Born: October 25, 1948 Position: Center, Power Forward Professional Career:
Kentucky Colonels (ABA): 1970-1975
Denver Nuggets (ABA/NBA): 1975-1985
Pat Williams, general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers, says of Issel, “He’s not a pro-type center, not defensive-minded, not an intimidator, and you can’t win a title with him. But when his career is over, he’ll be an immortal.”
The complaints of so-called dainty “big men” that prance around the perimeter are nothing new, basketball fans. Elvin Hayes and Bob McAdoo took their fair share of heat in the 1970s for not being “tough enough” and so did Dan Issel despite the evident utility of such big men then and now.
And by the way, Pat Williams, Dan Issel’s Kentucky Colonels did win the ABA title in 1975.
Ten years later on May 22, 1985, a great career came to end in Los Angeles. In the final game of that year’s Western Conference Finals, the Laker fans in attendance gave a rousing standing ovation as Dan Issel trotted off the court for the last time. Moments earlier Issel, a 6’9″ center, had nailed a three-pointer. It was one of just two field goals he made that night exhibiting the decline his body and skills had taken over 16 years of pro ball.
Of course, Dan Issel never played a single year, game, or minute for the Lakers. Still, the fans of Los Angeles and basketball worldwide had to give it up for a player such as Dan Issel.
Born: July 30, 1948 Position: Center, Power Forward Professional Career:
New York Nets (ABA): 1970-1975
San Antonio Spurs (ABA/NBA): 1975-1980; 1983
Houston Rockets (NBA): 1980-1983
Atlanta Hawks (NBA): 1983-1984
Utah Jazz (NBA): 1984-1985
In a 1972 game against the Squires, [Paultz] hit his first eight shots, and finished with 13 field goals in 15 attempts. Rick Barry scored 43 points and John Roche 37 points that same evening. “I get 33 and I’m the third high scorer on the team,” complained Paultz. “Are you kidding me?”
Now there’s an insightful quote into both, Billy Paultz and the ABA. The league was about flash and pizzazz, glitz and glamor. On a night where Paultz goes a-wreckin’ for 33 points on 13-15 shooting, he’s still not the brightest light shining on the court. Nonetheless, Paultz revealed his affable, self-effacing and humble personality in discussing his misfortune. Barry and Roche may have overshadowed him that night, but for someone with no organized basketball experience until his senior year in high school (1966), Paultz was doing quite well for himself.
Drafted by the NBA’s San Diego Rockets and the ABA’s Virginia Squires in 1971, Paultz opted for the ABA and was soon traded by Virginia to his hometown New York Nets. What the Nets got was an uncoordinated heap of man that would be nicknamed “The Whopper” for his well apportioned waistline and the hamburger that kept it so.
Nets teammate Rick Barry quipped “I didn’t believe he could possibly make it…” and Jim O’Brien added his two cents: “An ardent surfer, but the way he moved at the outset of his rookie season it was hard to envision him keeping his balance on shore let alone sea.” The off-balance Whopper nonetheless averaged 14.7 points and 8.4 rebounds during his rookie year.
Born: August 12, 1950 Position: Power/Point Forward Professional Career:
Indiana Pacers (ABA): 1971-1975
Philadelphia 76ers (NBA): 1975-1978
Denver Nuggets (NBA): 1978-1980
Indiana Pacers (NBA): 1980-1982
The Lowdown: George McGinnis was one of the finest all-around players basketball has ever seen. As a power forward, he certainly lived up to the typical job description. He tussled aggressively on the boards and was one of the strongest men in basketball. McGinnis’s chiseled physique didn’t mean he was a lumbering giant, though. He was able to grab a board and dribble the length of the court to flush home a dunk or perform able duty as point forward. His combination of power and speed made him regular season and playoff MVP of the ABA by his fourth pro season. After jumping to the NBA, McGinnis’s success faded but not before enjoying a few more All-Star seasons and cementing his mark as one of pro basketball’s finest players of the 1970s.
