Thursday, May 31, 2018

Al McGuire: Color, Charisma, Character

Topps 1969 football, Marquette Men's basketball, RetroCards, custom cards that never were

Who would have thought the son of a New York saloon keeper would become the Vince Lombardi of college basketball?
Al McGuire grew up in the Queens & Brooklyn playgrounds where he played football against Joe Paterno and played basketball with and against Bob Cousy.  His older brother Dick was a constant basketball companion and both entered the NBA after stellar careers at St. John's.  Al played only four seasons referring to himself as "the worst player in pro ball.”  He was a defensive specialist who could occasionally contain Bob Cousy.  He is famous for pleading for playing time from his coach with the New York Knicks, saying, “I can stop Cousy.”  He was granted playing time and promptly fouled Cousy six consecutive times down the court!

He began coaching ant Dartmouth (1955-57) and Belmont Abbey College (1957-64) when Marquette University came calling.  It was in Milwaukee that McGuire brought his New York-Irish attitude to the midwest and made contenders out of Marquette’s men’s basketball team from 1964 through 1977.

He famously rejected an invitation to the 1970 NCAA tournament because of the unfavorable placement and went on to win the NIT Tournament that year. After losing the NCAA tournament in 1974 (to North Carolina State) they still continued with winning programs.  In 1976, they lost the regional finals to Indiana after posting an impressive 27–2 record.  By the beginning of the 1976-77 season, McGuire surprised the sports world by announcing his retirement effective at the end of the season.  After entering the NCAA tournament with a questionable record (25–7), McGuire’s Warriors went on to win a thriller vs. UNC-Charlotte where guard Butch Lee inbounded a court-length pass to Jerome Whitehead who tipped it in to win in the closing seconds.  Marquette capped off the Cinderella season with an impressive come from behind victory over North Carolina to win the tournament.  When the game was in hand a visibly emotional McGuire tried his best to compose himself.  It was the last game he coached.

Digger Phelps, former coach at Fordham and Notre Dame, called McGuire “a great psychologist.”  Phelps said, “I learned defense from Bobby Knight and psychology from Al McGuire.  People need to be refreshed on who Al McGuire was.  He was a rock.  He was the best.  He did for Milwaukee in college basketball what Vince Lombardi did for Green Bay in pro football."  He went on to have a successful broadcast career with NBC Sports and CBS Sports where he help bring college basketball more prominence with his flare and personal catch phrases he would invent.  He died of leukemia at the age of 72 in 2001.

RetroCards honors Al McGuire and his thirteen years of coaching Marquette basketball with two series.  The first includes a team photo of the 1970 NIT team, the Milwaukee Arena, George Thompson, Dean Meminger, Gary Brell, Ric Cobb, Jim Chones, Bob Lackey, Ally McGuire, George Frazier, Marcus Washington, Larry McNeil, Maurice Lucas, and coach McGuire of course. Get it here!

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Robert Indiana: Pop Art Meets The Sports World

Having grown up in Milwaukee in the 1970s and 1980s, I took for granted that every city had a pro football, basketball, and baseball team, that every city had a Summer Fest (the world's largest music festival), and that every NBA/ABA team had a colorful basketball court.  The court I refer to is Milwaukee's MECCA Arena, home to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Marquette Warriors, and for a short time in the late 70s the Milwaukee Does, a women's professional basketball team.

The basketball floor was quite a feather in Milwaukee's cap as city leadership culled pop artist Robert Indiana for the project. Indiana is most known for the very familiar LOVE design, which first appeared in a series of poems in 1958. It quickly found its way onto Christmas cards, postage stamps and also became a striking sculpture. RetroCards would like to honor his contribution to Milwaukee.

