Ted Owens likes to tell the story of when he introduced himself to Michael Jordan at agent David Falk’s party in Washington, D.C., and told him that he was the coach for Kansas when Jordan played against the Jayhawks in his first college game.
“I remember,” Jordan told Owens. “And I also remember that guy who was guarding me and he was a pretty good player.”
That guy was Tony Guy, no stranger to guarding all-time great basketball players.
Ask eight different basketball fans to name an all-time starting five and you’re likely to hear eight different lineups, but Jordan and Magic Johnson likely will be on all eight teams. Guy guarded both during his KU career and both would lead their teams to national titles that year.
Guy held Jordan to 12 points in a game North Carolina won, 74-67, witnessed by 11,666 at Charlotte Coliseum, Nov. 28, 1981. Guy (18 points) and his roommate, David Magley (24 points), were KU’s only double-figure scorers in the loss.
Jordan went by Mike then. It wasn’t until he hit the game-winning shot that lifted the Tar Heels past Georgetown in the 1982 national-title game that he became Michael.
Three seasons earlier, Guy was a freshman guarding a sophomore who led his team to the national title. Johnson led the Spartans to an 81-65 rout of Kansas on Feb. 4, 1979, in Jenison Field House on the campus of Michigan State.
Magic totaled 12 points and 10 rebounds and Guy, worn out from guarding a man three inches taller and a great deal thicker, went scoreless.
After Sunday’s round of golf at Eagle Bend — Guy shot 78 from the blue tees, but could have gone much lower had so many of his putts not burned the edges — he sat down to talk about what it was like guarding the two biggest names from the U.S. Olympic Dream Team of 1992.
“I’m 6-6 playing guard and very seldom did I go up against a guy my size,” Guy said. “Normally, it’s a 6-3, 6-4 guy. Magic was 6-9. I mean, he was a legit 6-9. He wasn’t a made-up 6-9. He was 6-9, 260. He was as big a man as I had ever guarded in my entire career. Pretty special.”
Fifteen months after Guy was assigned to Magic, the point guard jumped center in the Game 6 clinching victory vs. the 76ers because Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was sidelined by an ankle injury.
“I don’t think he looked me in the eyes once,” Guy said. “I’m 6-6 and he just looked over my head the whole time. It was a different experience, even from guarding Jordan. Magic Johnson was by far the most difficult player I ever had to defend.”
Guy said it made him realize how much he had to improve.
“I remember one play early in the game he handed it off and went down to the box and posted me up,” Guy said. “I thought, ‘This is a joke. This is a joke.’ This guy is 6-9, 260, and I’m 6-6, 180. It was just a total mismatch. But I have to tell you, after that freshman year, I spent that summer in the weight room bulking up, getting stronger, getting quicker. It was a great experience just to let you know, hey, if you’re going to be successful at this level, you’ve got to get better and you’ve got to get better in a hurry.”
No point guard before or after Johnson matched his magical ways.
“It’s a huge advantage when you’re that size and you can just see the whole court,” Guy said. “And because he could protect the ball with his whole body, he was never worried about someone stealing the ball from him. So he could just focus on running the offense and seeing the whole floor all the time. If you ever look at video of him, his head is always up, looking up the floor. Always.”
And Jordan, widely regarded as the best shooting guard in history?
“Fundamentally sound. He would catch the ball and he would square up every time,” Guy said. “That’s what I was accustomed to. That’s how I learned to play the game. Catch it, square up and look your guy in the eye. Magic never looked me in the eye. He just looked over me.”
Guy said he thinks Jordan in some ways is underrated.
“Mike, if you watch him, his fundamentals are textbook and he doesn’t get enough credit,” Guy said. “A lot of people focus on how athletic he was. Yeah, he was athletic, but he used his technique, his fundamentals to a certain point and then his athleticism would take over. But he wasn’t just an athlete. He was as skilled a basketball player who’s ever played the game. He just doesn’t get enough credit for it.”
Guy elaborated on what Jordan’s precise fundamentals enabled him to do.
“OK, catch it, square up and play from triple-threat position,” Guy said. “If you notice, even today it’s rare to find a guy who can play the in-between game. Mike, he would catch the ball from maybe the free-throw line extended. He would catch it and play from wherever he caught the ball because he could get to wherever he needed to go. He was never in a hurry to get the ball or go someplace.”
As Guy talked, images of Jordan breaking down defenders came into view of the memory’s eye.
“He would look at your feet to see how you were defending him,” Guy said. “If you were pushing him to the right, he’s going to give you a short jab, cross over, go to the left. If you’re pushing him to his left, again, he’s going to square up, he’s going to cross you over and he’s going to go to his right. In other words, he’s saying, ‘I don’t care how you guard me. You can’t stop me.’ That’s how good his fundamentals were.”
After finishing his KU career, Guy was drafted in the second round in 1982 by the Boston Celtics of Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and Danny Ainge. He quickly was told by general manager Red Auerbach that with 12 players signed to guaranteed contracts he shouldn’t expect to make the squad but should hone his skills in the CBA and try again next year.
Guy spent a year playing for the CBA team in Maine, then a year playing in Switzerland.
The year after that, Guy tried out for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“I was having a really good camp and (coach) George Karl told me, ‘Tony, you’re going to make this team.’ Two weeks before the opener, I pulled my hamstring,” Guy said. “So I said, ‘OK, time to get a job.’ ”
Guy enrolled in UMKC’s graduate business school and worked under UMKC basketball coach Bill Ross.
“I got a job offer selling insurance from there, left coaching and went to work,” Guy said. “I’ve been with State Farm (in the Kansas City area) for 30 years. It’s been fantastic. It’s hard to explain how good it’s been and it gives me a platform to talk to young people about the importance of getting a degree.”
Guy hopes to meet you Friday, Oct. 6, at the 2017 Golf Fundraiser for Diversity Initiatives, an event put on by KU Black Alumni Network and K-Club. The golf tournament at Eagle Bend tees off at 8 a.m., with sign-up starting at 7. Register at www.KUALUMNI.org.
Guy, Walt Wesley, Owens, his assistant Lafayette Norwood, and others from that KU basketball era will be on hand for what sounds like a good time.