Born: August 24, 1965 Position: Shooting Guard Professional Career:
Indiana Pacers (NBA): 1987-’05
Reggie Miller possessed a career predicated more on longevity than overwhelming dominance. He made a respectable five All-Star Games in his 18-year career. He also garnered a decent three selections to the All-NBA 3rd Team. His career-high in PPG (24.6) came in his third season and on only one other occasion did Miller surpass the 22-point per game plateau. He averaged a mere 3 rebounds and 3 assists per game. He only grabbed one steal per game.
The early part of his career, 1987-88 through 1991-92, saw his Indiana Pacers muddle around 40 wins a year as he and a quirky mix of Chuck Person and Detlef Schrempf slogged in a powerful Eastern Conference dominated by the Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons, and Chicago Bulls. However, as those franchises succumbed to age and premature Michael Jordan retirements, Miller’s persistence, and the retooling of the Pacers allowed for a superb second act in Miller’s career.
Reggie’s remarkable consistency allowed for such a retooling. Sure, he never had breathtaking scoring averages, but from 1990 to 2001, he never fell below 18 PPG. That steady scoring did come on breathtaking percentages, however.He routinely led the NBA in free throw percentage, or came very close. That tends to happen when you shoot 88.8% from the line for your career.
Rik Smits, Dale Davis, Antonio Davis, Derrick McKey, Byron Scott, and Mark Jackson highlighted the first Pacers run to the Eastern Conference Finals in 1994 and 1995. Each of those series ended in seven games with Indiana on the losing end. Then, after another regrouping, the Pacers enjoyed another run of greatness making the ECF in 1998 and 1999 and, finally, the NBA Finals in 2000 with additions of Jalen Rose, Chris Mullin, and Travis Best. Yet another rejuvenation occurred in 2004 with Jermaine O’Neal, Ron Artest, and Al Harrington leading the way to an Eastern Conference Finals appearance.
Reggie Miller was the only link between all these different teams, and all these coaches and players that came through Indiana.
In addition to the remarkable free-throw shooting, his three-point shooting was absolutely prodigious. Bounding off of screens and picks galore, Miller could curl, catch, and shoot faster than just about any player in NBA history. To make matters worse for defenders, Miller had a habit of extending his leg while shooting to catch the opponent and draw a foul. So even if he didn’t knock down the shot, he was going to receive two free throws that he was assuredly going to make.
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)
Roger Brown’s professional basketball career came perilously close to mirroring the fate of his college career. Coming out of New York City, Brown was one of the most highly recruited players in the country and the University of Dayton snagged the superb baller. But a point-shaving and gambling scandal surrounding Jack Molinas took down many promising young players like Connie Hawkins, Doug Moe, and Roger Brown.
Dayton and the NCAA banned Brown in 1960. The NBA likewise did so when Brown became eligible for their draft four years later. Brown had already moved to Dayton, Ohio, far from his New York home and was stuck. Over the years he kept his game and skills alive via amateur and semi-pro games, often against NBA players like Oscar Robertson.
Finally, in 1967, a chance for revival occurred thanks to the Indiana Pacers of the ABA. The new league was looking for any and all talent. Brown, Moe, and Hawkins all got their breaks thanks to the ABA. But of the three, Brown certainly made the most of the ABA as a player.
The strong and burl swingman gave the Pacers an instant star and credibility. Then in 1968 the Pacers traded for center Mel Daniels who gave Indiana the dynamic core of their three ABA titles. Freddie Lewis, Bob Netolicky, George McGinnis, Bill Keller, and others flowed around this tandem, but when times got critical and the clock got low, it was Roger Brown who invariably got the ball.
The 1969 and 1970 postseasons were the absolute highlights of Brown’s ABA career as he averaged 28 points, 9 rebounds, and 4.5 assists. In 1969, the Pacers lost to the Oakland Oaks in the Finals. In 1970, Brown wouldn’t allow for a repeat of that heartache and secured a tough 4-games-to-2 series win over the Los Angeles Stars. Brown was monstrous down the stretch of that series scoring 53, 39, and 45 points in the final three games.
The scintillating performances earned him the Playoff MVP award.
Brown unleashed those spectacular games using a bevvy of one-on-one moves no defender could hope to stop on his own. Brown would lean and twist his body into a defender creating the space for him to nail his sweet sweet jumper. On the break, Brown had good handles to strike all the way to the basket. But the threat of his pull up jumper kept the defense confused and on figurative roller skates.
