The Lowdown: George McGinnis

Years Active: 1972-1982
Regular Season Stats: 845 games, 33.5 MPG
20.2 PPG, 11.0 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.88 SPG, 0.48 BPG, 45.8% FG, 66.4% FT
Postseason Stats: 104 games, 35.7 MPG
20.7 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.41 SPG, 0.41 BPG, 43.5% FG, 68.2% FT

ABA Accolades: MVP (1975), 2x All-ABA 1st Team (1974-75), All-ABA 2nd Team (1973), 3x All-Star (1973-75), All-ABA Rookie 1st Team (1972), 2x ABA Champion (1972-73
NBA Accolades: All-NBA 1st Team (1976), All-NBA 2nd Team (1977), 3x NBA All-Star (1976-77, ’79)

George McGinnis 76ers

New York coach Lou Carnesecca was quoted as saying that Indiana’s muscular 6-foot-8, 235 pound rookie George McGinnis looked like a heavy weight contender. Carnesecca amended his evaluation following the third game [of the ABA Finals] Friday night.

“Now, you can say he’s the champion,” said the diminutive Nets’ coach, who barely would reach McGinnis’ elbow.

Carnesecca made his reevaluation after the burly McGinnis wrecked the Nets, scoring 30 points and grabbing a game high 20 rebounds…

- Via The Evening Independent, May 13, 1972

Burly is indeed the most accurate description for the body and physique of George McGinnis. Just an absolute mammoth of a power forward who, aside from Artis Gilmore, was probably the strongest man in the ABA. Unsurprisingly, he was an absolute beast on the boards trampling and demolishing opponents, particularly on the offensive glass. His career average of 3.7 is 10th all-time amongst players who have appeared in at least 240 games (equivalent to about 3 seasons).

This steady stream of offensive boards and subsequent putbacks partially fed his healthy point production. Also of aid were his sweet mid-range jumpers and his cunning-but-not-quite-graceful drives to the hoop. For 7 straight seasons he averaged above 20 points a game culminating in 1975 when he topped off at 29.8 per game.

And as if this wasn’t enough of an offensive threat, he could pass the ball extremely well. 6 straight seasons he held an assist per game average above 3.5., including 3 seasons above 4.5 in that stretch. Big George also had quick, strong hands which led to a career steals per game average of 1.9. That’s an incredibly high total for anyone let alone a power forward. In fact, that 1.9 is 4th all time amongst forwards and 26th overall.

McGinnis, however, surly had pitfalls to his game. For starters, he turned the ball over with a galling frequency: 4 a game over the course of his career. Also his free throw shooting was always poor. It showed signs of improvement until 1975 (74%) and thereafter it plummeted to embarrassing levels by his retirement (45.3%).

The Indiana Pacers, though, weren’t complaining of these deficiencies in 1971 when they acquired the homegrown talent. McGinnis was from Indianapolis and was attending Indiana University when the allure of big time professional dollars led him to leave college after his freshman season. A very unusual move at the time, but given his 30 ppg and 15 rpg averages that one season, he was ready for tougher competition.

McGinnis joining the Pacers was a case of the rich getting richer. Behind Mel Daniels, Freddie Lewis, Roger Brown and coach Slick Leonard, the Pacers lost in the 1969 ABA finals, won the 1970 title and had barely lost to the Utah Stars in 7 games in the 1971 Western Division Finals.

Now with McGinnis, the already impressive Pacers were imagining a vice-like grip upon the ABA. The well-balanced machine had 7 players average between 10 and 20 points in 1971-72 and they squeezed by Denver and Utah in order to reach the Finals yet again.

Although mostly in a supporting role to the veterans, McGinnis was invaluable against the New York Nets in the finals, exemplified by the opening quote above given by Nets Coach Carnesecca. The Pacers triumphed in 6 games.

The next year, Big George emerged as the Pacers best player. Averaging 27.6 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2 steals he was an unstoppable force and claimed spots on the All-Star and All-ABA 2nd teams. Again reaching the Finals, the Pacers this time faced their mortal enemy, the Kentucky Colonels. The series went the distance, as it usually did between these two. McGinnis sealed Game 5 with a steal of an inbounds pass and an ensuing slam dunk with 23 seconds left. In Game 7, the Pacers captured the title in Louisville thanks to McGinnis’ 27 points. He was understandably named MVP of the playoffs.

The 1974 edition of the Pacers failed to secure a three-peat. They were ousted in 7 games by their other mortal enemy, the Utah Stars, in the West Finals. Despite the team’s slight failure, McGinnis continued his ascension: 26 ppg, 15 rpg, 3.3 apg, 2 spg and received his first appearance on the All-ABA 1st Team.

For the 1974-75 season, McGinnis undoubtedly reached his summit and apex of his skills. The Pacers jettisoned much of the old guard and the team was solidly George’s. Helping him along were rookies Len Elmore and Billy Knight and heretofore unused Don Buse and Darnell Hillman.

Great as these other players were, it really was McGinnis’ show from start to finish that season. He averaged a ridiculous 30 points, 14 rebounds 6 assists and 2.5 steals. He even connected on 35.4% of his three-point attempts that year for good measure.

The Man-Child McGinnis (SI)
The Man-Child McGinnis (SI)

A December game against the Spurs exemplified his all-around domination:

George McGinnis may eventually replace the speedway as the No. 1 tourist attraction in Indianapolis.

The husky 6-foot-8 forward of the Indiana Pacers is one of those players, who as the saying goes, “can do it all.” Wednesday night he gave a demonstration of his amazing versatility to the San Antonio Spurs – 45 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists while leading the Pacers to a 128 – 122 victory.

