire was a great athlete. He could run on the sand in his bare feet faster than anybody could in sneakers. And he could hit the ball. He was a good dog ball player.”
As Kathleen remembers, the brothers could always be found doing something competitive. Dick would always have a jigsaw puzzle being put together on the dining room table. Yet when it was time for the final piece to be placed, Al would be the one to do so, since he hid it from his older brother. This friendly competition undoubtedly benefited the McGuires as they rose through the basketball ranks.
“I wasn’t the typical teenage girl,” said Kathleen, who also played basketball herself. “I lived a different life than a lot of my friends. I enjoyed going to the away games and the Madison Square Garden games tremendously. A good part of my life was following my brothers’ basketball years that they had. I always felt that I had charmed teenage years because I was able to go to all those games.”
Many times, Gene’s friends jokingly said the only reason he started dating Kathleen was so that he could spend more time with her brothers talking basketball.
“I got used to very early in life being called a McGuire,” Gene said.
As for the brothers, their personalities could not be any more different. Kathleen remembers that Dick was shy off the court, while Al was much more outgoing. Yet when Dick was ready to play basketball, his whole demeanor changed.
“When he put on his sneakers and got on the court, Dick was a different person,” Kathleen said. “There was no stopping him.”
Though more outgoing, Al was humbled when he guided Marquette to the 1977 NCAA National Championship in his final year coaching.
“I always remember my brother Al saying that he won the championship that year, but it was the year before that he should have won,” Kathleen said.
With Al being enshrined in 1992 and Dick in 1993, the McGuires became the only two brothers inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. There is another pair of siblings: NBA legend Reggie Miller and his sister Cheryl Miller, who starred in the WNBA.
Kathleen said it’s very meaningful to her that her brothers hold this unique distinction. Never did she imagine as they were growing up playing dog ball on the sand in the Rockaways that her brothers would achieve such a high honor.
“I find it remarkable to think we’re going back so far,” Kathleen said. “It just amazes me that now and then there still are comments or their names come up after all these years.”
Kathleen said she thoroughly enjoyed reliving some of the old basketball memories. As she put it: “It was nice being a McGuire.” In response, Gene chimed in with: “I enjoy it, too!”
Contact Jim Mancari via email at email@example.com.