POSTED: Sep 3, 2013 10:25 AM ET
Known for his toughness as a player, Richie Guerin was one of the Knicks' first stars.
They called him Leatherneck, and, yes, that was a nod to his years as a Marine. Richard Guerin was dedicated to the service and nearly made it a career.
But there was a toughness to his game too. He was a guard, all of 6-foot-4, who once averaged more than six rebounds a game for five consecutive seasons. He played hard and a lot, once finishing in the top six in minutes three times in a five-year span, and leading the league in appearances on three occasions while finishing second one other time. He did it in playoff runs and months in a row drowned in losses.
"People that knew the game and followed the game respected that because, unfortunately, I played on some teams that weren't always that good," Guerin said. "It's not the easiest thing to do, but you do have a responsibility to yourself, your family and the franchise as well as the fans to do the best you can."
Guerin will be inducted in the Hall of Fame on Sept. 8 (2 p.m. ET, NBA TV) as a testament to perseverance and versatility. He waited so long to reach Springfield, Mass., from retiring after 1969-70 to getting his hopes up for enshrinement to coming off the ballot for lack of support to now making it via the Veteran's committee. He went from accepting that the moment would never happen to planning for 18 family members and additional friends to join the celebration that absolutely will take place, complete with a couple snowbird buddies from Florida, Bob Cousy and John Havlicek, as presenters.
The versatility is just as obvious. Guerin was a kid from the Bronx who went from Iona to the hometown Knicks as the No. 17 pick in the 1954 draft. He became a six-time All-Star while finishing in the top 10 in scoring and assists and also establishing himself as one of the best rebounding guards. There was a time after being traded from New York to St. Louis in October 1963 that he even had dual jobs -- player-coach of the St. Louis Hawks, there and after the franchise move to Atlanta, from 1964-65 to 1971-72.
Hall of Famer: Richie Guerin
For truly well-rounded, though, there is Guerin himself. He enlisted in the Marines. At age 15. His father signed off and young Richie went to a meeting every Thursday night and spent two weeks each of the next two summers, at Parris Island and Camp Lejune, "basically doing things that you would do in boot camp." He went to Iona, graduated in '54, signed up for active duty that year, was stationed in Quantico, Va., for two years, left as a second lieutenant and finally joined the Knicks in '56. Then he was a perennial NBA All-Star. Then came 31 years as a broker and managing director at Bear Stearns, a major investment bank and brokerage firm, and Knicks broadcaster.
But, seriously. Fifteen years old and being drilled at Parris Island.
"Those were probably two of the most important years of my life, in regards not just to sports, just in regards to the way I approached different things," Guerin said. "You learn how to sacrifice, you learn the word team, you learn the word discipline, you learn the word respect. I learned all of those things in my two years in the Marine Corps. I was fortunate to serve in the United States Marine Corps for two years as an officer. I was inducted into their sports Hall of Fame about four or five years ago. It was one of the greatest honors of my life."
The Marines excited Guerin and his brother-in-law was in the Corps at the time. Guerin had a chance to stay in the service, but wanted to first pursue pro basketball before giving up that dream. If the NBA didn't work out, according to the plan at the time, he would go back and probably make the military a career.
The NBA worked out.
"Even though I didn't play in the day of everybody making zillions of dollars, basketball was very good to me," said Guerin, now 81 and living the summer months in New York and the rest of the year in Florida. "I followed that up with a good business career. I feel very, very blessed and fortunate."
Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.
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