The Indiana Pacers were one of the standout franchises in the old ABA from the very beginning, winning one title and playing for another in the league’s first four years, reaching the playoffs each season. But you could make an argument that the Pacers didn’t really arrive as an attraction until George McGinnis landed (back) in Indianapolis in 1971. Now, after a loooonnggggg wait, one of the Blue and Gold’s first superstars is headed for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
McGinnis was born and raised in Indianapolis and was already a local legend by the time he was a teenager. He starred in basketball at George Washington High School (from which my own father graduated in 1965) and led the Continentals to a state title as a senior in 1969, the same year he was named Indiana Mr. Basketball.
From there, it was on to Indiana University, where he played one season and averaged 30 points per game.
Then, in 1971, the Pacers brought him home to Indy, where McGinnis stepped into the role of swingman and averaged 16.9 points during his rookie season, good for third on the team. Thanks in large part to their new athletic forward, the Pacers took home the ABA crown.
The next year, 1972-73, McGinnis upped his game to lead all Pacers with 27.6 ppg, and the team copped their second title in a row.
In 1973-74, the Pacers lost to the Utah Stars in the Western Division finals, but McGinnis once again led the team in scoring, with 25.6 points per game.
McGinnis was at the top of his game in 1974-75, leading the team and the entire league with 29.8 points per game. The Pacers gave it a good ride in the playoffs, too, but came up one game short, losing the title to the Kentucky Colonels.
McGinnis had been drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers in 1973 but remained with the champion Pacers. After two straight disappointing playoff outcomes, though, he finally jumped to Philly and the “Big Brother” NBA.
The big man hardly missed a beat, averaging more than 20 points in each of his three seasons with Philadelphia and one full season in Denver. Struggling to keep his playing time and points at the high level to which he was accustomed, McGinnis was traded back home to the Pacers during the 1979-80 season.
He turned in two more declining campaigns with the now-NBA Pacers, wrapping up his career at age 31 in 1982.
Lost in the Shuffle
Solid players all, but not overwhelming by any means.
Couple that grouping with McGinnis’s relatively short career and the fact that he fizzled out just as Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were heating up — and just before Michael Jordan lifted the entire game — and it’s easy to see why McGinnis has languished outside of the Hall of Fame for so long.
But make no mistake — the man is a basketball legend and was a vital part of one of the great ABA franchises that would go on to become a solid, sometimes outstanding, club in the NBA.
As you would expect for THE marquee name on a championship team, McGinnis was featured on a full complement of basketball cards during the 1970s.
Of these, his 1972-73 Topps rookie card is undoubtedly the key, even though you can find nice graded copies on eBay today for well under $50.
Most of his other pasteboards can be had for a relative song — from less than a buck for most specimens to reasonable two figures for high-grade copies.
All in all, quite a bargain for 40-year-old cardboard of a Hoosier legend, one who is finally getting his due.
George McGinnis, Hall of Famer. Sounds good, doesn’t it?