We could recite the details of the life of Al McGuire, the former
college basketball coach and TV commentator who died of a blood
disorder last Friday at age 72, but he wouldn't want us to.
McGuire didn't believe in details. He blithely forgot names, of
players in games he telecast and of those on his own team. Jerome
Whitehead, a star of McGuire's 1977 NCAA champion Marquette team,
was forever Whitehorse. So was Whitehead's father, a minister who
must have frowned upon realizing that White Horse is a brand of
But both Whiteheads surely knew the futility of correcting the
man whose rules for life and basketball had been formed in the
taverns and playgrounds of Rockaway Beach, N.Y. Forever fuzzy on
the particulars, McGuire never erred in the broad strokes. When
he said, "Just show me the numbers," he didn't mean that
literally, only that what interested him was the metaphorical
"He had a gift for seeing the wonder and the goodness of God's
creation, sometimes in the most unlikely places, and for sharing
his delight in that discovery with those around him," Robert
Wild, the Jesuit priest who is Marquette's president, said last
week. Wild was no doubt referring to the coach's habit of telling
lunch companions, "If the waitress has dirty ankles, the chili's
McGuire quit right after he and Whitehorse won that NCAA title
24 years ago, so his basketball legacy requires some brushing up
on. He'll be remembered for his sensibility, including that
picturesque urban argot of which Dick Vitale's is wincingly
derivative. He was without peer as a game coach. "I don't know
basketball," he said. "I feel basketball. Drop me in the middle
of a game, and I could manage it by the ebb and flow."
He won his title because the button-down guy on the other bench,
North Carolina's Dean Smith--who lost a lead after ordering his
Tar Heels into a four-corners delay--didn't understand what
McGuire did: that basketball resists excessive organization. He
had the cojones and self-possession to walk away from the summit
of the clipboard racket in midlife.
McGuire didn't let details encumber him. He didn't let basketball
do so, either.
COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER (MCGUIRE) McGuire had a feel for the game not possessed by his X's-and-O's peers.