By Brian Tuohy
Once upon a time, there were three brothers. The youngest, Al, was the least gifted athletically of the three, yet he fought his way through four rough-and-tumble seasons in the NBA, then became a legendary collegiate head coach through his unorthodox style. The middle brother, Dick, was an unselfish NBA point guard who made it all the way to the Hall of Fame, then continued in the professional ranks as both a head coach and scout. The eldest of the three, John, may have been the greatest athlete of them all, but a broken shoulder derailed his promising future in sports. Devoid of that path, he fell from grace, living the life of a seedy club owner and degenerate gambler.
This is the story of the McGuire brothers -- Al, Dick and John -- and the FBI investigation surrounding them (view the FBI file here; also embedded at the end of the article).
It all began with a tip about point shaving. On March 29, 1971, the FBI field office in Kansas City received disturbing information from a source within the NCAA, which was relayed in a memo to FBI headquarters the following day. The memo read, in part: "This source advised that Al McGuire may be involved in gambling activities and may have controlled the point spreads of Marquette's basketball games during the past basketball season." Point shaving was a grave threat to the integrity of college basketball, serious enough that the NCAA chose to refer the matter to the FBI, rather than just investigate internally. McGuire allegedly had been picked up in a gambling raid as well, though local Milwaukee authorities "squashed" the story and released McGuire without filing any charges.
In an April 1 teletype response from FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, the Kansas City field office was instructed when dealing with the NCAA informant to "emphasize his extremely heavy responsibility as [redacted]. Impress upon [him] fact that this matter must be pursued thoroughly to resolve allegations and further enable your office to execute its investigative responsibilities." Agents in Milwaukee were also told to "be most cautious" and "insure that utmost discretion is utilized in contacts with Milwaukee Police Department."
Such discretion was advised because, by this point in time, Al McGuire's coaching prowess had turned around Marquette's basketball program completely, making him a national figure. In 1964-65, his first season running the program, the Warriors posted a subpar 8-18 record. But by the end of the 1970-71 season, McGuire's team was 28-1 in the regular season, reaching the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament before losing a one-point heartbreaker to Ohio State.
The amazing part of Marquette's success was McGuire's seemingly poor fit for his coaching duties. As he explained to Sports Illustrated's Frank Deford, "I hate everything about this job except the games." At the miniscule Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina, where McGuire spent seven seasons as head coach, his team's record plummeted from 24-3 in 1957-58 down to 6-18 in 1963-64. He was ready to do something, anything rather than coach college basketball. Yet when the Marquette position became available, McGuire received unsolicited letters of recommendation from the likes of Joe Lapchick of the New York Knicks and Walter Brown of the Boston Celtics. Soon enough, McGuire landed in Milwaukee to take control of the Warriors.
Even when installed as Marquette's head coach, McGuire wasn't completely at the wheel. "I've never blown a whistle, looked at a film, worked at a blackboard or organized a practice in my life," he told Deford. He left most of the details to his assistants, Hank Raymonds and Rick Majerus. Sometimes, McGuire wasn't even certain of his players' names. "I figure I'm wrong 80 percent of the time, but it takes too much time to be right," McGuire lamented. "I won't pay that price with my life. I'm jealous of guys like Dean Smith, Bobby Knight. I'm jealous of their dedication. I wish I had it."
Though he might not have been overly interested in coaching, he was always concerned with "numbers," which in McGuire-speak meant money. In fact, his language more often than not resembled that of a Wall Street trader or a gambler, not a head coach. The "numbers" kept McGuire at Marquette despite his dislike of the job. Yet outside of basketball, the youngest McGuire had an apparent knack for "numbers." He owned pieces of several profitable Wisconsin businesses, which apparently is what set off the NCAA's source, who stated that "McGuire has accumulated considerable wealth in a relatively short period of time."
But did that "considerable wealth" really come from shaving points? McGuire's potential connection to such a crime was his brother. Not middle brother Dick, the former No. 1 draft pick of the Knicks, who later served as the team's head coach from 1965-1968, and who in 1971 was their chief scout. No, it was McGuire's other New York-based sibling, John, the oldest, who was the cause for concern.
As an FBI report cited one source, "From the day John McGuire was old enough to read, he was a born degenerate gambler. [The source] stated John has been one of the most notorious degenerate gamblers he has ever met betting on basketball, football, horse races, trotters, you name it. He even stated he believed John 'would bet on a cockroach race.'" John's entry into gambling -- if his story is to be believed -- came later in life, after overhearing a winning tip on a horse race while tending bar in his father's pub. He was instantly hooked on the easy money gambling seemed to provide.
Soon after, John became a New York City police officer, working third shift in order to spend his days at the area's thoroughbred tracks and evenings at the trotters. He slept while at work. "I set the all-time record for sick days," John told SI's Pete Axthelm. His attitude didn't sit well with the NYPD, and John soon left to open the wildly popular "discotheque" bar in Queens, Pep-McGuire's. John co-owned the joint with Norton Peppis, himself an avid gambler and rumored to be a former bookie. Though the bar was a goldmine, both John and Peppis "managed to blow most of their fortune on gambling," according to more than one FBI source.
