After the recent San Francisco confrontation pitting the New York Knicks against the massed might of the rest of the National Basketball Association, young and gifted George McGinnis appeared suddenly to have become a nonresident of at least three major U.S. cities. One thing for sure, he wasn't a New Yorker; NBA Commissioner Larry O'Brien had made that clear in throwing out the $3.1 million contract McGinnis had signed with the Knicks. On the other hand, he didn't seem to belong in Indianapolis any longer, either, though that ABA city had been his home for four years. And as for Philadelphia, which owned the NBA draft rights to him, the word was that McGinnis wanted no part of the City of Brotherly Love.
At any rate, McGinnis' reported revulsion toward Philadelphia is what Mike Burke, the natty president of the Knicks, was counting on when he gambled by signing the ABA superstar forward to a six-year contract that insulted every NBA bylaw on the books. " McGinnis has always said he'd never play for Philadelphia anyway," Burke repeated last week as the debris from the explosion he had caused settled around him.
But as it turns out, what Burke believed was not entirely accurate, and thereby may hang the tale of several franchises. What McGinnis actually said, according to McGinnis, was that he didn't like Philadelphia.
"I don't like any big city," says McGinnis. "I don't like New York, either. The only thing I like about New York is Madison Square Garden. It would be silly of me to say I'd never play in Philadelphia. We are going to talk money. If they offer enough, I'll sign."
In the first post-confrontation round of talks, McGinnis and his agent, Irwin Weiner, informed Philadelphia that they would appreciate an offer of $600,000 more than New York had agreed upon, spread over the same six-year period. Last Sunday, Pat Williams, the 76ers' general manager, flew to Indianapolis to have lunch with McGinnis, who was getting ready to leave on a 17-day tour of the Philippines. Williams said he did not think money would be a big problem. "We are not looking for a bargain. We will make McGinnis an offer which will make him a wealthy young man and one which we can live with. Our offer won't lose us the deal. What could stop it is if George decides not to leave the ABA. With the Knicks thing, McGinnis cut the umbilical cord with Indiana, and if he did it once he can do it again."
That has been the problem in the past: McGinnis' reluctance to abandon Indiana where, until now, he has been happy and moderately prosperous. He was a high school star in Indianapolis and then an All-America at Indiana University, which he left after his sophomore year to sign with the Pacers, and the hometown ties are still strong. His mother is in Indianapolis; also his girl and his lifelong friends. He has a farm just outside the city.
But before the start of the past season, Weiner persuaded his player to consider making a move—but only to New York, where the big dollars were. In August the Knicks, who desperately need just such a powerful forward, obtained from the 76ers a 30-day period of grace in which to woo McGinnis. At that point, Philadelphia was having problems. Billy Cunningham had not yet returned. Freddie Carter was unsigned and Doug Collins, now a potential star at guard, had not developed to that stage. "We felt we needed a lift," says Williams.
If New York landed McGinnis, Philadelphia would get that lift by receiving from the Knicks in exchange Earl Monroe, a top draft pick and two peach baskets stuffed with money. But the Knicks had no luck with McGinnis. In October, under the same 30-day conditions, they tried again. McGinnis instead signed a new two-year Pacer contract, with the proviso that for $86,750 he could buy his way free after one season.
By the end of the season Philadelphia's player situation had changed dramatically—and so had McGinnis' market value. He had had a superb year with Indiana, sharing the MVP award with Julius Erving. "When the Knicks came to us a third time, we told them no," Williams says. "We want McGinnis in Philadelphia. We aren't going to trade, deal or sell George."
At the moment, McGinnis technically is still the property of the Pacers. He has until Aug. 1 to pay the $86,750 or be obligated to play another season in Indiana. And while the Pacers haven't matched the NBA offers, they have come up with a $2.4 million six-year package.