In 1971, the Indiana Pacers were on the cusp of completely dominating the American Basketball Association. Over the previous three seasons they had lost in the Finals (1969), won the Finals (1970), and lost in the Western Division Finals (1971). Now the perennial contenders were looking to add a young dynamic piece who would put them into the realm of dynasty.
Hailing from Indianapolis, George McGinnis was attending Indiana University when the Pacers lured him to the ABA after his freshman season in college. It was a very unusual move at the time. Hardly any underclassman had gone pro in decades, but given McGinnis’s 30-point and 15-rebound averages that one college season, he certainly appeared ready for tougher competition.
McGinnis was 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 three seasons).
This steady stream of offensive boards and subsequent putbacks partially fed his healthy point production. Also of aid was his dependable mid-range jumper and his cunning-but-not-quite-graceful drives to the hoop. During one stretch of his career, McGinnis wound up averaging over 20 points a game for seven straight seasons. It culminated in 1975 when he peaked at 29.8 points per game.
And as if this wasn’t enough of an offensive threat, he could pass the ball extremely well. For six straight seasons he held an assist per game average above 3.5, including three 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 average is fourth all-time amongst forwards and 26th overall for all players.
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 incremental improvement until 1975 (topping off at 74%) and thereafter it plummeted to embarrassing levels by his retirement (45.3%).
With McGinnis on hand, the Pacers became an embarrassment of riches with the superb core of ABA MVP Mel Daniels, All-Stars Bob Netolicky, Roger Brown, and Freddie Lewis, and solid role players in Billy Keller, Darnell Hillman, and Rick Mount. The already impressive Pacers were imagining a vice-like grip upon the ABA. The well-balanced machine had seven players average between 10 and 20 points in the 1971-72 season 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, particularly in Game 3:
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…
The next year, Big George emerged as the Pacers’ best player.
Averaging 27.6 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.0 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’s 27 points. He was understandably named MVP of the playoffs.
The 1974 edition of the Pacers failed to secure a three-peat, however. They were ousted in seven games by their other mortal enemy, the Utah Stars, in the West Finals. Despite the team’s relative failure, McGinnis continued his ascension: 26 PPG, 15 RPG, 3.3 APG, and 2 SPG. Thank to that production, he received his first appearance on the All-ABA 1st Team.
For the 1974-75 season, McGinnis would take his game to yet another notch and raise hell for the whole ABA.
All Grown Up
For the 1974-75 season, McGinnis undoubtedly reached the summit and apex of his skills. The Pacers jettisoned much of the old guard and the team was solidly George’s to have and to mold. Helping him along were rookies Len Elmore and Billy Knight and heretofore unused Don Buse along with holdover Darnell Hillman.
A December 1974 game against the San Antonio Spurs exemplified the hurt McGinnis laid on the ABA all season long:
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.
McGinnis was spectacular 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. McGinnis was named the ABA’s co-MVP along with Julius Erving of the New York Nets.
Amazingly, in the postseason, Mac again took his game to another level.
The unfortunate Spurs were again a victim of Big George. In Game 2 of their semi-final series, McGinnis dismantled them in the second half. He shot 11-18 from the field, connected on eight of his 10 free throw attempts, hauled in eight rebounds, sent out five dimes and just turned the ball over once. And this was after his Game 1 performance of 32 points, 20 rebounds and eight assists. Finishing the Spurs off in six 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, eight assists and five 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 this final game, McGinnis rose to the occasion: 40 points, 23 rebounds, eight assists and three steals. He thrashed Denver for 10 of Indiana’s final 14 points and nailed a three-pointer at the 3:54 mark that effectively sealed the 104-96 win for the Pacers.
The Pacers’ magical 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’s hands in Game 2. Tied at 93, George was unable to handle a bounce pass from Roger Brown and Kentucky received control of the ball. With just 10 seconds remaining, Artis Gilmore delivered the game-winning shot for Kentucky. The Colonels ultimately won the series in 5 games.
