Gentleman Johnny Hoops: An Appreciation of Hall of Fame Good Guy – NY Sports Day


NY Sports Day

Gentleman Johnny Hoops: An Appreciation of Hall of Fame Good Guy

John Cirillo

“We’re not getting old, we’re just older than we used to be,” is one way I position the years passing so quickly (read: aging).

“At some point, if you start counting backwards on your birthday, you’ll be younger than people think,” is another. On one birthday a decade ago, my younger sister, Lucie, asked me how old I was. With a discrepancy in the math, my answer somewhat startled her. She said: “How can you be younger than I am when you’re my older brother?”

Younger sister Lucie (right) somehow became older sister; niece Kristin Nicole pictured left

 

A few times over the years when I’ve had the occasion to get together with old pal, the Hall of Fame New York Times basketball columnist Harvey Araton, he’d say: “You look exactly the same.” My retort: “Yeah, all except 20 more pounds and only 20 hair follicles remaining. Other than that…I look exactly the same.”

Araton (second from left) with former beat writers Nathan Gottlieb and Filip Bondy, and “ageless” JC

 

Alas, time does has a way of flying when you’re having fun.

But no matter how hard you try to ignore the reality, the passing of old friends in the march of life has a sobering effect because of the realization, or at least the reminder, of our own mortality.

In the span of just hours on Monday, we buried our old friend Lou Duva, the Hall of Fame patriarch of the esteemed boxing family, in the morning, and later that night learned that “Johnny Hoops” was gone. John Andariese, the Knicks beloved Hall of Fame broadcaster, fellow Brooklyn product, fellow Fordham alumnus had passed away.

The lump in my throat wouldn’t dissipate, my stomach felt as it was put through a paper-shredder. On this “snow day” in New York, particularly in Westchester, I didn’t feel like doing very much anyway. Not working, not whipping up a meal, not handicapping races, not putting pen to paper.

But for many, including me, writing can be cathartic, the chance to evoke memories, to pay tribute, to be thankful. So here we go.

Me and Johnny Hoops, knotted in many ways: same first name, same home borough, two Fordham guys who loved basketball and working for the Knicks (my stay from 1984-97).

Fordham captain Johnny Hoops, 1960

John was the embodiment of the word gentleman. His soft-spoken and kind demeanor was universally loved. John was as decent a man that ever crossed the planet earth. His commentary could be critical when deserved, but not biting or in any way vitriolic. Johnny Hoops could strongly make a point but not in harmful fashion. He wasn’t out to make a splash, his goal was to accurately inform his audience.

He prepared for his broadcasts meticulously, just as he was dressed meticulously, his natty ties were his trademark, he even wowed Clyde Frazier with the collection.

Johnny Hoops loved basketball, loved the Knicks, and loved the Fordham Rams.

A few memories:

John and Maureen

 

His wedding at the Water Club was a joyous occasion. His love for Maureen, so evident on that night, stayed everlasting. John’s friends relished in the joy.

Johnny Hoops, Johnny Cigar, and beautiful brides celebrate good times, come on!

 

One Saturday evening back in the day, with the Knicks playing on Sunday afternoon, we took a night off from basketball and went to Caroline’s for a night of comedy featuring Kevin Meaney. It was John and Maureen, Fran and I, PR stalwart Chris Brienza and “the Great One,” and USA Today’s Greg Boeck and his wife. We roared – true tear-inducing, belly-laughs – at the “We’re Big Pants People” and “Watch that pizza, you’ll poke your eye out” one-liners delivered by the comic in the skittish voice of his mother.

Johnny Bach’s visits to the Garden were always special for Johnny Hoops, the coaching legend, and yours truly. Whether as head coach of the Golden State Warriors in the mid-eighties or as able Master of Defense assistant with the Chicago Bulls in the 90’s, the three Johnnys from Fordham by way of Brooklyn sat court side to reminisce, catch up and share the latest NBA yarns.

Coach Bach and Johnny Hoops (right)

 

John was Master of Ceremonies for Fordham’s number retirement of his beloved teammate Ed Conlin, and then for the inaugural presentation of the Bach Award, honoring his beloved coach. The gleam in his eye was so clearly evident on these Rams moments that added another piece to his college basketball life. Johnny Hoops, the former Fordham captain and two-time NIT participant, was beaming with pride.

 

Longtime friend, broadcast partner Marv Albert and wife Heather

In 2012, his great friend Michael Goldberg organized a party at the New York Athletic Club for a handful of friends following John’s retirement from Knicks broadcasts in 2012. “Bow-tie Michael” had galvanized an elite group that included NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, John’s longtime broadcast partner Marv Albert, producers Howie Singer and Spencer Julien, MSG’s Al Trautwig, radio partner Spero Dedes and a few others. It was an honor to be included.

“Bow-tie” Michael Goldberg (right) pictured with sportscaster Pat O’Keefe

Afterwards, New York Post television columnist Phil Mushnick – long an admirer – John, Maureen and I enjoyed several night caps at the rustic bar – Stoli on the rocks with plenty of lime – hoisted a few, raising several toasts to Johnny Hoops while recalling the good old days, appropriately in the 19th-century Tap Room.

 

Bride Maureen and daughters rejoiced together upon John’s induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on a majestic, sun-lit evening under the Brooklyn Bridge at a River Cafe soiree with Breenie, Bow-tie Michael, owner Buzzy O’Keefe, yet another Fordham man, and many friends.

Johnny Hoops and Mike Breen, two Fordham guys who partnered on Knicks broadcasts, celebrate Hall of Fame induction.

 

Whatever the occasion – a grand celebration or simply a regular season game at the Garden or the Rose Hill Gym – time with Johnny Hoops was always a privilege and a pleasure. The dapper, dashing, white-haired John Andariese, enshrined in Basketball’s Hall of Fame for his broadcast excellence during a storied, 40-year career as Knicks color commentator, will be most remembered as a member of the eternal Good Guy Hall of Fame for how he touched everyone he met.

Author Shannon L. Adler wrote: “Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others, and the stories they share about you.”

We’ve been through some things together
With trunks of memories still to come
We found things to do in stormy weather
Long may you run

Long may you run, long may you run
Although these changes have come
With your chrome heart shining in the sun
Long may you run – Neil Young/”Long May You Run

President of Cirillo World, worked with Johnny Hoops 1984-97 as Knicks Pr guy, fellow Fordham Grad (FCRH’78), remained friends throughout.