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Fran Blinebury

George McGinnis eventually teamed with Julius Erving to help lead the Sixers to the 1976 Finals.
Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images

McGinnis can relate to pressures facing Heat's Big Three

Posted Mar 30 2011 9:49AM

Unlike everyone else outside the glare of the South Beach spotlight, George McGinnis doesn't have to wonder what it's like for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to work their way through the grinder in trying to cook up a better recipe.

He's been there on the inside where the sausage gets made.

It was Oct. 20, 1976, just two days before the regular-season opener, when the star forward of the 76ers had to make room for a high-profile and high-scoring teammate.

Julius Erving, Dr. J.

"Wow! That's your first reaction," said McGinnis, now 60, who owns an industrial supply business in Indianapolis. "Of course, I had played against Julius in the ABA, so I knew the player and the talent we were talking about. I was consulted by the Sixers' management and gave my complete endorsement. Going back to the days when you're a kid out there on the playground, you always want the best guys on your team.

"In some ways, it's really not that difficult to just go out there and play. It's what you do at every level of the game as you're coming up. You learn and adjust to your teammates.

"The problems are always on the outside. It's listening to what other people are saying about you. It's reading what's in the newspapers or hearing what's said on the radio or TV. It's all of those other influences that create the pressure and can set up obstacles to make things difficult."

A year earlier, the Sixers had unquestionably been McGinnis' team as he made the jump to the NBA after leading the Indiana Pacers to back-to-back ABA titles in 1972 and 1973, sharing the 1975 ABA MVP award with none other than Erving.

When he arrived, the Sixers were still trying to crawl back from the ignominy of a historically worst 9-73 record in 1973.

But with McGinnis' sculpted, muscular shoulders, his one-handed jump shot and his ability to barrel down the floor like a runaway tractor-trailer and finish on the fastbreak, he put life back into the crowds at the Spectrum -- in fact, he put crowds back into the Spectrum -- and led the Sixers to a 46-36 mark and their first playoff appearance in five years.

"I was the guy who changed the face of basketball in Philly," McGinnis said.

Then on the eve of the sequel, McGinnis was not only sharing the top billing on the marquee with Dr. J, but dealing with a lot of the same questions and doubts that face Miami 35 seasons later: Too many stars? Too few basketballs? Too many undefined roles? The Sixers also had Doug Collins, Darryl Dawkins, World B. Free and Joe Bryant, among others. They were the Fab Five Plus long before Miami's Heatles.

"We were kind of the basketball circus, the big show that everybody wanted to see," McGinnis said. "But in our case, it was mostly the kind of show that had people excited and upbeat.

"The difference in what's happened in Miami this season with a lot of the negative feelings, have to do with LeBron holding that TV show about his decision and then Video that big party they had at their arena. That was all a big turnoff, not just to the general public, but to the people who cover the games and shape opinions. They did everything the wrong way, especially LeBron.

"Those guys in Miami turned the pressure up on themselves. They brought in the negativity. I didn't have a problem with what LeBron did. I think he gave Cleveland a lot of years and he made them a lot of money. But that press conference? That decision show? That's what cost him a few fans and put that whole team in tough place from the start."

McGinnis saw his scoring average drop marginally -- just 1.6 points a game -- in his first season with Erving. But what went down more precipitously was his status as the lead horse pulling the wagon.

"I didn't accommodate," he said. "I just played my game. But I did shoot less. You don't get as many looks. It wasn't a question of making a plan and saying, 'He's the guy.' You just go to the guy with the hot hand. That was Julius. Later in my career, when I went to Denver, that was David Thompson. That's basketball.

"When I saw Miami earlier in the season, it was like they were trying to make it about LeBron late in every game, maybe because he's the big guy who changed teams. I know LeBron is used to having the ball in his hands. But it looks to me like on that team, it belongs with Dwyane Wade and the other guys are going to have to eat a little crow."

With Erving and McGinnis on the wings, the Sixers went to the 1977 Finals, losing to Portland 4-2. The following season they were beaten by Washington in the Eastern Conference finals. McGinnis was then traded to Denver and Erving became a Philly icon to rival Ben Franklin.

"I never think that could have been me without Julius," McGinnis said. "I don't know if anybody else could have been Julius. He was unique and as incredibly talented as he was on the court, he was that incredibly good as a person.

"But I think people who understood the game knew what I did for the 76ers. I got them from out of the playoffs into the playoffs and helped make us championship contenders.

"I didn't like the way it ended. I was bitter. I was young and immature and that's when you say and do stupid things. I didn't think I deserved to be traded. I felt like I was used. The place was (terrible) when I got there, 3,000 to 4,000 people a game, and we had them selling out."

It's a cautionary tale for the Heat.

"Sometimes all you can do is the best that you can do," McGinnis said. "I think Miami is gonna be tough to beat in a seven-game series. But they miss (Udonis) Haslem.

"If they don't win it this year, they have to know that everything doesn't get easier. It becomes harder. Somebody becomes the scapegoat. The pressure goes up. When you put that kind of talent together, I do think they'll eventually win a championship or two.

"Of course, I thought we would too."

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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