By Bill Barrows
How much do I care about whom is the No.1 pick in the NBA Draft? Not much.
Do I care what teams have the best shot at the lottery picks? Not really.
Who are the best candidates for MVP in the NBA? Not really a strong opinion on any of them.
What I do care about as far as the NBA is concerned is how the Indiana Pacers match up against the other teams, past and present. About a month ago, I was invited to attend a Sunday evening Pacers game as they took on Miami.
Sitting courtside, taking in the panoramic view around Bankers Life Fieldhouse, I looked at the rafters and visually examined the huge banners that hang there. Roger Brown – Hall of Fame, Reggie Miller – Hall of Fame, Mel Daniels – Hall of Fame, Bobby Leonard – Hall of Fame, George McGinnis, conspicuously -- not in the Hall of Fame, a very nice tribute to the past for a number of Pacers who donned the Blue and Gold during their careers. The Pacers management has historically done a wonderful job in honoring former players over the years. In fact, this season they have done a phenomenal job looking back over the years trying to celebrate the 50 seasons of existence.
So travel back in time with me……….
The Indiana Pacers came into existence for the 1966-67 season. They played in the old Coliseum at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. During this same time, a young inner city kid was growing up in Indianapolis. He excelled in both basketball and football at Indianapolis Washington High School, where in 1969 his team went unbeaten for the season and won the state championship.
McGinnis set an Indiana state tournament scoring record with 148 points in his final four games. He was also named Mr. Basketball for the state of Indiana that year. My brother and I would watch Hoosier Hysteria on TV. Back then, here in the Wabash area, we could get the Fort Wayne and Indianapolis stations. We would watch the tournament every season. I remember how remarkably good “Big George” was. In Washington’s undefeated season in ‘68-69, we watched as Washington beat Marion 61-60 in the state semi final at the Butler Fieldhouse, then beat Gary Tolleston in the final. McGinnis was a man among boys on the court. Picture LeBron James in that era and that is what McGinnis was, a 6’8” highly talented athlete.
He decided to play at Indiana University and became the first sophomore to lead the Big Ten in scoring and rebounding. He averaged 29.9 points per game in his lone season in Bloomington earning All-American and All-Big Ten Honors in 1971. He left after that season to join the Pacers. McGinnis immediately became one of the marquee players of the ABA, playing a key role on the Pacers championship teams in each of his first two seasons with his hometown franchise. He was named the ABA Playoffs MVP in 1973, averaging 23.9 points and 12.3 rebounds in 18 playoffs games to help the Pacers repeat as champs. His best season came in 1974-75, when McGinnis scored a career-high 29.8 points per game en route to ABA MVP honors. He nearly averaged a triple-double in the playoffs that year (32.3 points, 15.9 rebounds, and 8.2 assists in 18 games), but the Pacers fell short of the title, losing to Kentucky in the ABA Finals.
I remember going to watch the Pacers and getting to see them up close during my freshman year of high school. The players were physically intimidating and extremely talented. McGinnis jumped over to the NBA following the 1974-75 season, and he didn't skip a beat. He made the All-NBA First Team in his debut season with the Philadelphia 76ers, who had originally drafted him in the 1973 NBA Draft. Teaming up with fellow ABA alumni Julius Erving and Caldwell Jones, McGinnis helped lead the Sixers to the NBA Finals in 1977. He finished his career back in Indianapolis after a stop in Denver. Out of the limelight, George just seemed to fade away, except in Indianapolis where he still lives.
Fast forward to April 1, 2017……….
I’m watching the NCAA Final Four broadcast, when I see a crawler go across the bottom of the TV screen. The 2017 class for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame was being announced. The new class included the likes of Tracy McGrady, Bill Self, and Rebecca Lobo. At the end of the crawler, almost as an afterthought, was the name of George McGinnis. He is the only player who had been named All-ABA and NBA First Team, not to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. I silently sat and figuratively cheered for one of my all-time favorites. Soon, his banner in Bankers Life will have that Hall of Fame distinction added to it. When asked his reaction this week about his induction, he said he was surprised but extremely honored.
Finally, Big George gets his due! But why did it take so long?
Follow Bill on Twitter: @bbarrows17webtv email: bbarrows@thepaperof wabash.com