When the call came into his Indianapolis office the final week of March, George McGinnis figured Hall of Fame president John Doleva wanted to discuss one of the candidates for 2017 enshrinement. Maybe Doleva had another topic in mind. McGinnis wasn’t sure. He just knew it wasn’t about candidate George McGinnis.
That’s how long the wait had been. Retired since 1982 after a full-circle homecoming with the Indiana Pacers, already on the ballot long enough that he had passed through two election committees and was now relocated to a third, McGinnis said he didn’t even realize he was still under consideration.
He was. Doleva called to talk to McGinnis about McGinnis of all things, for a congratulatory conversation to inform the former Pacer, 76er and Nugget that he was the latest in a long line of players and coaches with deep Indianapolis ties to reach Springfield, Mass. McGinnis, recalling the moment some five months later, said he nearly fainted and had to walk outside the building of the supply company he owns to catch his breath.
I had to wait an awful long time to get in. I always thought my numbers and everything were good enough.
So many emotions rushed at him — the 11 seasons as a pro plus one starring campaign at Indiana University, the family and friends who had supported him — that McGinnis didn’t have the chance to contemplate that he could also hold a special distinction in basketball history: He could be the final ABA representative enshrined. He could be the end of an era.
“I certainly hope not,” McGinnis said. “But you just never know. I had to wait an awful long time to get in. I always thought my numbers and everything were good enough. Me and Spencer (Haywood) were the last two players that were MVP of the league that were not in. We had some really good players. Really, really good players in the old ABA.
“I think that has shown itself to be true based on how that merger went and the guys who played in the ABA became All-Stars (in the NBA) and things of that nature. We’ll see. That’s a tough call. I certainly do hope that there are more that are going to be recognized, but we’ll see.”
The Hall eliminated the ABA committee in 2015, costing at least one candidate per year a clear path to Springfield. McGinnis, along with several others from the days of the red, white and blue ball, was transferred into the North American category. It was an unenviable landing spot that required fighting some of the greatest NBA players and NCAA coaches of the generation for votes. In the first election cycle under the new format, McGinnis didn’t even make it to the finalist stage with Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson and Tom Izzo, among others, on the ballot. Zelmo Beaty, a former ABA peer, was enshrined, but via the Veteran’s committee.
McGinnis being moved into the same Veteran’s group this time, for anyone who had been retired at least 35 years, meant getting away from the North American category that in 2017 elected Tracy McGrady, Bill Self and former Texas high school coach Robert Hughes. It also meant one round of voting for enshrinement, a key consideration.
McGinnis had been the player to receive the most votes from the all-time ABA team, announced in 1997 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the founding of the league, without being elected to the Hall. (Some of the others — most notably Julius Erving, George Gervin, Artis Gilmore and Dan Issel — made Springfield on the strength of NBA work as well.) Now, the top nine is in, as are the top two coaches, Bobby Leonard and Larry Brown. Among the players next on the list — Mack Calvin, Freddie Lewis, Ron Boone, Doug Moe and Bob Netolicky — would all seem to be long shots for enshrinement.
McGinnis could be the last of his kind. He will enter the Hall as a proud ABA representative too, from the Pacers, the franchise that dominated with three titles in four years in the early 1970s, and with the intention of putting the league front and center at his induction. Four of his presenters scheduled to join him on stage Sept. 8, after all, are ABA veterans — his Indiana coach, Leonard, along with former opponents Rick Barry, Gilmore and Haywood — along with Reggie Miller as Indy hoops royalty.
McGinnis spent his first four pro seasons in the ABA with the Pacers, his hometown team, winning two championships, making all-league three times and being named MVP in 1974-75, just before the merger with the NBA. He spent three seasons with the 76ers, one full campaign and part of another with Denver, before returning to Indiana for the final two-plus seasons. He averaged 25.2 points and 12.9 rebounds in the ABA, 17.2 and 9.8 in the NBA and 20.2 and 11.0, respectively, overall, with a combined six All-Star appearances.
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