McGinnis Completes Pacers' Hall of Fame Frontline
Slick Leonard was feeling like a proud father Saturday. The starting frontline from two of his three ABA championship teams is now in the hall of famers, a complete unit at last.
George McGinnis joined Mel Daniels and Roger Brown in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday, a selection many felt was long overdue for one of the most dominant forwards in the history of professional basketball.
Leonard, especially. He had been advocating for McGinnis for many years, formally so since his own selection to the Hall in 2014. Current members are sent ballots to write in names of players they believe should be included, and Leonard left no doubt about his feelings for McGinnis.
"I've seen everything come down the pike the last 60 years," Leonard said. "It's hard for a lot of people to understand how great a player he really was. He should have been in that Hall of Fame before now.
"I'm tickled to death."
Leonard learned of McGinnis' selection a few days ago, before Saturday's official announcement, as word spread quickly through the network of those connected with the ABA Pacers. McGinnis called Leonard's cell phone to tell him, but Leonard had it turned off, as he usually does. He then called Jeannie Brown, Roger's former wife, to tell her, and she passed on the word to Leonard's wife, Nancy.
"George is excited," Leonard said. "Everybody's excited. I wanted to see him get in there before I died.
McGinnis qualifies as Indiana's ultimate "Mr. Basketball," having excelled at every level. He led Washington High School to an undefeated season and the state championship in 1969, setting a tournament record for scoring (148) in the last four games. He then set a record in the annual Indiana-Kentucky all-star series, scoring 53 points and grabbing 31 rebounds in the second game in Louisville.
He played one varsity season at Indiana University, where he became the first sophomore to lead the conference in scoring (30) and rebounding (14.7), and then signed with the Pacers. He was a member of the 1972 and '73 championship teams, earning finals MVP honors when the Pacers defeated Kentucky for the title in '73. He led the 88-81 Game 7 victory in Louisville with 27 points – 13 in the final eight minutes.
He had his greatest season in 1974-75, and it remains the greatest statistical season a Pacers player has had. With the remaining core of the championship teams gone, he led a young, unproven team to the finals again, where it lost to a Kentucky team that included three future Hall of Famers: Artis Gilmore, Dan Issel and Louie Dampier.
McGinnis averaged 29.8 points, 14.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 2.6 steals that season, sharing league MVP honors with Julius Erving. Normally a poor outside shooter, he even hit 35 percent of his 3-pointers that season. He was even better in the playoffs, averaging 32.3 points, 15.9 rebounds, 8.2 assists, and two steals. He also averaged 6.2 turnovers, an indication of how much he controlled the ball, not to mention his reckless style of play.
He had five triple-doubles in the first two rounds of the playoffs that season, including one game against San Antonio with 51 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists.
McGinnis left the Pacers after that season to sign with the Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA, who signed him to a contract nearly three times as much as the Pacers could afford to pay. He was a first-team all-NBA selection his first season in Philadelphia, and an All-Star his first two seasons. He played in the All-Star game again with Denver in the 1978-79 season.
Leonard brought McGinnis back to the Pacers during the 1979-80 season, trading a young Alex English to the Nuggets. He finished his career in the 1981-82 season. His once-powerful body breaking down, he averaged just 4.7 points that final season.
Despite that, he finished his professional career with averages of 20.2 points and 11 rebounds, making him one of few players with a career double-double average not to be in the Hall of Fame. He also held the dubious honor of being the only former league Most Valuable Player, ABA or NBA, not to be selected.
PHOTOS: George McGinnis Career Gallery »
McGinnis had nearly given up on selection to the Hall after the special committee set up to recognize former ABA players was disbanded after Daniels, Brown, Leonard and Dampier were selected. He was still eligible, however, and finally made it, thanks in part to a crucial advocate: Hall of Famer Rick Barry, who played against McGinnis in the ABA and NBA.
"He's obviously deserving," Barry said when reached by telephone on Saturday. "I think a lot of people would agree if they saw him when he was at his best early in his career. He was one of the more dominating and explosive offensive forces who played the game. He had some amazing numbers."
Barry had no answer as to why it took longer for McGinnis than others.
"Sometimes it's hard to figure out what people are thinking," he said. "Sometimes it's just a crazy thing. But it's like they say, better late than never."
Very few franchises have had a Hall of Fame frontline. The Minneapolis Lakers had one in the Fifties with George Mikan, Jim Pollard and Vern Mikkelsen. The New York Knicks had one in the late Sixties and early Seventies with Willis Reed, Bill Bradley and Dave Debusschere. The Boston Celtics had one in the Eighties with Robert Parish, Larry Bird and Kevin McHale.
Now the Pacers have one.
"That's a tremendous milestone," Leonard said.
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