There was nothing fancy about the way Dick McGuire managed to remain with the Knicks for all those years, right until the end of his life. It all stemmed from the same quality that had made him a Knick in the first place, in 1949 - he always would rather pass than shoot.
Unselfishness goes a long way. It sent McGuire into the Hall of Fame and got his number in the rafters at Madison Square Garden, even though he never averaged 10 points a game for the Knicks. Through all the changes in the sport, the Garden and the Knicks, McGuire, who died Wednesday at 84, was a constant because he was constantly looking out for the other person.
Other Knicks in his day knew that they weren't a great team, but McGuire made them better than they thought they could be. The woebegone franchise made it to three consecutive championship series in the early 1950s, when McGuire was the playmaker (they didn't call them point guards back then).
"He's the reason we almost got three rings on our fingers," teammate Ray Lumpp said in an interview the week McGuire's 15 was retired in 1992. "He was unselfish to a fault."
As a passer, he was in a class with his friend and contemporary Bob Cousy. "Cousy was fancy, McGuire wasn't fancy," said Joe Gergen, the former Newsday columnist who grew up watching those guys play in Rockaway Beach. "But McGuire could pass the ball to a spot where you wouldn't think it could go."
That often was bad luck for Knicks big men such as Ray Felix, who would get handcuffed by passes that had seemed impossible. Passing was the hallmark on McGuire's Playground, which stood on the boardwalk a block away from his family's bar and grill. McGuire said in a Sports Illustrated story 30 years ago, "We had to pass a lot because we weren't as good as the players today."
McGuire could shoot when he had to. In 1944, he was forced to take a break from his All-America career at St. John's to become a Navy trainee. At the time, the armed forces allowed servicemen to play ball for a college near the base at which they were serving. So McGuire played four games for Dartmouth. He made a shot with three seconds left in the NCAA final against Utah, sending the game to overtime (Dartmouth lost by two).
Perhaps he would have been a better coach had he not been so considerate of everyone else's feelings. McGuire once admitted that when he was coaching the Pistons, there were dozens of players on the roster during exhibition games because he didn't have the heart to cut anyone.
And he was so soft-spoken it was hard to make out what he was saying. A Knicks game during his coaching tenure was once delayed while he, Cazzie Russell and the scorekeeper tried to figure out which player named "Whatchamacallit" Russell was supposed to be subbing for.
"To me he was the real deal," said Knicks president Donnie Walsh. "He knew the game, he played the game. It didn't appear he did for fame, fortune and all that. He did it because he loved it."
Fact is, being unassuming never prevented McGuire from making a name for himself.