Sportscaster Dick Enberg Revisits the Friendship of a Lifetime in 'McGuire'

Dec 22, 2017

Editor's note: Dick Enberg died Thursday at his home in La Jolla, California, at age 82. Lake Effect spoke with him in January of 2017 while he was in Milwaukee for performances of his one-man play based on the life of Al McGuire.

Dick Enberg retired last fall from a sixty-year career as a sports broadcaster.  In that time, he covered eight Super Bowls, tennis's Grand Slam events, and thousands of baseball and basketball games.  Enberg worked with scores of fellow broadcasters, from Merlin Olsen to Joe Morgan to Bud Collins.  But of all the people he shared a broadcast booth, one rises to the top.

Al McGuire.

"He simply was the most incredible character I ever met," Enberg says, "and no one is in second place."

Enberg, McGuire, and Billy Packer worked together to cover NCAA men's basketball on NBC in the late 1970s and early '80s, and on CBS in 2000.  Their partnership came on the heels of the irascible McGuire's 13 seasons as coach of the Marquette basketball team, then called the Warriors.  Marquette won the NCAA championship in McGuire's last season as head coach.

And Enberg's friendship with McGuire ran so deep that following McGuire's death from leukemia in 2001, he was inspired to write a one-man memory play, using his friends words and wisdom. McGuire premiered at Marquette's Helfaer Theater in 2005, and has been produced more than a hundred times around the country.  It opens its longest run - eight weeks - at the Milwaukee Rep in January.

Nearly sixteen years after McGuire's death, Enberg says he is still absorbing his friend's influence.  "To work with him, side by side," he says, "was to get a lesson in life every weekend.

"It wasn't just basketball," Enberg adds, "he admitted he wasn't a very good basketball coach.  But he was an emcee, he could run the show, he knew how to work people.  He used the word 'humanism," which is a nice word, isn't it?"

TV announcer Dick Enberg hosts the award ceremonies after the men's singles final September 12, 2004 at the 2004 US Open in New York. Roger Federer won the tournament.
Credit A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Enberg, who is still as energetic at 82 as he was in his decades of announcing sports, thought back on his days with McGuire as he sat in an office on a sunny afternoon at the Rep. "[McGuire] saw life at such a different angle than the rest of us," he recalled. "He taught me so many things that I'd feel almost stupid at times."

Enberg recalled a visit with McGuire's hometown - New York City, where they were walking down the street as a city bus driver virtually laying on his horn as the bus roared past. "I turned to Al and said, 'This is your city - isn't there enough noise with the cabs and the shouting, and now the bus driver's on the horn, too?'"

"He says, 'Goin' home - it's his last run.  He doesn't use his horn all day long, but he wants to get home, so he's hurryin'.'  And I would never see that, but that was Al looking at life.

The play grew from a one-page eulogy McGuire's family asked him to write when Al died.  Enberg says when he sat down to write, it was as though he was finally putting together the pieces of the puzzle that formed their friendship.  He started with what he termed 'McGuirisms':

  • "Take a right hand turn in life."
  • "If somebody calls and they're in trouble, it's the third reason - don't even pay attention to the first two."
  • "A guy brings flowers home for no reason? There's a reason."

"I'd be up to two, three, four o'clock in the morning, and his voice was resonating in my mind, [thinking] I can't quit now, he's about to tell me another story."

For Enberg, who holds a Ph.D in health sciences and began his career in education, it's his first real turn to the dramatic arts.  But he says it's been a worthwhile effort.  "I write when I'm in love with someone or something," he explains. "And this was a love affair that I had as I sat down and tried to capture all that Al represented."

This story originally aired January 19, 2017.