Monday, May 9, 2011
Horace "Bones" McKinney is probably the most Zelig-like figure in basketball history.
He first rose to prominence as a 6-foot-6 power forward on a legendary team at Durham High School in the late 1930s and early '40s. One of the greatest prep teams in North Carolina's rich history, Durham won 73 straight games with a schedule that included college and professional barnstorming teams.
McKinney spurned coach Eddie Cameron and the hometown Duke Blue Devils in favor of North Carolina State. After his college career was interrupted by World War II, McKinney finished at the University of North Carolina — likely becoming the only player that will ever play hoops for both the Wolfpack and the Tar Heels. McKinney helped lead UNC to the 1946 championship game, which the Tar Heels lost to Oklahoma A&M, 43-40.
Pro basketball was still finding its footing at the time, and McKinney was there to witness epochal moments. He played with the Washington Capitals for three seasons in the Basketball Association of America before that league's teams were absorbed to form the NBA in 1949-'50.
McKinney also played two seasons for the Boston Celtics. At both of his professional stops, McKinney played under Red Auerbach. The coaching deity became a lifelong confidante. Auerbach drafted Sam Jones out of North Carolina Central University sight unseen in 1957, strictly on a favorable report from McKinney.
After his pro career ended in 1951, McKinney struggled to find direction. Famously silver-tongued, he became an ordained Baptist minister and an assistant coach at Wake Forest under Murray Greason.
McKinney took over for Greason and coached at Wake Forest from 1957-'65. McKinney still climbed onto the pulpit from time to time, but his best preaching probably came when he talked Len Chappell and Billy Packer into playing for the Demon Deacons. That duo formed the core of a team that made it to the Final Four in 1962, the high-water mark in Wake Forest's history.
McKinney cut an eccentric figure on the sideline. He was a spiritual precursor to Al McGuire with his antics and garrulous nature. McKinney claimed to drink 25 Pepsis a day and sweat through 10 pounds during an ACC battle. When the ACC wanted to cut down on coaches’ tantrums, McKinney installed a seatbelt on his chair.
Soft drinks weren't McKinney's only vice. His manic actions became increasingly fueled by booze and amphetamines. Wake Forest quietly let McKinney go in 1965 after just eight seasons at the helm. He was 122-94 with the Demon Deacons, including 8-2 against a young UNC coach named Dean Smith.
The next coaching gig didn’t come until 1969 when McKinney took charge of the Carolina Cougars in the upstart ABA. He finished 42-42 in his first season and then stepped down after starting out 17-25 in 1970-’71.
After that, McKinney lived the life of an itinerant preacher and professor emeritus of hoops. Befitting his gregarious personality, he often worked as a color commentator for ACC and Campbell College games.
McKinney died at 78 in 1997. The inimitable “Bones” left behind a body of work that is likely unrivaled in its historical scope.