For his efforts, McGinnis was named co-MVP of the ABA that season along with New York’s Julius Erving. And in the postseason, McGinnis amazingly took his game to even further heights.

The unfortunate Spurs were again a victim of Big George. In Game 2 of their semi-final series, McGinnis dismantled them in the 2nd half. He shot 11-18 from the field, 8 of 10 from the line, hauled 8 rebounds, sent out 5 dimes and just turned the ball over once. And this was after his Game 1 performance of 32 points, 20 rebounds and 8 assists. Finishing the Spurs off in 6 games, the Pacers next faced the Denver Nuggets, owners of the best record in the West during the regular season. The series was a classic affair and McGinnis (and side kick Billy Knight) carried the Pacers through.

In Game 1, McGinnis pummeled the Nuggets with 39 points, 22 rebounds, 8 assists and 5 steals, but Denver survived 131 to 128. McGinnis had an off-night in Game 2, but the Pacers still won tying the series.

In Indianapolis for Game 3, the Pacers were dead in the water down 95 -84 at the beginning of the 4th quarter, but then George took over and led a tremendous comeback. With 4:13 left in the game and the scored tied at 102, McGinnis hit two jumpers made a key assist and nailed two free throws to seal the 118-112 victory over Denver. He finished the game with 32 points, 21 rebounds and 13 assists.

The two teams continued their scrap ultimately coming down to a Game 7 in Denver. In the final game, McGinnis rose to the occasion: 40 points, 23 rebounds, 8 assists and 3 steals. He thrashed Denver for 10 of Indiana’s final 14 points and nailed a 3-pointer at the 3:54 mark that effectively sealed the 104-96 win for the Pacers.

The Pacers’ run came to a halt in the Finals against Kentucky. Despite McGinnis’ 35 points, the Pacers were smashed 120- 94 in Game 1. The rest of the series would be closer, but the tone had clearly been set. Indiana’s one chance at a possible upset slipped through McGinnis hands in Game 2. Tied at 93, George was unable to handle a bounce pass from Roger Brown. With just 10 seconds remaining, Kentucky’s Artis Gilmore delivered the game-winning shot. Kentucky ultimately won the series in 5 games.

McGinnis’ postseason had been remarkable as he averaged 32 points, 16 rebounds, 8 assists and 2 steals over the course of 18 games. But this mammoth, gargantuan display was to be his last for Indiana.

After a convoluted bidding war, McGinnis landed with the Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA for the 1975-76 season. Teaming alongside Doug Collins, Steve Mix, World B. Free, fresh out high school Darryl Dawkins and Fred Carter, the McGinnis Sixers went 46-36 (a 12 game improvement over the previous season). A heart-breaking, 1-point loss to Buffalo in a deciding Game 3 of the 1st Round ended that season.

However, the next year, the Sixers surged to the Finals thanks to the acquisition of Julius Erving. The Sixers possessed in Erving and McGinnis two of the now-liquidated ABA’s best players. But the co-existence of the two was never fluid. There was no animosity, just a mismatch of talent. Facing off against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Sixers took the 1st two games of the series before Bill Walton, Maurice Lucas and the gang stormed back winning the next 4 and the title. The effortless team ball of the Blazers was lauded while the Sixers were derided as a playground team of stars who didn’t know how to play real basketball.

Although taken to a nonsensical level with that last accusation, there were very well problems with teaming Dr. J and Big George. Maybe all it would have took was a couple of seasons of play to mesh these two tremendous talents, but the chance never occurred. McGinnis was traded in 1978 to the Denver Nuggets for Bobby Jones. Now McGinnis found himself teamed with Dan Issel and David Thompson, two more stars of the former ABA. His stint with Denver lasted a hot minute and now perhaps the most talented and best player in pro basketball in 1975 was struggling with his confidence in 1979.

This was best exemplified in his free throw shooting. Reaching a peak percentage of .740 in 1976, McGinnis initially faded and then quickly dropped like a rock to a ridiculously bad .453 percentage in 1982. By then he was back in Indiana, perhaps trying to resuscitate his career, but it was not to be. Former Sixers coach Gene Shue summed up the problem:

“I don’t think he’s lost any of his skills,” says Shue, who’s now coaching the Washington Bullets for the second time. “He’s still an excellent rebounder. The only thing George needs is to get with a team that says, ‘Here’s the ball, George. Go do it.’ “

McGinnis needed the team to have faith in him, to give him the ball. He was never one to seize it. When placed along a multitude of stars like he was in Philadelphia and Denver, he merely faded into the background allowing for those others to seize the moment. By 1982, the moment had passed McGinnis by. Averaging only 5 points and 5 rebounds, he finally retired.

It was a sad ending for a talent who was transcendent for 6 seasons. Someone who combined speed and power in ways rarely seen. Former ABA star Willie Wise declared the only way to stop George was to shoot yourself and then hope McGinnis would have mercy on you. From 1972 to 1977, there was no mercy from George. His teams gave him the ball and he delivered with ferocious ability.

Since retiring from basketball, McGinnis has been a successful businessman and philanthropist in his native Indianapolis. It seems his knowledge that being a basketball star was temporal also gave him the wherewithal to succeed at these new endeavors where so many other ballers fail in their post-playing days. McGinnis has perhaps been more successful off the court than he ever was on it. Well, maybe…

“When I came into the ABA,” McGinnis says, “I was like a god. I felt there was no one who was ever going to stop me, that I was going to be a dominant force every time I took the court. That’s how supreme I felt and that’s how supreme I played.

McGinnis and Nater

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