Drafted by: New York Knicks, 1954
Weight: 210 lbs.
As a high-scoring point guard in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Richie Guerin was one of the most talented and best-loved players ever to wear a New York Knicks jersey. His feisty on-court style and wisecracking off-court demeanor played well to Madison Square Garden crowds.
A fan and media favorite, Guerin played in six consecutive NBA All-Star Games. As a team, however, New York struggled, reaching the playoffs only once during Guerin's tenure. He was traded to the St. Louis Hawks midway through the 1963-64 season and spent the next eight years as the team's player-coach and then head coach. With St. Louis (and eventually Atlanta), Guerin played alongside such greats as Bob Pettit, Lou Hudson, Lenny Wilkens, and Cliff Hagan. Guerin helped the Hawks to nine consecutive playoff appearances and was named NBA Coach of the Year for 1967-68.
On the court, Guerin was fiery and eminently competitive. Off the court, he was the club clown; his high-pitched cackle and New York-style humor provided comic relief on the team bus.
Guerin grew up in the Bronx and stayed close to home when he enrolled at Iona in 1950. New York selected him in the 1954 NBA Draft, but Guerin couldn't join the Knicks until he had completed two years of service in the Marines.
New York was struggling through the mid-1950s at or near the bottom of the Eastern Division. Among the only bright spots during that period were high-scoring guard Carl Braun, point guard Dick McGuire, and center Harry Gallatin. Turnover on the team was high.
Guerin joined the club in 1956 and quickly established himself. In only his second season he made the NBA All-Star Team for the first of six straight years. In his third year Guerin led the Knicks in assists (5.1 apg) and ranked second in scoring (18.2 ppg). He also dished out a team-record 21 assists against St. Louis on December 12, 1958. That year New York made its only postseason appearance with Guerin on the team, losing to the Syracuse Nationals in a first-round sweep.
By Guerin's fourth year in the league he had established himself as a scoring machine. He threw in outside bombs and slashed inside for layups on his way to a team-leading 21.8 points per game in 1959-60. His 57 points against Syracuse on December 11 broke Braun's previous team record of 47.
In 1960-61 Guerin again averaged 21.8 points, adding 7.9 rebounds and 6.4 assists per contest. He then had his finest season in 1961-62, averaging 29.5 points and a career-high 6.9 assists in a remarkable 42.9 minutes per game. Guerin ranked sixth in the league in scoring and fourth in assists, and he became the first Knicks player ever to score 2,000 points in a season (2,303). By the end of the campaign Guerin had firmly established himself among the league's backcourt elite. He was named to the All-NBA Second Team for the third time in his first six seasons.
Guerin had another fine season in 1962-63, averaging a team-leading 21.5 points. He ranked seventh in the league in scoring, eighth in assists (4.4 apg), and second in free-throw percentage (.848). But two games into the 1963-64 season the Knicks traded their 31-year-old star to the St. Louis Hawks for cash and a second-round draft choice. When he left the Knicks, Guerin ranked second on the team's all-time scoring list behind Carl Braun. In his first appearance at the Garden in a Hawks uniform, Knicks fans showed their gratitude by giving Guerin a five-minute standing ovation.
Guerin played two more full seasons, averaging 14.9 points in 1965-66 and 13.8 in 1966-67. He announced his retirement as a player in 1967, preferring to direct all of his energies toward coaching. The next season Guerin guided the Hawks to a 56-26 record and the Western Division championship. He was named NBA Coach of the Year.
The Hawks moved to Atlanta prior to the 1968-69 season. During the next two years Guerin coached the team to identical 48-34 records, winning another division title in 1969-70. In each of those two seasons he came back briefly as a player, appearing in 27 games in 1968-69 and 8 games in 1969-70.
The fourth game of the 1970 Western Division Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers was Guerin's last game as a player, and he managed to coax one more spectacular performance out of his 37-year-old body. He contributed 21 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists, but it wasn't enough for his team to avoid a four-game sweep.
Guerin stayed on as head coach for two more seasons, and Atlanta went 36-46 each year. He finally left the Hawks after the 1971-72 campaign, having compiled a 327-291 career coaching record. Through 1994-95 he still ranked as the winningest and longest-serving coach in franchise history.
In 13 years as a player Guerin accumulated 14,676 points (17.3 ppg), 4,278 rebounds (5.1 rpg), and 4,211 assists (5.0 apg) over 848 games. In 42 playoff contests he averaged 15.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 5.1 assists. After he retired, Guerin became a Knicks broadcaster and a Wall Street stockbroker.
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