The pair seemingly won -- or more often, lost -- a small fortune with each trip to the track. No matter what the results were yesterday, inevitably they would return for tomorrow's races. They had a special table in the Man o' War Room at the Aqueduct Racetrack, playing host to a who's who in the handicapping world. John knew intelligence was paramount to a winning wager. He told Axthelm, "I was with The Brain when he was going good. I was also with The Eel, The Goose, The Monk. You name a winning outfit, and I was probably betting with it at some time. It frightens me to think of some of the scores I've made in my life. But I guess my nervous system couldn't take all that winning. If I had really cared about profit, I probably would have stayed away from Aqueduct."
"John is impossible to understand," Al McGuire told Axthelm. "He works so hard at handicapping and worrying about horses, and he's got nothing to show for it. I work just as hard at coaching and speaking to people and public relations, but I get a lot out of it."
But John didn't only bet the ponies. He was known to bet on basketball as well -- perhaps as much as $2,000 a game, according to one FBI informant. Another source told the Bureau that John was "able to predict the point spread of the Marquette basketball games within two or three points." Though no source considered John a bookie, one did report that "gambling is being conducted" at Pep-McGuire's.
The concern, for both the FBI and the NCAA, was inside information potentially being passed from brother to brother for gambling purposes. The brothers talked basketball amongst themselves, and often. Axthelm wrote for SI in 1967, "But behind the success of Dick and Al McGuire there lurks a secret force, a rare athlete and genius guiding them in their careers. Just ask John: 'Dick and Al know that they can't make a mistake with me watching. I know all the moves. One slip and they know they'll hear about it. I know it all, and my brothers know that.'"
This revelation compelled Al to explain to Axthelm in 1967, "I stay out of touch with John during the season. Obviously, Dick and I can't have anything to do with him when he's discussing gambling. But there's no way anyone could suspect us of helping him win. He never wins."
Despite such an easy dismissal, four years later, Al McGuire revealed to the Milwaukee Police Department that John would in fact pump him for inside information. The Milwaukee Bureau wrote in a memo: "It should be noted [Al] McGuire recently delivered a lecture on subject of police-community relations to a recruit class at the Milwaukee PD … During this lecture, McGuire made reference to a brother in New York City, who was a gambler. McGuire said he spoke with this brother by phone on occasion regarding personal family matters; however, whenever his brother made any inquiries about the physical condition of the Marquette basketball team, he would immediately terminate the conversation without answering any of his questions."
Though one FBI source believed John "never was the type to do anything dishonest in sports," in the same breath, this informant told the Bureau, "John will look for an edge in regard to information on a sporting event." Inside information is gold to a bettor, and like any seasoned gambler, John constantly was seeking it. Given the circles in which John mingled, it's no surprise that another source told the FBI that John has "several other excellent handicappers [with whom] he exchanges information" with regard to basketball. Undoubtedly, John sought such information from at least his brother Al, if not Dick as well. To get either to talk about his respective team might have given John enough of a tip to make a more informed -- and hopefully profitable -- wager. Whether John was successful in this endeavor is another question.
One FBI source believed that the betting lines in and around New York City would have reflected John's insider knowledge, and if Al McGuire really had gone so far as to shave points in Marquette games, clearly that would have been noticed as well. Citing a highly regarded informant, the FBI wrote that "when something is wrong with a certain team or its coach, moves always show up over the course of an entire season when lines change drastically or the word gets out that certain people are betting a certain way." As far as the FBI could determine, that pattern never emerged regarding either Marquette or the Knicks.
For the Bureau, whether the McGuire brothers had been sharing inside information wasn't the key issue. Even if they had been, that wasn't a federal offense. Though the Bureau's file on Al reflects that little if any information was likely passed to John, that was not the focus of the investigation. What the FBI needed to determine was if Al McGuire was shaving points, as head coach of the Marquette Warriors. Al knew the dangers of point shaving firsthand, having played for St. John's during the college basketball's great game-fixing scandal in 1951. He was never suspected as a player, and the FBI soon realized that there was no evidence of it while he was a coach, either. The investigation of Al McGuire was eventually closed, and one was never opened on Dick.
It turned out that Al McGuire's quick accumulation of wealth sprang not from his Marquette tenure at all, but rather from his time coaching at Belmont Abbey College. According to the FBI's information, Al became acquainted with some wealthy locals who provided him with tips on stock deals, and he "cleared a personal fortune out of the sale of these stocks and securities" prior to joining Marquette. The FBI never substantiated any of the allegations surrounding McGuire's "squashed" arrest, either.
The NCAA never revealed to the FBI its original source for these allegations, despite several requests to do so. But the information was strong enough, and the potential crime serious enough, for the FBI to take a deeper look. Marquette's name was never added to the list of Boston College, Arizona State and the many other college basketball teams stained with a point-shaving scandal.
Al McGuire's Marquette Warriors would win the cational championship in 1976-77. He'd then quit coaching, later joining brother Dick in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
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Brian Tuohy has been called America's leading sports conspiracy theorist, but really he's just highly skeptical when it comes to what the sports leagues tell their fans. He's also one of the few writers brave enough to tackle the topic of game fixing in sports, detailing evidence of it in his books Larceny Games: Sports Gambling, Game Fixing and the FBI and The Fix Is In: The Showbiz Manipulations of the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and NASCAR. He also runs the semi-popular website thefixisin.net.