By Mark O’Sullivan and Michael Roberts
One of the most celebrated rivalries in modern professional sports has momentarily and remarkably rejuvenated the memory of a deceased Dorchester native who is sorely missed as much for his humor, energy and compassion as his extraordinary athletic exploits.
On Sat., March 6, HBO debuted “Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals,” a documentary inspired by the exploration of the bond between professional basketball superstars “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird in “When the Game Was Ours,” a masterly tome authored by the insightful Boston sports scribe Jackie McMullan. At the 59-minute mark, Ashmont Hill’s Daniel O’Hara briefly commented on Bird’s exceptional success as a white player in a sport dominated by blacks, deftly prefacing his remarks with a disclaimer to avoid controversy (this interview took place somewhere between 1984 and 1986).
Soon thereafter, his many surviving friends were communicating in humorous disbelief. O’Hara had done it again! Twelve years after his tragic death he had surfaced with his love of sports, zest for life, and knack for publicity in full effect.
The Dorchester community lost this cherished star in December of 1998 when he was slain in Northern California while heroically aiding a battered woman in attempting to quell the escalation of a domestic abuse incident. Beloved as “the Muffin Man” who excelled at sales while contributing to many charitable endeavors, O’Hara was a multi-sport star and 1985 salutatorian at Braintree’s Thayer Academy, starting as a junior on the 1984 Independent School League Championship soccer team before winning multiple ISL championships in track and field and cross country.
He broke school records at various distances, including an astonishing 4:35 mile feat that had college coaches recruiting him even as he fought through painful congenital arthritic hip conditions that would cause him to settle for channeling his competitive energies to coaching and mentoring young athletes in various sports.
Of all Daniel O’Hara’s amazing talents, perhaps his greatest gift, was his ability to inspire people on first meeting them, particularly those most in need of tutelage and understanding.
A natural raconteur and consummate showman, he starred at Thayer in the senior musical “The Boyfriend” and at the same began emceeing for some local kids from All Saints’ choir who started the music group Nynuk. He encouraged them to “go up there and give it to them with Ziplock freshness,” trying to alleviate the anxieties of the eventually re-christened pop sensation New Kids on the Block. Daniel later performed on drive-time radio in San Diego, and appeared on two game shows, Card Sharks and The Price Is Right, winning prizes on both in hysterical fashion.
While attending Thayer, he always burned the candle at both ends, selling the old afternoon edition of The Boston Globe at the old Garden while simultaneously re-selling coveted Celtics tickets to ensure he had access to courtside floor seats at media row where he would be close to all the action of the Lakers-Celtics rivalry. He was a gym rat who occasionally displaced ball boys to feed passes to his Celtic idols in late afternoon practice shootarounds, so it is fitting that HBO has captured the Daniel O’Hara of long ago, forever young, when the game was truly his.