Mr. Indiana's passing on May 19, 2018 brought back many memories of the old MECCA floor which was no longer used once the Bucks moved into the Bradley Center in 1988.  Thought lost, the floor showed up in an obscure auction and was purchased by a local fan.  His efforts at saving the floor from the potential scrap heap was detailed in an excellent ESPN 30 For 30 short: MECCA: The Floor That Made Milwaukee Famous.  It outlines the hiring of Robert Indiana, his process, city reaction at his hiring, and much more.

Highlights of the history of one of Robert Indiana's most unique designs:
• The Milwaukee arena floor needed painting and Chairman of Mecca Board Steve Marcus suggested using a world renown artist.
• Judith Posner (Milwaukee gallery owner) remembers, "They wanted to draw attention to Milwaukee and wanted to advertise the incredible arena."
• Marcus consulted with Posner who 'knew the perfect person': Robert Indiana. "He deals in large scale projects and his colors are bold."
• Barbara Brown Lee (Milwaukee Art Museum) adds, "Andy Warhol was known as the Pope of Pop Art, but I think Robert Indiana was the King."
• Judith Posner:  "Steve Marcus and I decided to go to New York to talk to him (Indiana) about the project and he got real excited about it.
• Steve Marcus: "He (Indiana) had one proviso. The public couldn’t see it until the floor was finished."
• $27,500 was cost and the there were many a raised eyebrow in Milwaukee regarding the cost. Keeping the design secret when public money was involved became an issue.  Also the fact that it wasn’t an local artist, was also looked down upon.
• The unveiling occurred on 10/04/77 when a huge tarp lifted to reveal the colorful design.
• It was the only basketball floor where paint covers the entire surface.

Star players remember:  
Doc Rivers (Marquette player) – "[Marquette coach] Hank Raymonds wanted us to go over to the Mecca and practice to get used to the floor and I thought it meant 'to get used to the arena.' When you practiced there you realized that no, he meant 'used to the floor.' It was amazing how many times we got opposing players to step out of bounds or to stay in the 3-second lane.  That court did that to you.  It was a true home court advantage – I never knew it was an art piece.  I thought I was playing on a confusing floor!

Sidney Moncrief (Milwaukee Bucks): “The players did discuss 'what happened to the floor? Are they going to bring the floor over?  Are we going to have the Mecca court seal in the new Bradley Center?' But when we moved to the Bradley Center, we lost a huge home court advantage.”

Robert Indiana was pictured on the MECCA floor in Time Magazine and 265 different newspapers picked up the story.  The people that thought it was money wasted suddenly realized all the free publicity the city was receiving. The Bucks enjoyed much success during those days and the floor became part of the Bucks image.  While playing at the Mecca 1970-1988 the Bucks made the playoffs 18 times, went to 7 conference Finals, and won at least 50 games 12 times.  

Check out ESPN's 30 for 30: 'MECCA: The Floor That Made Milwaukee Famous

Friday, May 18, 2018

Autograph Alley: RetroCards In Action

Many a player has contacted us to have cards made for him for the "autograph industry."  As many fans know, players still can make a little on signing autographs but unfortunately, photography of obscure players can be hard to find.  RetroCards offers a fun alternative to the rigors of finding appropriate photos of our favorite players for autographing.  Many players who never had cards are delighted to get the RetroCards treatment. Look for more custom cards of the obscure, the forgotten, and the under appreciated here.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

1962 Football: Series 04

The 1962 Football update series presents series four with 24 more cards for your collection.  As in the first three series, there are team highlight, coach, and stadium cards.  This one has a special Pete Rozelle card and an attractive President John F. Kennedy card too!

Players included: Deacon Jones, Charley Johnson, Jimmy Johnson, Kyle Rote, Tom Brookshier, Jack Pardee, Ed Khayat, Johnny Sample, Frank Morze, Tom Watkins, Bob Gaiters, Bob Waterfield, Dean Derby, Bob Khayat, Joe Robb, Allie Sherman, Lions Hightlight, Tiger Stadium, Redskins Hightlight, and D.C. Stadium.  When you order series four you also receive three checklist cards that outline all four series plus the team sets!  Order yours here.