History of the Indiana Pacers
In the 1999-2000 season, the Indiana Pacers made it to the NBA Finals for the first time, losing in six games to Shaquille O'Neal and the Los Angeles Lakers. But it was not the first time the Pacers had been in championship play.
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In the 1960s and early 1970s, the Pacers were the dominant team in the old American Basketball Association. The Pacers won three ABA national championships and reached the title round in five of the nine seasons the league existed.
When the ABA folded in 1976, the Pacers made a difficult transition to the National Basketball Association. Surviving insolvency only through a telethon the Pacers rebuilt, adapted and emerged in the 1990s as a championship-contending team.
The ABA Years
The Pacers franchise began as a charter member of the ABA in 1967 when a group of eight businessmen invested a few thousand dollars apiece.
The first Pacers coach was Larry Staverman and the first player signed by the team was Roger Brown. A New York City playground legend from Brooklyn, Brown's promising career was halted during his freshman year at the University of Dayton because of his association with a local gambler. Brown never played a varsity college game and was banned by the NBA.
"Oscar Robertson told me to go to Dayton and find Roger Brown," Mike Storen, the Pacers' first general manager, later recalled. Storen found him working the night shift at a General Motors factory and playing Amateur Athletic Union ball when the ABA gave him new life.
Already 25, Brown led Indiana in scoring that first season with a 19.6 average. Other first-season Pacers included Bob Netolicky and Freddie Lewis. The team finished 38-40.
Before the second season the Pacers acquired Mel Daniels, a 6 foot 9 center. After a slow start Staverman was replaced with Bob "Slick " Leonard nine games into the season. The Pacers first reached the ABA Finals in the 1968-69 season, but lost to the Oakland Oaks, 4-1.
1970: 1st Championship
After posting a 1969-70 regular season record of 59-25, easily the best in the league, the Pacers glided through the first two rounds of the playoffs losing only one game.
In the Finals they faced the Los Angeles Stars. The Pacers won Game 1 at the State Fairgrounds Coliseum 109-93, and Game 2 -- which was the ABA's first nationally televised playoff game -- 114-111. But in Game 3 the Stars pulled out a 109-106 win, ending Indiana's six-game playoff win streak.
In Game 4, Brown scored 53 points in a 142-120 Pacer victory. He hit 18-of-29 field-goal attempts and 14-of-16 foul shots, while adding 13 rebounds and six assists.
The Pacers came home to Indianapolis for what most assumed would be the final game. About 200 fans greeted the flight, a first. The setup was perfect for the Pacers to win the title at home. Champagne was on ice in the Coliseum locker room, and the CBS cameras were positioned to record the postgame festivities. A crowd of 10,548 was on hand, with the overflow fans paying $1 to stand. But the Pacers lost in overtime 117-113 and had to return to Los Angeles to try again. Game 6 was another shining moment for Brown, who scored 45 points, and hit two free throws with 2 seconds left to clinch a 111-107 victory. He averaged 45.6 points over the final three games of the series.
Two more championships, '72-73
Before the 1970-71 season a realignment of ABA teams landed the Pacers in the Western division. They won the division that year but were eliminated in the playoffs by the Utah Stars.
The Pacers signed George McGinnis for the 1971-72 season and he made an immediate impact, moving into the starting lineup at forward and sending Brown to the backcourt.
In the 1972 playoffs, the Pacers were nearly eliminated in the second round after they lost the first two games to Utah. Indiana came back to win the next two to even the series, then fell behind again with a Game 5 loss despite posting 41 points in the final quarter. In Game 6, McGinnis, Darnell Hillman and Rick Mount came off the bench in the second half to combine for 44 points and 23 rebounds to even the series again 3-3. In the final game at Salt Lake City, Billy Keller hit two free throws with 5 seconds left. The Pacers won, 117-113.
In the championship series against the New York Nets, Freddie Lewis and McGinnis were catalysts in a 4-2 series victory. More than 4,000 fans greeted the champs at the airport when they returned home.
In his second season, McGinnis averaged 27.6 points per game, second in the ABA only to Julius "Dr. J" Erving, and had 1,022 rebounds (fourth in the league).
Darnell Hillman in the "big hair" days of the mid-1970s ABA. (File Photo)
At this stage of its history - with player such as of Erving, Dan Issel, Billy Cunningham and Artis Gilmore - the ABA could legitimately claim to be comparable to the rival NBA. The Pacers had McGinnis in his absolute prime, complemented brilliantly by Daniels, Lewis, Brown and Donnie Freeman. There was also remarkable depth with Hillman, Keller, Don Buse and Gus Johnson.
In the 1972-73 regular season the Pacers won a relatively modest 51 games and finished second in the West. In the post-season they were challenged in every playoff series, but won their second title in a row in perhaps the league's strongest year.
