Former Knick Richie Guerin honored by induction into Hall

Richie Guerin of the Knicks. (June 28, 1963)

Richie Guerin of the Knicks. (June 28, 1963) (Credit: Handout)

Richie Guerin was the best of the Knicks in the worst of times. For years that would be his curse and perhaps one of the reasons he was overlooked by Basketball Hall of Fame voters.

But last Sunday, there was Guerin, old No. 9, a scrappy guard from the Bronx, posing for pictures with another high-scoring Knick, slick forward Bernard King from Brooklyn, two of 12 inductees into the 2013 Basketball Hall of Fame.

"It was overwhelming for two reasons," said Guerin, who lived in Huntington during his Knicks years (1956-63) and returned to Long Island in 1980 after his NBA coaching career to live in Plandome Manor when he worked on Wall Street. He has spent the last 15 years as a retired snowbird, splitting time between Westhampton Beach and West Palm Beach, Fla.

"Number one, because of the great honor," said Guerin, 81, who was elected by the Veterans Committee. "And No. 2, because I had my entire family there -- 18 people including my nine grandchildren. When you can share an honor like that with your family, it means a lot. When you get on in age and you still have those dreams, you wonder if your window is closing. You want it to happen so you can enjoy it with your wife and family."

Guerin thoroughly enjoyed the weekend's festivities in Springfield, Mass. He chose two longtime friends whom Knicks fans would call mortal enemies because they played for the rival Boston Celtics -- Bob Cousy and John Havlicek -- to be his presenters. Cousy had to back out because of a family emergency but Havlicek introduced Guerin last Sunday.

"They both belong to the same club [in Florida] as I do and we play golf every week," Guerin said. "We spend the winter months together and we've been friends for many years."

Guerin averaged 17.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists in his 13-year NBA career, and he also coached the Atlanta Hawks. In his seven seasons with the Knicks, the team made the playoffs only once, though Guerin averaged as many as 29.5 points per game (1961-62 season) and was a six-time All-Star.

"I'm proud of that because it doesn't happen unless you are recognized by your peers," Guerin said. "But it's a team sport and it's tough to win championships without the players around you. I took pride in doing the best that I could do for 40 or 42 minutes a game."

That's why he's always been offended by what happened on March 2, 1962, when the Knicks played the "host'' Philadelphia Warriors in Hershey, Pa., as NBA teams in those days looked to expand their fan base. That was the night that only 4,124 fans watched as Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in Philly's 169-147 victory.

Though Guerin was a witness to history and called Chamberlain "one of the best players I'd ever seen," he didn't like the way the second half unfolded. "That's not the way the game is supposed to be played," Guerin said. "Their players committed deliberate fouls starting early in the third quarter to give them more possessions. Then they were throwing the ball down to him on every possession. It turned the game into a farce. They must've talked about it at halftime ."

Guerin said he told Chamberlain how he felt afterward. "I always took pride in representing my franchise and my fans in the best way possible," he said. "To me, that's not the way this should've happened and I was angry about it."

But Guerin does not disparage the players of his era. At his speech last week, he said he made sure to tell the audience that "I would've liked the opportunity to play with my peers against the so-called stars of today. I think we would've done all right."

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