10 Things to Know About George McGinnis
1. While in high school at Washington, McGinnis was able to get into a few Pacers games for free at the Coliseum, thanks to friendly doormen. He'd watch from a tunnel or doorway. "I'd think, it would be so neat to be out there with Roger (Brown) and those guys," he recalls. Just a couple of years later he was, signing with the Pacers in 1971 after his sophomore season at IU.
2. McGinnis had the personality to transcend race in the Sixties, making friends in the white suburbs as well as the inner city. He was close with Speedway High School star Tom Gilbert, a member of the 1968 Indiana All-Star team, while in high school. Gilbert's family took McGinnis to Raccoon Lake a few times while he was in high school and taught him how to water ski. "These white people would see this big black guy coming out of the water and didn't know what to think," McGinnis says.
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3. One of the more historic moments in McGinnis' playing career was his 53-point, 30-rebound performance in the second game of the Indiana-Kentucky all-star series in 1969. Earlier that week, however, all-star coach Angus Nicoson was so frustrated with his players' lax attitude in practice that he gathered them in the locker room and screamed at them, McGinnis included, and then threw a chair against the locker room wall above McGinnis' head. Years later, Nicoson laughingly recalled the moment when talking with McGinnis. "Did you like that chair coming at your head? I was trying to use you as an example because you were my best guy." "I loved Angus," McGinnis says today. "He was a tough guy."
4. McGinnis was a high school All-American in football as well as basketball. He excelled as a tight end and defensive end, and says he had hundreds of scholarship offers for football. He thought about playing football at IU, and might have if the program had not been struggling when he enrolled there in 1969 and when he became eligible for varsity competition the following year.
5. McGinnis was a great admirer of former Purdue All-American Rick Mount, who joined the Pacers one year before him. At one of their first practices together, McGinnis challenged Mount — one of the greatest shooters ever — to a game of HORSE. Mount shrugged him off at first, but McGinnis persisted. Finally Mount relented, and won, without McGinnis giving him a single letter. "He beat the hell out of me," McGinnis says. "I just wanted to play him."
6. McGinnis' peak professional season came in 1974-75, when he averaged 29.8 points, 14.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists for the Pacers, not to mention a franchise-record 5.3 turnovers per game. He led a young, rebuilding team to the ABA finals that season, and was awarded co-MVP honors with New York's Julius Erving. True to his humble nature, he didn't consider himself the leader of that group, just one of the guys. "I think the guys looked up to me because I was probably the best player on the team," he says. Yeah, probably.
7. McGinnis jumped to Philadelphia of the NBA after that season, nearly tripling his income. He was a first-team all-NBA selection his first season with the 76ers, as well as an All-Star, and reignited interest in the team. Billboards throughout town proclaimed his greatness. After that season, the franchise had a chance to sign Erving, but team officials ran it by McGinnis first to make sure he approved. If he had said no, they would not have signed Erving, who led the franchise to the NBA championship in 1983.
8. After he was cut by the Pacers in training camp in 1982, McGinnis felt ashamed to have his career end so abruptly and humbly in his hometown. He moved to Denver to hunt and fish and acclimate himself to the real world, then returned to Indianapolis a few years later to begin a new life. He was a broadcast analyst for Pacers games as well as high school and college games, was co-chair of the city's NCAA Final Four committee, worked for the Hoosier Lottery, and volunteered for local charities, among other things. He eventually co-founded GM Supply Co. and devoted himself to that, other than working for the NCAA. He still leads his company, but plans to retire soon.
9.McGinnis has been hunched over and walking with a cane for a few years now, the result of a hereditary back condition. It's a sad sight, especially for those who remember how physically dominant he had been during his playing career. He will have surgery to straighten his back in the winter, however. A new procedure developed by a surgeon at St. Vincent's hospital offers hope. Fellow Naismith Hall of Famer Bill Walton had the surgery, with successful results. McGinnis' sister, Bonnie, is in the hospital now, recovering from the two-surgery procedure, and is encouraged by the results. "It will be nice to stand tall again," McGinnis says.
10. One of his fondest memories is of the phone call he received from Gus Johnson, an NBA veteran and Naismith Hall of Famer who played on the Pacers' 1973 championship team at the end of Johnson's career. Johnson was dying from brain cancer in 1987 when he called McGinnis to lift his spirits, complimenting him on his career and encouraging him to hang in there. Johnson died two days later.
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