After getting past Denver and Utah, the Pacers faced the Kentucky Colonels in the finals. Kentucky protested Game 1, which Indiana won 111-107 in overtime. The dispute arose when Kentucky's Jim O'Brien missed the rim just before the shot clock expired. The officials could not hear the buzzer because of the noise at Freedom Hall, O'Brien got the ball back and made a second shot which would have broken a 100-100 tie. Following a conference, the officials negated the basket.
Gilmore and Issel combined for 57 points to win Game 2 for the Colonels and even the series. In the next game, McGinnis' try for a game-winning shot with 25 seconds was rejected by Gilmore and the Colonels won 92-88. Indiana squared the series, 90-86, in a raucous Game 4, during which Leonard was ejected after a second technical.
With the Pacers trailing in Game 5, McGinnis fumbled the ball out of bounds as he drove for the basket. Five seconds later, he stole a pass near mid-court, took the ball to the hoop and stuffed in the shot to give Indiana an 89-86 victory. Kentucky won Game 6, 109-93, at the Coliseum, forcing Indiana to again win a title on the road. The Pacers won the series in Game 7 by beating the Colonels 88-81.
In 1973-74, the Pacers, showing much of the same lineup that had created so much success earlier, seemed to age overnight. The team started slow, gaining its second-place spot on the season's final day. They won a seven-game playoff series 4-3 over San Antonio and then lost to Utah in the second round.
The ABA folds; Pacers make a difficult transition
In the 1974-75 season the Pacers left the Fairgrounds Coliseum for a new home -- Market Square Arena. In their first appearence in the new building they lost to the San Antonio Spurs, 129-121, in double overtime. Their first victory at MSA didn't come until Oct. 23, 1974 against the St. Louis Spirits, 122-107. In what would be their last appearance in the ABA Finals, the Pacers lost to the Colonels, four games to one.
Gary Todd,WIBC radio morning man, Mayor Bill Hudnut and Chet Coppock, WISH TV during the "Save the Pacers" Telethon in July 1977. (Star File Photo)
The 1975-76 season was the last of the ABA. The Pacers finished with a 39-45 record the first losing season in seven years. The ABA merged with the National Basketball Association in 1976. To become an NBA team, the Pacers paid a heavy price. In addition to a $3.2 million dollar entry fee, the Pacers and the three other surviving ABA teams entering the league had to compensate the ABA franchises that folded. The new NBA teams also were barred from sharing in TV revenues for four years.
The Pacers' financial situation reached a crisis in 1977. It took a $100,000 contribution from a group of local businesses to keep the franchise going through June.
The team announced that unless season-ticket sales reached 8,000, the club would be sold to someone who might take the franchise elsewhere, meaning Market Square Arena would lose its main tenant.
A remarkable telethon:
Elmer Snow, then general manager of WTTV (Channel 4), which aired the Pacers games, offered to hold a telethon to keep the team in Indiana. The telethon began on the night of July 3, 1977 in the 500 Ballroom of the Indiana Convention Center. Ten minutes before going off the air, Nancy Leonard, wife of the Pacers' coach, announced that season ticket sales had topped 8,000. The telethon helped assure the Pacers a second season in the NBA. Although they survived that financial crisis, the Pacers continued to struggle. In 1977-78 they finished 31-51, in 1978-79, 38-44, and in 1979-80, 37-45.
In September 1979, 24-year-old Ann Meyers attended the Pacers' rookie free-agent camp. Although she didn't make the team, she is the only woman ever given an NBA tryout.
Clark Kellogg crashes into Geoff Huston of Cavaliers at Market Square Arena in 1983. (Star Photo Bud Berry)
1980s: Bob Leonard was replaced in 1980 with Jack McKinney, marking the first of several coaching changes in the decade. Under McKinney, the Pacers had their first winning NBA season, 44-38. McKinney was named NBA Coach of the Year in 1981.
One of the highlights of the 1982-83 season was the drafting of Clark Kellogg. In his rookie season he averaged 20.1 points and 10.6 rebounds. Kellogg stayed with the team for five years until chronic knee injuries ended his career. During his years as a Pacer he averaged 18.9 points and 9.6 rebounds. Kellogg later had a second career with the Pacers, as a broadcaster.
In the spring of 1983, the Pacers had a 20-62 record -- the worst finish in their seven-year NBA existence. Principal owner Sam Nassi and team president Frank Mariani were shopping the team around to potential buyers who would move the team to the West Coast. Herb and Melvin Simon, co-chairmen of Simon Property Group and Melvin Simon & Associates, stepped forward at the urging of then-Mayor Bill Hudnut, and purchased the team to keep it in Indiana.
