From the moment he first learned the news in March, George McGinnis has been thinking about how he could fit all of the people he had to thank into his Hall of Fame acceptance speech.
After all, the list is long. It starts, as it often does, with his parents, who came to Indianapolis in search of a better life.
“That turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me,” McGinnis said of his parents’ move to Indiana. “Because it’s hard growing up in Indiana and not falling in love with the game of basketball.”
The bond with the sport was formed watching Oscar Robertson’s Crispus Attucks team win a state title after an undefeated season. From that moment on, McGinnis could almost always be found on a court, working on what became his trademarked one-handed jumpshot.
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At the high school level, McGinnis was as feared an opponent as there was. But his father, Burnie, rarely got to see him play, since he was working long hours to help keep food on the table.
Tragically, McGinnis’ father died in a construction accident, but McGinnis warmly recalled the Indiana-Kentucky All-Star Game that his father got to see nine days before his passing. In the game, McGinnis scored 53 points and pulled down 30 rebounds.
“He told me he how proud he was of me, one of the few times he ever told me that, and that was one of the best feelings I ever had,” McGinnis recalled of the conversation with his father after the game.
During his speech on Friday night at Symphony Hall in Springfield, Massachusetts, McGinnis continued to go through the list of those he was thankful for. On that list was of course Bobby “Slick” Leonard, McGinnis’ coach when he first joined the Pacers, a mentor, and still a friend, joining McGinnis on stage during the enshrinement ceremony.
“Like my real father, Slick, you taught all of us to be tough, but you also taught us to have compassion,” McGinnis said to Leonard during his speech.
McGinnis also thanked some of his teammates who have since passed away, such as Mel Daniels and Roger Brown — the cornerstones of Indiana’s early 1970s dynasty.
After McGinnis’ playing days were over, he stayed in Indianapolis, and remained present at basketball games. For a long time, McGinnis and fellow Hall-of-Famer Mel Daniels operated as older relatives to young Pacers players, imparting the pride of the organization to the next batch of Pacers.
Perhaps no other player in team history took their lessons more to heart than Reggie Miller, who was on stage alongside McGinnis during his enshrinement speech. McGinnis recalled to the audience taking immense pride at the hustle and passion that Miller played the game with.
“You’ve done more for the Pacers organization than any player that’s ever played in that uniform.” McGinnis told Miller. “And I can’t tell you how honored I am to have you standing here tonight.”
But if McGinnis and company were the cornerstones of the Pacers, it was clear that McGinnis’ wife, Linda, is the cornerstone of McGinnis’ life. McGinnis recalled meeting his wife as far back as kindergarten.
“I can’t tell you how much I love you and I appreciate you every day,” said McGinnis.
Being inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame is the ultimate individual achievement. After all, it’s not teams that get in, it’s players and coaches.
But from McGinnis’ speech on Friday night, it was clear he didn’t want to join basketball immortality on his own, he wanted to bring every single person who helped him along his legendary path. Every coach at every level. Every teammate. Every fan.
Wisely, McGinnis saved the one last “thank you” of his speech for the thing that made his success possible.
“Thank you basketball,” he said with a smile, and walked off the stage to applause.