SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – They yapped it up again this week in western Massachusetts, just like July in Indianapolis and probably every other month in Indy in various years for that matter, another Pacers family reunion to commemorate another special occasion, or just because.
George McGinnis, their talented forward, their friend, got inducted into the Hall of Fame on Friday night. The plan was for former teammates Darnell Hillman and Billy Knight to attend and maybe Bob Netolicky. Clark Kellogg, a next-generation Pacer, was a possibility as well. The coach, Bob Leonard, definitely there, on stage as one of McGinnis’ ceremonial presenters, beaming as McGinnis called him a father figure.
If someone couldn’t make it, chances are good they had already surrounded McGinnis in support at the July gathering. Billy Keller. Jerry Harkness. Mel Daniels’ widow. Roger Brown’s widow. Plus some of the same people scheduled to be at the enshrinement ceremony inside Symphony Hall.
“We got together and had barbecue,” McGinnis reported. “We yapped it up and we had a great time. Took pictures. It was really, really nice.”
What a group, these Pacers of the 1970s, especially early in the decade as the dominant team of the ABA. They were that close at the time. Daniels got a horse, a bunch of the other guys got a horse. Daniels had a big truck, so he helped the Browns move into their home in the middle of the decade. The Browns had a big backyard, so guys would come over and shoot with bow and arrows.
And now it’s lasted decades.
Friday night was special because the late Jerry Krause finally got his long-deserved induction, because New Jersey product Nick Galis returned to the United States as a Greek hero and was enshrined via the International committee and because Rebecca Lobo entered the Hall some 15 miles from where she grew up, among other storylines with the 11 members of the Class of 2017. It was also about the ABA Pacers, again, finding another reason to hang out and still showing team chemistry decades after the fact.
Daniels was inducted in 2012, before his passing, Leonard in 2014, Brown posthumously in 2015, and now McGinnis in ’17. And that’s just the throwback Pacers. The recent run for the city also includes Larry Bird, originally enshrined in 1998, re-appearing for the 2010 festivities with the Dream Team, Chris Mullin entering the Hall in 2011, Reggie Miller in 2012, plus Indy native Louie Dampier in 2015.
The McGinnis salute to his hometown was to include Leonard and Miller among the presenters, even though he never played with Miller, along with Spencer Haywood, Rick Barry and Artis Gilmore, three opponents with ABA blood. The history of it all meant so much that McGinnis picked Haywood, though not particularly close, as a tribute and a thank you to Haywood for the lawsuit that allowed players to leave college early to turn pro. McGinnis, in his acceptance speech, referenced Oscar Robertson, an Indianapolis high school legend before becoming one of the NBA’s all-time greats.
Now the entire front line from the Pacers that won two ABA titles is in the Hall – Daniels, Brown and McGinnis – plus Leonard as coach. Maybe point guard Freddie Lewis, one of the leaders, makes it through the Veterans committee, McGinnis’ path this time, away from the major competition in the North American category that includes most players with NBA backgrounds. Or maybe, more likely, McGinnis is the last of the group, Indy’s best hopes are with Donnie Walsh, the head of basketball operations decades later, as a Contributor, and the league of the red, white and blue ball league has sent its last representative to Springfield.
That would be disappointing for McGinnis, Leonard and others, still hoping the league and more Pacers players of the time get recognized. The group will remain tight no matter what, though, in a way other locker rooms could only dream, the definition of team chemistry. They’ll just yap it up back in Indy. Take some pictures.
Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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