Jay Paris: Oh my, Enberg’s ‘McGuire’ is a hit

A trip to the North Coast Repertory Theatre led to learning about fruit?

Yeah, and we’ll circle back on that.

What was marked in the calendar was “McGuire” the one-man play by Dick Enberg. The silky smooth voice of the Padres wrote about Al McGuire, his former NBC colleague and an announcer the polar opposite of Enberg.

For two nights this week “McGuire” filled the Solana Beach playhouse and if only the Chargers were as keen in selling tickets to the locals. Both performances sold out, and it’s easy to see why.

Before joining Enberg in calling college hoops, McGuire was the hard-scrambled former Marquette coach from Queens. Raised in an area jokingly known as the Irish Riviera, McGuire was as rough and coarse as the elbow-benders patronizing his parents’ bar.

But he could coach. Man, could he coach.

Not by dazzling rivals with strategy. Instead it was his connection with players. A bond that was a concocting cocktail of tough love, unconditional support and one never knew which would be the overwhelming ingredient.

Among the proof that McGuire’s style work was the belief players would run through a wall for him.

“You know why?’’ McGuire would reply. “Because I would run through a wall for them.’’

The pairing of Enberg and McGuire was as diverse as La Jolla, where Enberg resides, and the Rockaways, where McGuire lived. How they meshed on and off camera makes this 70-minute production so compelling.

The cordial Enberg is everything anyone seeks in a broadcaster: precise in telling stories, setting the stage with the game’s particulars and doing so in a folksy Midwest manner embraced by all.

McGuire? The man who directed Marquette to the 1977 national title was a plastic fork to Enberg’s polished silver. Everything Enberg was, the wisecracking McGuire wasn’t, and that included their lives away from basketball.

Enberg always had his head down, working hard and preparing for the next game. McGuire carved out days that were his alone.

“You have to live in the moment, ‘Dicksie,’” McGuire told Enberg.

If that meant turning left at an intersection to explore Wisconsin’s countryside, instead of a right toward Marquette and practice, so be it.

“What are you planning to do,’’ the inquisitive Enberg asked.

“Nuttin,’’ McGuire shot back.

But something clicked between these guys that were as different as night and day. Enberg embraced how McGuire, who read and wrote at a seventh-grade level, could say the hell with the rat race and check out at any time.

“Al loved to just lay down and think,’’ Enberg said. “He would just go sit under a tree, look up at the sky and be in the moment.’’

Enberg sought to keep McGuire’s legacy alive after he died in 2001. So this Hall of Fame broadcaster became a play writer and, oh my, he’s hit a home run.

“It’s fabulous and we see it every chance we get, no matter what city it is in,’’ said basketball legend Bill Walton, who was in attendance with is wife, Lori. “And every time we see it, it is better than before.’’

Enberg provided the narrative but it’s accomplished actor Cotter Smith who puts McGuire inside your heart.

“He is sensational,’’ Enberg said. “Especially considering at one point he wanted to quit.’’

That was before the first performance in Milwaukee in 2005, with McGuire’s widow and immediate family in the theater’s first row.

“How am I going to be able to do this?’’ Smith said. “I’m not Al McGuire.’’

But he won over Team McGuire and has been in the moment, as the eccentric McGuire would say, since.

The fruit we mentioned above? It’s McGuire’s version of yes, we have no bananas.

McGuire’s favorite treat was a banana and during the summer his mother gave him one. McGuire was thrilled, but he was also headed to the beach. He plopped the banana on the sand and entered the water.

Upon his return, that glorious banana was reduced by the sun to a brown collection of mush.

“I didn’t live in the moment and it was gone,’’ McGuire explained, through Smith. “That’s the lesson — to always eat the banana.’’

It was McGuire’s street-wise logic that resonated with the more refined Enberg.

“He was something else,’’ Enberg said. ”And by doing this, he comes back to life.’’

Contact Jay Paris at jparis8@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter at jparis_sports.

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