McGinnis enjoyed Pacers’ greatest homecoming
Don’t know if you’re aware, but Peyton Manning returned to Indianapolis to play against the Colts Sunday night. I don’t know why the media didn’t pick up on this. It just seems to me that a quarterback who had led the Colts to a Super Bowl championship coming back as a member of another team would be worthy of some mention in the newspapers and on the airwaves, but anyway, it got me to wondering if the the Pacers had ever experienced a similar homecoming?
The answer: Not really. Back in the day when a newspaper beat writer was by far the greatest source of information on a basketball team, it was impossible to contend with the coverage and hype that today’s media can generate. There was one time, however, a former Pacers player who had helped produce two championships came back to Indianapolis to play against his former team, and generated a buzz.
It was only a preseason game, but nearly 13,000 fans turned out at Market Square Arena on Oct. 19, 1975 to see George McGinnis come back as a member of the NBA Philadelphia 76ers. The Pacers, who were heading into what would turn out to be their final ABA season, were coming off a season in which McGinnis had led them to an unexpected trip to the ABA finals with what still stands as the greatest single-season performance in franchise history. He had averaged 29.8 points, 14.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 2.6 steals – all team highs – in the 1974-75 season, leading a young team to the championship series, where it lost in five games to Kentucky. Prior to that, he had started on the Pacers’ championship teams of 1972 and ’73, earning finals MVP honors in ’73. Prior to that, he had starred at Indiana University and Washington High School in Indianapolis.
McGinnis became a free agent in the summer of ’75, and signed with Philadelphia for $3 million over six years. Barely more than the league minimum in today’s NBA, that was superstar money then, far more than the Pacers could match. For that reason, McGinnis’ departure was amicable on both sides. His stardom simply had outgrown their bank account.
When the 76ers came to Indy for the Pacer’s final preseason game, McGinnis was greeted with a standing ovation by 99 percent of the fans at MSA, according to the Indianapolis Star’s account, when he first took the court. He received another standing ovation when Pacers president Tom Binford introduced him in a pre-game ceremony. With his team playing its third exhibition game in three nights, McGinnis finished with 27 points and 22 rebounds before leaving the game with a pulled muscle after 44 minutes. The 76ers went on to win in double overtime on rookie Lloyd Free’s 17-foot jumper at the buzzer, 131-129.
Philadelphia’s roster also included future Hall of Famer Billy Cunningham, future 76ers coach Doug Collins, Harvey Catchings (Tamika’s father) and Joe Bryant (Kobe’s father). Billy Knight led the Pacers’ scoring with 29 points.
“It was very touching,” McGinnis said afterward. “It’s hard to explain the way coming back felt. It was a strange feeling that I can’t describe. I’m not a Pacer player anymore, but I’m still a Pacer fan.”
McGinnis had two All-Star seasons with the 76ers, and was a member of the team that reached the NBA Finals in 1977. He was traded back to the Pacers for the final 28 games of the 1979-80 season, and released by the team in training camp in 1982.
That likely won’t be Manning’s fate.