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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."