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Indiana's Team: 50 Years With the Indiana Pacers

Fifty years ago, a group of businessman and a newspaper sports reporter got together and put up money to start an ABA team in Indiana. The rest, as they say, is history.

INDIANAPOLIS--Fifty years ago a group of businessmen and a newspaper sports reporter got together and put up money to start a pro basketball team for Indiana. It wasn't the first in the state, but with your support, it's been the strongest and the longest. 

Before you listen to "Indiana's Team: 50 Years With the Indiana Pacers", here is a short history of your Indiana Pacers:

  • The Indiana Pacers team was started in 1967 when a group of businessmen and a newspapers reporter put up $6,000 to start a franchise in the American Basketball Association. Starting an NBA team would have been much more expensive.
  • The ABA was not a minor league association, but they did offer fans a unique experience, with half-time entertainment that included, for the Pacers, a cow-milking contest, a sock hop, and Victor the Wrestling Bear, who took on local sportscasters and even some fans. Yes, he had a muzzle.
  • The Pacers first coach was not Bobby "Slick" Leonard. He took over in the beginning of the second season and took the team to three ABA championships. For some time he kept his full-time job of selling yearbooks and class rings.
  • The Pacers moved from the state fairgrounds coliseum to Market Square Arena in 1974. It was bigger and offered fans a better experience. Darnell Hillman said he enjoyed the coliseum better because he felt the team had a better connection to the fans there.
  • The Pacers' moving downtown is credited with the beginning of the revitalization of the area. Mayor Richard Lugar says some people wanted to put the new arena in the suburbs, so he used federal money to get it located downtown.
  • The Pacers became part of the NBA in 1976, as part of a merger. Indiana was one of only four ABA teams accepted into the NBA, and an Indiana businessman put up the $3 million to get it done.
  • The Pacers had some money troubles that threatened to shut the team down or force a sale. In 1977 Nancy Leonard, assistant general manager of the Pacers, came up with the idea of a telethon to sell 8,000 season tickets and save the team. The telethon was put together in two weeks and they sold just over 8,000 tickets, just in time.
  • Coach "Slick" Leonard and his wife Nancy left the Indiana Pacers in 1980. The coach returned in the mid-80s as a television and eventually radio commentator.
  • George McGinnis, one of the great ABA players for the Pacers, left the team in the mid-70s to play for Philadelphia. He returned in 1980 to finish his career with Indiana.
  • Reggie Miller was drafted by the Pacers in 1987. Many people expected Hoosier Steve Alford to be drafted, rather than the standout from UCLA. Miller's arrival brought a change of fortune for the team and they made it to the playoffs several times in the 90s.
  • Former Celtic and Indiana native Larry Bird became head coach of the team in 1997, and eventually president of the organization. He left in 2017.
  • Reggie Miller retired from the team in 2005. His no. 31 jersey was retired in 2006.
  • The Pacers left Market Square Arena in 1999, to take up residence in the new Conseco Field House, part of the downtown sports district in Indianapolis. Market Square Arena was demolished in 2001. Conseco was renamed Bankers Life Field House in 2011, and has hosted games and concerts, such as the recent run of Garth Brooks shows.
  • Paul George was drafted by the Pacers in 2010, and again brought in some wins for the Blue and Gold. He was traded in 2017.
  • The Pacers have not yet won an NBA championship. The closest they have come is an NBA finals series in 2000, which was won by the L.A. Lakers.

PHOTOS: Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images Sport, Pacers Sports & Entertainment, Tim de Frisco/Getty Images Sport, Vincent Laforet/Getty Images.

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