(check out my review of the fantastic documentary on Roger Brown by director Ted Green)
Rajah, as he was affectionately and devotedly called, was also one of the first players to skillfully utilize the three-point shot. He could catch the rock, stand still, stare you down, then rise up on the wing and bury the three. His three-point accuracy increased with age as he finished in the ABA’s top 5 in 3PT% three times toward the end of his career in the mid-1970s.
The end of his pro career came in 1974-75. Prior to that season he had spent all of his ABA days with the Pacers, but that season Brown spent time with the Memphis Sounds and Utah Stars before finally returning home to Indiana by season’s end where he retired.
And make no mistake, Indiana was now home for Brown. He served as a city councilman and was immersed in the community. When he passed way in 1997 at age 54, his funeral was held at the Pacers’ Market Square Arena – an arena that wouldn’t have existed without Brown’s basketball exploits two decades earlier. Old teammates who had become family for Brown carried him off the court, in his casket, for the final time.
That Brown never spent a single second in the NBA just proves that basketball’s greatest players can be found in any place. They’re success as professionals may rest on their own shoulders but their failure can just as easily be heaped on unjust forces. Roger Brown initially looked to be the latter: a victim of railroad “justice”. Fortunately for Roger Brown, the Pacers gave him the opportunity. Even more important, Roger was willing to risk one more potential letdown for basketball redemption. Thankfully, the regal Rajah didn’t fail, but instead succeeded beyond belief.
Years Played: 1967 – 1975
ABA – 3x Champion (1970, 1972-’73) Playoff MVP (1970) All-ABA 1st Team (1971) 2x All-ABA 2nd Team (1968, 1970) 4x All-Star (1968, 1970-’72)
ABA – 605 Games 17.4 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 3.8 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.6 BPG
All-Time ABA Ranks 10th Points, 25th PPG 13th FGs Made, 48th FG% 8th FTs Made, 36th FT% 7th 3PTs Made, 11th 3PT% 10th Assists, 19th APG 24th Rebounds 11th Games Played, 6th Minutes Played
Big and bad. Rough and tough. Mel Daniels doesn’t exactly fit the archetype of the ABA. It was a free-wheeling league where afros grew tall, dunkers flew high, and defense was negotiable, if played at all. Daniels, despite not fitting any of those bills, deposited the most successful career of any person in the ABA’s brief history.
He was Rookie of the Year, a two-time MVP, and a three-time champion. At only 6’9″, Daniels nonetheless led the ABA in rebounds per game three times and is the league’s all-time leading rebounder. Rebounding was certainly Mel’s best quantifiable asset, but his scoring was also of import. He had decent range on his jumper and was a beast on getting cleanup buckets.
However, Mel’s best asset wasn’t quantifiable, it was pure qualitative. It was his imposing presence that solidified and anchored the Indiana Pacers as the most successful franchise in the ABA. The man was an imposing leader for the Pacers. If a scrum broke out, Daniels would be in the middle of it to make sure his Indiana mates wouldn’t be intimidated.
If his fists and granite-hard picks didn’t intimate enough intimidation, then Daniels’ game was certainly more than good enough to accomplish the task. On one spectacular occasion, he scored 37 points pulled down 26 rebounds in a single half. Those kinds of exciting performances though were always in the ABA for Mel. He had a 9-year career, but spent just a grand total of 11 forgettable games in the NBA.
What shouldn’t be forgettable are his triumphant days in the ABA. They were 628 games of unrequited triumph.
Don Buse making the 1977 all-star team was a bit of a fluke. If it weren’t for Bill Walton going down injured, he wouldn’t have had a spot. But there was Buse suiting up in one of the more classic all-star games. His stat line wasn’t impressive: 4 points and 5 assists in 19 minutes.
Nonetheless, Boo worked his magic and sparked the West squad to victory along with Paul Westphal. Entering the game with 5:31 left in the 3rd quarter and the West down 83 – 75, Don instantly opened up ball movement on offense and terrorized the East on defense, ultimately ending the game with 4 steals. At the end of the 3rd, the West had swung the game around to a 97-89 lead and would go on to win 125 – 124.
That would be Buse’s 2nd and final all-star game, but the Hoosier State legend had already accomplished much and would continue to do so.