Among the many uncovered stories about Dick McGuire that typified the Hall of Fame basketball player who died last week was one from his brother-in-law, Gene Mann. He said that McGuire, patient and methodical, loved to do puzzles. And every time, his brother Al would steal one piece, just to drive him crazy.
"I don't doubt that," said Buddy Ackerman, who grew up on the same block with the McGuires in Rockaway Beach and was their teammate on the Knicks. Also not surprisingly, Al never did get under Dick's skin by doing that, or by slipping a matchbook cover into his brother's sandwich when they both were starved after a long day in the family's bar and grill.
"You know, I don't think I ever saw him get mad, even on a bad play" Ackerman said in a telephone interview from his Oceanside home. "If you didn't like playing with Dick McGuire, you didn't like basketball."
A Who's Who of people who love and live basketball gathered Monday for McGuire's funeral at St. Elizabeth's Roman Catholic Church in Melville. Current Knick star David Lee was there, along with coach Mike D'Antoni and president Donnie Walsh. Assistant coach Herb Williams was there, as was Allan Houston.
Rick Pitino, head coach at Louisville, sat near Lou Carnesecca, the Hall of Fame St. John's coach, and former St. John's great Chris Mullin. Mel Davis, another former St. John's standout, was there, too, as were Nets president Rod Thorn and coach Kiki Vandeweghe.
Broadcaster Mike Breen, former Knick Cal Ramsey and many scouts, assistant coaches, Knicks officials and Madison Square Garden employees all came to honor the man who lived the way he played ball: totally unselfishly.
Rev. Frank Schneider, pastor of St. Elizabeth's, called McGuire "a good, holy, loving man" and recalled how the basketball great liked to sit near the back, out of the way, every week at Mass.
In his homily, Schneider spoke of McGuire's 53 years -- often unheralded -- in the Knicks organization, putting them, in context of the gospel reading of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. Of McGuire, he said, "He was able, from a young age, to do what he loved. He worked hard at it and he was able later in life to invite others to do what they love.
"It's an invitation to all of us to live a life of humble service, to do what we love and do it with joy and generosity," the priest said. "What a great legacy he leaves for his family."
Ackerman said there's a story that one of McGuire's St. John's teammates suffered a broken nose three times in a season because the play maker's passes were too dazzling. "I believe it, too," Ackerman said.
Mann, who grew up with the McGuires and played with Bob Cousy at Holy Cross, said that McGuire was the only player Cousy ever idolized.
Mann added that when the shy McGuire coached the Knicks, the team sent him to a Dale Carnegie course on speaking and projecting. He was proud to have been named the class' most improved student, an honor marked by a ceremony. McGuire called his wife Teri at home on Long Island to say he would be catching a later train. She told him she couldn't understand a word he was saying.
"He was just the greatest person," Mann said about the fellow whom family and friends found to be the missing piece of the puzzle in their lives.