McGinnis’s postseason had nonetheless been remarkable as he averaged 32 points, 16 rebounds, eight assists and two steals over the course of 18 games. But this mammoth, gargantuan display was to be his last for Indiana.
NBA Superstar… but only for a Moment
After a convoluted and heated bidding war, McGinnis left the Pacers of the ABA and 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 their 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 first two games of the series before Bill Walton, Maurice Lucas and the Oregon gang stormed back winning the next four games 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 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 just a year-and-a-half. Although he was initially productive – making a sixth and final All-Star Team in 1978 – McGinnis’s play began to slide. Perhaps the most talented and best player in pro basketball in 1975 was struggling with his confidence by 1979.
This was best exemplified in his free throw shooting. Reaching a peak percentage of .740 in 1976, McGinnis’s FT% initially started to taper off and then quickly dropped like a rock to a ridiculously bad .453 percentage in 1982. By then he was back in Indiana – traded there by Denver in 1980 – 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. Despite his prodigious talents and proven success, he was never one to seize control of a team. When placed among a multitude of stars his own age, like he was in Philadelphia and Denver, McGinnis seemed to slink into the background. By 1982, at only 31 years of the age, the game 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 six full seasons. George McGinnis was someone who combined speed and power in ways rarely seen before or since. Former ABA All-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.
McGinnis himself marveled at just how good he was on the court from the jump:
“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.”
ABA – 2x Champion (1972-’73) MVP (1975)
Playoff MVP (1973)
2x All-ABA 1st Team (1974-’75)
All ABA 2nd Team (1973)
3x All-Star (1973-’75)
All-Rookie 1st Team (1972)
All-NBA 1st Team (1976)
All-NBA 2nd Team (1977)
3x All-Star (1976-’77, 1979)
At a stocky 6’2″ and 200 lbs., Warren Jabali was one of the hardest players to guard and control in the ABA. Born Warren Armstrong, his changed surname means “the Rock” in Swahili and frankly it couldn’t have described him better. The name change occured toward the end of his career, but all throughout his life, Jabali exhibited an intensity on the court and off the court that often made people wary.
He was known as a merciless defender and averaged 2 steals per game in his career. His coaches wouldn’t hesitate to through him on any opposing guard or forward, no matter their height. If Jabali was on the court, you basically had the other teams best offensive guard and/or forward dutifully harassed
Despite his own short height, Jabali would fly in with reckless abandon to snare rebounds. Capturing the board, he would sprint down court and loved to throw down left-handed dunks – despite being right-handed. In the halfcourt setting, Jabali was absolutely too strong for opposing guards to contain and absolutely too fast and short for forwards to have any hope of slowing him down.
Jabali put his unqiue blend of talent and personality to immediate use in the ABA during his rookie season with the Oakland Oaks. Stacked with Rick Barry, Doug Moe, and Larry Brown, Jabali emerged as perhaps the team’s best player. That title was without dispute once Barry was lost to a knee injury early in the season. Averaging 21.5 points, 10 rebounds and 3.5 assists, Jabali was named the ABA’s Rookie of the Year and lead Oakland to a 60-18 record – best in the ABA.
In the playoffs, Jabali was outstanding. Averaging 29 points and 13 rebounds for the playoffs (and 33 points in the Finals), the 6’2″ guard led the Oaks to the ABA title and was easily named the MVP of the playoffs.
A sensational follow up season was in store for Warren as the Oaks moved to Washington, DC, and became the Capitols. He upped his production to averages of 23 points, 10.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists. He was named to the first of his four All-Star games. But his season was cut short and his career altered by a knee injury.
Returning in the 1970-71 season with the Indiana Pacers, Jabali’s limitless versatility was perhaps overused. Indiana had won the 1970 ABA title, so clearly had a solid core in place with Mel Daniels, Roger Brown, and Freddie Lewis. Jabali was basically designated as a Swiss Army Knife sliding up and down the lineup plugging holes instead of having a firm role.
