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ChicagoJ
10-01-2004, 12:04 AM
SPORTS Bill Benner

Big George is a hero on and off the hardwood

It just occurred to me that 30 years ago this month—hey, who put the brick on my life’s accelerator?— I was a journalism pup preparing for my initial run with the big dogs.

I had been tapped to be The Indianapolis Star’s beat writer covering the Indiana
Pacers, who then resided in the late, great American Basketball Association.

It was heady stuff for several reasons.

The Pacers were a huge ongoing story, just one season removed from the last of their three ABA titles. They were moving into their downtown home, Market Square Arena. They were coached by Bob “Slick” Leonard, whom I had idolized since his 1953 national championship days with Branch McCracken’s Hurryin’ Hoosiers.

And they were led by George McGinnis.

Even in basketball-crazy Indiana, we’d never seen anyone quite like McGinnis. He had bulk, strength, agility and quickness. It was as if God had said, “Hmmm … I think I’ll take a little extra time making this one.” By the time he was a sophomore at Washington High School, McGinnis was 6-foot-6-inches, 220 pounds, and a man among boys. By his senior year, he had added a couple of inches and about 15 pounds. Playing alongside Steve Downing, McGinnis helped the Continentals go unbeaten and win the state championship. McGinnis, of course, was Indiana’s Mr. Basketball, and he backed it up with the greatest individual performance in Indiana-Kentucky All-Star Game history: 53 points and 31 rebounds.

From there it was on to Indiana University (with Downing), where McGinnis became an all-American as a sophomore, leading the Big Ten in both scoring and rebounding. He then declared “hardship”— and it really was, because his father had died in a construction accident—and turned professional, joining his hometown team.

It was a perfect fit. George quickly blossomed into an ABA all-star. By the 1974-1975 season, Roger Brown was in the twilight of his career and Mel Daniels and Freddie Lewis had been traded away. The Pacers were, that season, clearly McGinnis’ team. He averaged 29.8 points, 14.6 rebounds and six assists in the regular season and increased those numbers in the playoffs. He and rookie Billy Knight led the Pacers to the finals, where they lost to Kentucky.

McGinnis was co-MVP (with Julius Erving) that year and I didn’t think covering basketball could be any more fun. Big Mac put on a super-size show virtually every night.

Today, his retired jersey—No. 30—hangs from the Conseco Fieldhouse rafters, a reminder of the player he once was.

But now he has recognition of the man, and community leader, he has since become. And, in the long haul, that’s more important. This coming week, at the Circle City Classic, McGinnis will receive the Major Taylor Award.

“This one,” he says, “makes me feel really special.”

Presented by Indiana Black Expo and the Classic, the Major Taylor Award recognizes an African-American athlete, coach, athletic administrator or official who has made significant local and national contributions to youth while encouraging excellence in future generations.

McGinnis has done all the above. He has built a successful business, GM Supply, on the city’s east side. He has given his name, and his time, to countless charitable endeavors, such as the March of Dimes, the Muscular Dystrophy Association and Meals on Wheels.

He also has worked to advance sports in his hometown, serving as co-chairman for NCAA Men’s Final Fours in 1997 and 2000; he will do so again in 2006. He also was a co-chairman for the city’s successful 2010 Men’s Final Four bid.

He is humbled to receive the Major Taylor Award, named for the turn-of-the-century Indianapolis cyclist who wouldn’t allow bigotry to prevent him from becoming the best in the world. He is even more humbled to join a list of recipients that includes Dr. LeRoy Walker, Eddie Robinson, Clarence “Big-House’’ Gaines, Anita DeFrantz, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and last year’s dual recipients, Muhammad Ali and the late Rev. Charles Williams, founder of the Circle City Classic and longtime president of Indiana Black Expo.

“Just seeing those names underscores what this award means,” he says, “as well as what the Circle City Classic has meant to the city of Indianapolis.”

McGinnis has meant a lot to the city, as well, perhaps more for the life he lives and the example he sets now than for all those basketball exploits.

And that’s saying something.


Benner, a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star, is now vice president of communications for the notfor-profit Indiana Sports Corp. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.com or send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com.
Added the article

ABADays
10-01-2004, 08:25 AM
Boy . . . this will date me. I remember reading something during McGinnis last year with the Pacers ( I believe) that he was making $100,000+ a year and upon retirement would receive $30,000 A YEAR. I thought - what more could a guy want!!!!!

Good story by Benner - local boy makes good.

BigMac
10-01-2004, 09:32 AM
Who is the George McGinnis fellow you speak of?


;)

Actually, it's about time he was recognized for all of his contributions he has made, especially to this community (Indianapolis area). Thanks for finding that article Jay.

As you may know, he is my favorite Pacers player of all-time and someone who has been very nice to me and my family over the years. Another local kid turned hero. Nice read.

beast23
10-01-2004, 01:19 PM
I've also known George several years, and the article can't stress enough just how humble the man is.

I've watched many games from George's suite, which he shares with another prominent local business owner. And with all of the folks and celebrities who have passed through the suite, there are many, many funny stories.

Last season, a well-known southside home builder brought his loevely mid-twenties daughter along to watch a game. The young lady spent most of the first half sitting next to George.

Watching games from the suites is very conducive to casual conversation and the two were talking throughout most of the first half.

The young lady recognized that George was tall and a little older and asked if he had ever played basketball himself.

George acknowledged that he had.

The young lady then asked if he had played college ball or professionally and who he had played for.

George answered that he had played at Washington HS, a year for IU and for the Pacers, the Sixers, the Nuggets, then the Pacers again.

The young lady says "Oh, really, you played for the Pacers? And sheepishly asked George if he was ever "any good".

Most of use within ear shot are doing everything we can not to roll on the floor laughing. George looked at the young lady and simply says, "Well, I fooled some people into thinking so. There were a few years where I averaged a lot of points and a rebound or two."

There is often a draft that moves through the suites if the door is left open, and the young lady had been complaining about being cold. So anyway, I look at George, and tell him that maybe the young lady would like to wear the jersey, since it is big and baggy and probably would be warm and comfortable.

George acted like he was going to get up, and the young lady just looked at him and said, "Oh, you don't have to bother. I can get it. Just tell me where it is."

Even her own dad couldn't take it anymore, telling her that she might need a pretty tall ladder, as he pointed to the jerseys hanging from the rafters.

The young lady just yelled out "Oh....... my....... god!" as George rapped her up with a big consoling hug as everyone laughed their butts off.

Hicks
10-01-2004, 03:57 PM
That's a good story! :laugh:

BigMac
10-01-2004, 04:06 PM
Very nice story.

Hoop
10-01-2004, 11:25 PM
:thumbsup: