Glenn McDonald is having a moment.
It’s been 44 years since his standout basketball career at Long Beach State came to an end, and 42 years since he won an NBA championship with the Celtics. It’s been 22 years since his tenure as the school’s women’s basketball coach wrapped up, and three months since he retired from his career as director of the university’s Intramural Sports program.
After almost a half century of entertaining fans and serving the community, the stars have aligned this year for McDonald, now 66. In November, the university made him just the fourth 49er basketball player to have his jersey retired, and in January he’ll be inducted into the Long Beach Century Club Hall of Fame at its Jan. 28 Sports Night banquet.
“It’s amazing, it’s one of those situations where you don’t know why it’s happening now,” he said. “To get the jersey retirement and then all of a sudden they say I’m going into the Century Club Hall of Fame, it’s mind-blowing, really. It’s nothing you ever expect. I’m just so grateful.”
Hall of Fame Player and Coach
McDonald arrived at Long Beach State after being recruited by Jerry Tarkanian in 1971, who was his head coach for his first two seasons. The two were close enough that Tarkanian’s widow came from Las Vegas in November to cheer for McDonald at his jersey retirement ceremony.
“I’m just grateful that Jerry recruited me to Long Beach,” said McDonald at the ceremony. “He changed my life.”
The team was great in the early 70s. Under Tarkanian and then Lute Olsen (both coaches now in the Basketball Hall of Fame), Long Beach State went 75-9 during McDonald’s four seasons, with consecutive Sweet Sixteen appearances in ‘72 and ‘73.
“He had a reputation for being the team’s best defender, but worked hard developing a mid-range jumper as well,” recalled longtime Press-Telegram sports editor Jim McCormack.
That jumper boosted McDonald to an NBA career, where his eight points in the third overtime of Game 5 of the 1976 NBA Finals—regularly cited as one of the greatest games ever played—helped the Celtics defeat the Phoenix Suns for the league championship. Throughout his years playing in the NBA and overseas, McDonald always knew where he’d retire after his playing days were over.
“Coming from South Central LA, you come to Long Beach and it’s a different culture,” he said. “You meet so many different types of people. The city has adopted me. There’s no way I’m going any place except to visit. Even when I was overseas or in Boston, there was no way I wasn’t coming back to Long Beach. This is my home.”
After coming back, McDonald coached the men’s and women’s teams at Long Beach State, including a four-year stint as head coach of the women’s program. He was also an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Sparks. His 23-year tenure running the university’s intramural sports program helped keep him engaged on campus. But while he was successful as a coach, McDonald’s impact off the court made an even bigger impact.
Hall of Fame mentor and father
“Glenn and his wife Renee’s home in Long Beach was always a sanctuary for anyone—athletes, students, friends—who needed a dose of life-affirming encouragement,” said McCormack.
The McDonalds’ kids both attended Poly, where Michael was a basketball player who went on to Stanford, and Alexis was a volleyball player who went on to Washington. Glenn and Renee (a Poly alum herself) helped to raise more than just their own children, however.
Kevin Cutler was one of the community members who pushed for the school to retire McDonald’s jersey. His story underlines the importance of McDonald’s service in the community. Cutler arrived in Long Beach in 1988 to play basketball for the 49ers.
“My background is I grew up in foster homes, boys’ home,” said Cutler. “My relationship with [the McDonalds] goes beyond basketball. I call Glenn “Poppy” and I call Renee “Ma.” For all intents and purposes, they’ve been better to me than my own parents.”
Cutler stayed with the McDonalds at times while he was in college, babysitting Michael and Alexis when he could as a way of saying thank you to a couple who never asked for thanks. He said that when he needed tough love, Renee was always there to tell him the truth about whatever situation he was facing.
“Then it was, ‘Go in there and get these tacos, fix yourself a plate,’” he said. “That place was home for me and a lot of people who needed one. A lot of people who didn’t have real homes of their own.”
Because of the depth of the McDonalds’ roots in Long Beach, those relationships didn’t end when players would graduate the university.
“Glenn is the godfather of my children,” said Cutler. “He was there for the birth of my kids, and the death of one of my kids. He’s the footsteps you want to walk in. You find someone that has a problem with Glenn McDonald, and I’m going to question the person who said it.”
McDonald seemed slightly bemused by this months-long celebration of his service, and said that’s because he hasn’t been doing work in the expectation of recognition.
“My pastor, Wayne Chaney, and his wife Myesha, they talk about doing things not for rewards or compensation but because it’s something you enjoy doing,” McDonald said. “The jersey and then the Century Club Hall of Fame, that shows me that I’ve been appreciated. You never know how that comes or when it comes, but evidently people have watched me and feel I deserve those accolades.”
McDonald’s work continues into his retirement, of course. He’s at Poly in the mornings working out Solomon and Ben Jones, two sophomores on the Jackrabbits’ varsity team. Solomon said he’d been working out with McDonald for a while before he found out about his history.
“I didn’t know for a long time that he had an NBA ring or any of that,” said Jones, who learned more about his mentor when he attended the jersey retirement ceremony.
Cutler wasn’t surprised to hear that McDonald is already back in a gym, finding more kids in need of guidance.
“That’s Glenn,” he said. “He’s spent his entire life trying to help young people. It just comes natural to him.”
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