Jack McKinney was released from his contract after the 1983-84 season, and one of his assistants, George Irvine, was promoted to the head coaching position. The Pacers finished the season 22-60 including a 12-game losing streak. Jack Ramsey took over as coach for the 1986-87 season and the Pacers improved enough to make their first playoff appearence since 1981. Ramsey resigned after the team lost the first seven games of the next season and was replaced with Dick Versace.
During the second half of the 1980s, four players came along who would prove to be valuable. Wayman Tisdale was the second overall draft pick (behind Patrick Ewing) in 1985. He made the NBA All-Rookie Second Team scoring 14.7 points per game in his rookie season. He was traded, along with a draft pick, in 1989, to the Sacramento Kings. In 1986, Chuck "The Rifleman" Person was chosen in the draft. He was named Rookie of the Year and averaged 18.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game. He led the Pacers in scoring in his first three seasons. In 1991-92, his last season as a Pacer, Person became the franchise's all-time leading scorer (later surpassed by Reggie Miller). That summer he was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Reggie Miller came to the Pacers as the 11th overall pick in the 1987 draft. The pick was booed by many Hoosiers who wanted Indiana University's Steve Alford. The choice of Miller proved prophetic when his career sizzled and Alford's fizzled. Miller went on to become the Pacers' all-time career scoring leader, also ranking as one of the best three-point shooters in NBA history. He was instrumental in the Pacer's first NBA Finals appearance in 2000.
1990s: Dick Versace lasted three season and was fired in the middle of the 1990-91 season after a 9-16 start. Bob Hill was chosen to replace him. Under Hill, the Pacers made it to the playoffs but were eliminated in the first round. Hill was fired at the end of the 1992-93 season and replaced with Larry Brown.
During Brown's tenure the Pacers began to establish themselves as one of the top teams in the league. Indiana made it to the Eastern Conference Finals in both the 1993-94, and 1994-95 seasons, but lost both times, first to the New York Knicks and then to the Orlando Magic.
The 1996-97 season was plagued with injuries and, for the first time in seven years, the Pacers did not appear in the postseason. Brown resigned after the season ended. His departure led to Indiana native Larry Bird being named to replace him for the 1997-98 season.
In both 1998 and 1999, the Pacers made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. In 1998, they forced the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls into a seven-game series. In 1999, they won the Central Division championship for the second time in their NBA history, but lost the conference championship series to the New York Knicks.
2000-2001 The 1999-2000 season was the Pacers' first in Conseco Fieldhouse, their $183 million new home. That year they made it past the Knicks, earning the Eastern Conference Championship, and a trip to the NBA Finals. In the Finals, the Pacers faced the Los Angeles Lakers, led by the imposing Shaquille O'Neal, who that season was the NBA's most valuable player. The Lakers won the league championship in six games.
Bird had originally agreed to a three-year contract and even after coming so close to a national championship declined offers to stay. Bird stepped down after the 2000 NBA Finals and was replaced by another NBA legend and Indiana college hero, Isiah Thomas. During the summer of 2000, the Pacers lost several veteran players to retirement and free agency. The team and its fans had hoped they would come back with another serious shot at the Finals. Instead, it was a season of transition as young players struggled to replace the veterans. The Pacers made it into the post-season, but were eliminated by Philadelphia in the 4th game of the first round.
The 2001-02 season wasn't much better as the Pacers went through the season struggling to win half their games. In a mid-season trade, Pacer veterans Jalen Rose and Travis Best went to the Chicago Bulls for center Brad Miller, forward Ron Artest, forward/guard Ron Mercer and guard Kevin Ollie. The Pacers badly needed a strong center and they got one in Brad Miller. The new team continued to struggle, but rallied near the end to squeak into the post season, facing the top-seed New Jersey Nets. The Nets won, but the series went the full five games and the final game was a double-overtime thriller that left the Pacers and their fans looking forward to another season.
2002-03: The Pacers had one of their best starts ever - 13-2, and at the All-Star break owned the best record in the Eastern Conference. However, the team finished the season by going 11-19 and ended with a record of 48-34. For the third year in a row, they lost in the first-round of the playoffs - this time to the Boston Celtics, four games to two.
2003-04: In July, the Pacers announced that a "rejuvenated" Larry Bird was returning to the Pacers - not to coach but as the President of Basketball Operations. Bird fired Isiah Thomas and brought in former assistant Rick Carlisle. The team had a franchise record 61 wins and ended the season with the best record in the NBA. For the first time ever, the Pacers had two players on the All-NBA team - Ron Artest and Jermaine O'Neill. Artest was also named the NBA Defensive Player of the Year. In the playoffs, Indiana swept Boston in the first round and defeated Miami in six games in round two, advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals. In the finals, the Pacers lost to the eventual-NBA champion Detroit Pistons four games to two.
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