Bobby "Slick" Leonard, Mel Daniels, and George McGinnis
Bobby "Slick" Leonard, Mel Daniels, and George McGinnis pose around the ABA Championship trophies. Leonard and McGinnis have both been nominated for the Hall of Fame this year. Daniels was inducted in 2012.
Frank McGrath
Mark Montieth headshot

Latest Hall List Brings New Hope for Pacers Fans

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

January 8, 2013

Editor's Note: Have a Pacers-related question for Mark? Want to be featured in his mailbag column? Send your questions to Mark at askmontieth@gmail.com.

Being nominated for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame is a great honor. It's hardly an exclusive one, however.

The latest list of nominees, 132 in all, encompasses every possible group of people who have crossed paths with the game, and tries really hard not to hurt anyone's feelings.

It also brings further hope to Pacers fans, who basked in the luxury of the induction of two former players, Mel Daniels and Reggie Miller. The current nominees include three players who are most closely identified with the ABA Pacers – Roger Brown, Freddie Lewis and George McGinnis – along with former coach Bob “Slick” Leonard, current team president Donnie Walsh and several others with ties to the state of Indiana.

2012 Pacers ABA Celebration Photo Gallery »

There's only one problem: they are but a fraction of the nominees, and the Hall voters don't all live in Indiana. Beyond that, the fact two former Pacers went in last year could hinder the odds of another going in this year, lest fans from other states cry conspiracy.

Still, there's hope that with so many familiar names up for nomination, someone we know and love will get to join the club.

First, the breakdown. There are seven nominating committees. That's right, seven. These committees select finalists, who are then considered for induction by four Honors committees consisting of 24 people each. (Never let it be said that basketball and bureaucracy don't mix.) The finalists will be announced over the NBA's All-Star Weekend in February. The current group of 132 nominees are divided into the following sects:

North American Nominations. There are 31 men on this list, all former players, coaches or referees from the collegiate level or NBA. Former Purdue coach Gene Keady is the only one to have worked in Indiana. Candidates need seven votes from the nine-member committee to become a finalist.

Women's Nominations. There are 12 women on this list, all former players and coaches. A candidate needs five of seven possible votes to become a finalist. The group includes Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, a first-time nominee.

ABA. Here's where it gets interesting.

Of the 14 nominees, six played for or coached the Pacers. Brown played on all three ABA title teams and was MVP of the 1970 Finals. McGinnis played on two of the title teams, was MVP of the Finals in 1973 and was co-MVP of the league with Julius Erving in 1975. He also was selected to play in two NBA All-Star games after jumping leagues. Lewis was the point guard and captain of all three title teams, was MVP of the 1972 Finals and was the MVP of the All-Star game in 1975 as a member of the Spirits of St. Louis. Leonard, of course, coached all of the Pacers' championship teams.

Three others in this group are of interest to local fans. Donnie Freeman was a starting guard on the Pacers' 1973 championship team. Warren Jabali played one injury-plagued season for the Pacers (1970-71) and was a standout for other ABA teams. Louie Dampier, who attended Southport High School, played all nine of the ABA's seasons for the Kentucky Colonels, and is the league's all-time leading scorer.

One player from this group qualifies as a direct elect, bypassing the honors committee. Only one player can be inducted per year, however. That will prove frustrating to those Pacers fans who believe all of the team's nominees deserve induction. The Hall will surely acknowledge the fact there were other ABA teams besides the Pacers, so it could take several years for everyone to get their turn – if it comes at all.

Early African-American Pioneers. This committee attempts to honor players who were not allowed to play in the major professional leagues because of racial segregation, or did not join the NBA until they were past their prime. Of the 17 nominees, one will be directly elected into the Hall.

International. Of the 13 players on this list, one will be a direct elect. The most recognizable names to local fans would be Oscar Schmidt, who led Brazil's Pan American team to the gold medal over the U.S. team at Market Square Arena in 1987, and former NBA star Vlade Divac.

Contributor. This is a catch-all category to include those whose careers were spread across a variety of positions. Again, one and only one nominee will be directly elected to the Hall from the list of 21. Donnie Walsh

Walsh is in this group. Although his teams have not won a championship and he has not been voted Executive of the Year, he's widely regarded within NBA circles as one of the best team presidents/general managers in league history. He built the small-market Pacers into a perennial power during a 25-year run that began in 1986, and then revived the Knicks during a three-year sabbatical before returning to the Pacers last summer. He also was a longtime assistant coach in college and an assistant and head coach in the NBA.

Plainfield native Del Harris also has been nominated. He was a high school and college (Earlham) coach in Indiana before becoming a successful NBA head coach and assistant. He was voted NBA Coach of the Year for the 1994-95 season while with the Lakers.

I wouldn't want the task of deciding who gets the warm welcome and who gets the cold shoulder. You'll make more people angry than you make happy, and that doesn't even include all the relatives of the people who aren't nominated. No wonder the Hall has formed such a labyrinth of committees, filled with anonymous members. The shunned among us won't know where to direct their anger, except to the poor person who picks up the phone at the museum offices in Springfield, Mass.

Still, it seems likely the Pacers will have more representation in the Hall. Eventually.

Leonard appears to have the most immediate shot. He is the ABA's all-time leader in coaching victories and won three league championships. Every eligible NBA coach who has won more than three titles (Phil Jackson, Red Auerbach, John Kundla and Pat Riley) is in the Hall, and Gregg Popovich will be there as soon as he's eligible. Three two-time coaching champions and four one-time champions also are in the Hall.

So why not Leonard? Pacers officials began nominating him back in the 1980s, but were told his NBA playing career (seven seasons, 9.9 scoring average) and his NBA coaching record (186-264) were not Hall-worthy. Now that Jerry Colangelo has organized a makeup call of recognizing the ABA as a viable league, his odds should greatly improve. Basically, he proved what all coaches prove: your record hinges on the collective talent of your players, but not every coach is capable of winning a championship.

Leonard should get extra credit for his playing and broadcasting careers. He hit the winning foul shot in the 1953 NCAA championship game as a junior, and received All-American recognition as a junior and senior. As broadcasters go, he's strictly local and hardly conventional. But, he's one of those guys who seemingly knows everyone who's ever had anything to do with the ABA and NBA, and played a part in their careers. If he didn't play with them, coach them or draft them, he probably knows them anyway. As a personality and an ambassador, he's unsurpassed.

He's also got time on his side, in a backward sort of way. He's 80 years old, so the Hall wouldn't be as likely to delay his entrance as they would a younger nominee's.

That's just me, though. And I'm not on a committee.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.

Have a question for Mark about Pacers past, present, or future? Email him at askmontieth@gmail.com for a chance to be featured in a mailbag article.