After that lone season in Indy, Jabali was picked up by the Floridians forming a dynamic backcourt with the equally short Mack Calvin. Jabali returned to his All-Star form with averages of 20 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists. He also added a new wrinkle to his game: the three-point shot. His outside shooting had always been his biggest weakness, but in 1972 he led the ABA in three-pointers attempted while finishing fifth in percentage by nailing 36% of his downtown attempts.
Jabali was again on the move for the 1972-73 season. Landing with the Denver Rockets, Jabali’s unbounded athleticism was becoming a thing of the past. His rebounds fell to just 5 a game, but he still managed 17 points and 6.5 assists. Also, we finally get a glimpse at his steals totals since the ABA began tracking the stat this season. Warren swiped 2.1 per game.
In any event, 1973 proved Jabali’s last great season. At the All-Star Game, he secured MVP honors. But by the playoffs Rockets coach Alex Hannum had cooled on Jabali, drastically cutting his playing time.
What may have been Jabali’s undoing in pro basketball was his personality, the reaction others had to it, and his reaction to the reaction. No one in their right mind picked a fight with Jabali. During his vaunted rookie season, the firebrand stomped on an opponent and received a 15-game suspension.
More than that though, he was considered a radical black nationalist. After all, he had given up his born name of Armstrong for Jabali when he converted to Islam. Indeed, his outspoken beliefs made ABA management fearful of retaining him. In the 1974 season, Denver put Jabali on the waiver wire and no ABA team picked up the rest of that season.
A return to the ABA came in 1974-75 season for Warren with the San Diego Conquistadors, but he averaged an underwhelming (for himself) 12 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 steals a game. After those 62 games with the Qs, Jabali was done as a professional ball player.
Jabali explained his politics and seemingly aloof nature, but not many people in pro basketball wanted to take the time out – then or now – to fully grapple with the issues he saw swirling in sport and American society. In his later years, Jabali more keenly focused the rage he felt toward the injustices and became a devoted community organizer.
Even though his basketball career was spectacular, one wishes he had the same time and space to replicate his latter life solemn focus on to the court. Instead, injuries and personality curtailed the murky yet still amazing career of Warren Jabali.
Years Played: 1968-1975
Playoff MVP (1969)
Rookie of the Year (1969)
All-ABA 1st Team (1973)
4x All-Star (1970, 1972-’74)
All-Star Game MVP (1973)
Cliff Hagan possessed one of the greatest hook shots in basketball history. It wasn’t a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar skyhook that dropped in from the heavens. It wasn’t a George Mikan right-handed hook that was launched after his left arm pulverized you. Hagan’s hook was a spring-loaded catapult. He would gallop into the lane and jump as high as he could off of his left leg. His body stiffened into a straight rod and his right arm slung the hook at his apex.
That sweet shot allowed Hagan to play center in college Kentucky with enormous success. But when he got to the pros in 1956 after a two-year stint with the Army, the 6’4″ Hagan was declared too short to play forward, let alone center, in the NBA. St. Louis Hawks’ coach Red Holzman tried Hagan at shooting guard with disastrous results. A mid-season coaching change made Alex Hannum the Hawks coach. Hannum, instead of resisting the obvious, gave Hannum a shot at playing forward.
The results were tremendous when the postseason rolled around. After averaging just 5.5 points in the regular season, Hagan hooked his way to 17 points and 11 rebounds a night in the playoffs. His play helped lead the Hawks to the NBA Finals. Pitted against the Boston Celtics (the team that initially drafted Hagan but traded him for Bill Russell), Hagan had a magnificent, game-winning tip-in during Game 6 of the series. Nonetheless, the Hawks lost in Game 7 to the Celtics.
But Cliff Hagan had arrived.
In 1958, he along with Bob Pettit scorched the Boston Celtics for a six-game Finals victory avenging their defeat the previous year. Pettit had the ultimate climax with 50 points in the decisive Game 6, but Hagan proved equally indispensable as he led all playoff performers that year in points per game (27.7) and field goal percentage (50.2%) to go along with 10.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game.
For five straight years he was an NBA All-Star. He would also be named to the All-NBA 2nd Team twice. In 1960, the superb Hagan reached his apex as a star. That regular season he finished 10th in APG and RPG among all NBA players. He was also 9th in FT% and 5th in FG%. Naturally, he was also 5th in PPG.
In the 1963 season, however, the 31-year old Hagan transitioned from heavy work horse to instant offense machine. For the rest of his NBA career – lasting through 1966 – Hagan averaged 15 points in 25 minutes a game. His retirement from the Hawks following the 1966 campaign was short-lived.
The new ABA lured Hagan to their league with the opportunity to coach the Dallas Chaparrals. Hagan also suited up as a player for the Chaps and was named an ABA All-Star in 1968. The 36-year old legend averaged 18 points, 6 rebounds, and 5assists proving his skills had aged but not eroded.
The same could be said of his competitive spirit. A soft-spoken, gentleman off the court Hagan was a hellion on the hardwood. He got into so many altercations, that Dallas management forced him to sit out games, but that lasted only so long. Cliff would put himself into a game if he thought it’d give the club the last push needed for success. So, what better way to conclude Hagan’s pro playing career than with a little story straight from Loose Balls told by Max Williams, general manager of the Chaps:
With 40 seconds left [in the game] I saw Cliff rip off his warm-ups and put himself into the game. Cliff cut across the lane, caught a pass and made that great hook shot of his. Then one of the Anaheim players jumped on his back and rode Cliff right to the floor. Cliff stood up, looked at the guy and cold-cocked him.
I thought, “He’s only been in the game for five seconds and he already punched somebody.”
Ladies and gentlemen, Cliff Hagan.
Years Played: 1956 – 1969
NBA – Champion (1958)
2x All ABA 2nd Team (1958-’59)
5x All-Star (1958-’62)
NBA – 745 Games
18.0 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 3.0 APG, 45.0% FG, 79.8% FT
ABA – 94 Games
15.1 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 4.3 APG, 49.6% FG, 80.7% FT
Contemporary NBA Ranks (1956-57 through 1965-66 season)
6th Points, 18th PPG
5th FGs, 17th FG%
11th FTs, 19th FT%
13th Assists, 26th APG
15th Rebounds, 40th RPG
3rd Games Played, 8th Minutes Played
1976 was an awkward time for the United States of America.
The previous few years had seen the military massacre college students at home and abandon an unpopular, costly war abroad. A president had resigned, narrowly escaping impeachment. And as James Brown eloquently stated in his song, “Funky President (People It’s Bad),” times were bad, people:
Stock market going up, Jobs going down And ain’t no funky jobs to be found
Taxes keep going up, I changed from a glass Now I drink from a paper cup, It’s getting bad
Amidst all the social tumult, the United States also prepared for the bicentennial of its revolutionary birth. It was a much needed shot of enthusiasm to reinvigorate the triumphant American spirit which was on a prolonged vacation after such harrowing gut checks.
Once the capital of the United States, New York City reflected this strange dichotomy of enthusiasm and desperation. Crime and poverty were rising for the five boroughs, but so were the magnificent Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. The social grime that created miserable hardship also was giving birth to the vibrant expressions of disco and hip-hop.
The dichotomy even extended to basketball. The New York Knickerbockers were falling off the turnip truck, while the New York Nets were riding high.
One of the great players in basketball history departed Saturday as Zelmo Beaty passed away at age 73.
The 6’9″ center played from 1962 to 1975 in the NBA and ABA with the St. Louis/Atlanta Hawks, the Utah Stars, and the Los Angeles Lakers. I’ve written many words on Zelmo’s fantastic career and I encourage you to read them: