Naming the team was the easy part. The real dilemma came after.
In the beginning of 1967, six local investors (including business people, an attorney and a sports reporter) schemed to bring professional basketball to Indianapolis. It wouldn’t be the first time a pro team resided in the Circle City — the Indianapolis Jets and Olympians had already come and gone. But the newly created American Basketball Association promised to be a worthy alternative to the still-fledgling NBA, and Hoosier powerbrokers looked to make the latest iteration of pro ball stick.
The team was quickly christened the Pacers, a name that honored harness racing while invoking the Indy 500. The tougher task came in deciding who the team would represent. Would they be the Indianapolis Pacers, or the Indiana Pacers?
You already know how that one worked out, and, in retrospect, it was the obvious decision. Basketball is Indiana’s game, played by Hoosiers from South Bend to Evansville, from Terre Haute to Richmond. The Pacers have resonated with fans in a way seldom experienced by other franchises. When the team faced economic ruin in 1977 shortly after joining the NBA, then-coach Bobby “Slick” Leonard and wife/general manager Nancy initiated a telethon wherein fans raised the $2 million needed to keep the team afloat and remain in Indy. You think Miami Heat fans would do the same?
But the Pacers have endeared themselves for more reasons than simply being a basketball team in basketball country. The team ranks among the most storied franchises in professional hoops. In 49 years, Indy has won three championships, made 32 postseason appearances and sent four representatives to the Hall of Fame.
This season will be Indiana’s 50th, and we commemorate the team’s history with this countdown of the 50 Greatest Pacers. Here, we look back on the good, the bad and the many dramatic moments brought to us by the state’s greatest pastime.
Sports reporters and personalities from around the city were solicited to submit ballots, of which we received 16. Voters ranked their 30 greatest Pacers, and we assembled the ballots into this final list. First place votes received 30 points, 30th place votes received one point. Ties were decided by the average ranking across all ballots.
David Benner (Pacers Director of Media Relations), Andrew Crowley (NUVO Contributor), Chris Denari (Pacers TV Play-By-Play Announcer), Roy Hobbson (NUVO Contributor), Wheat Hotchkiss (Pacers Web Manager), Jeremiah Johnson (Pacers Sideline Reporter), Jon R. LaFollette (NUVO Contributor), Mark Montieth (Pacers.com Reporter), Larra Overton (Sports Reporter, FOX 59), Greg Rapaport (Pacers Web Coordinator), David Searle (Co-Host, Miller Time Podcast), Jason Spells (Sports Reporter, WTHR), Kent Sterling (Radio Host, 1430 AM), Jon Washburn (Staff Writer, 8points9seconds.com), Brian Weiss (Social Media Manager, NUVO), Ed Wenck (Content Marketing, CEDIA).
No. 50 — Brad Miller (2001-2003)
POS: C PPG: 13.7 RPG: 8.1 AST: 2.4 FG%: 51.4
Miller played only 101 games for the Pacers, but the 7-foot Purdue alum made the most of his short stint. He displayed offensive versatility that transcended his position as a center, and became one of the few undrafted players to make the All-Star game (2003). Not bad for the second best Miller in team history.
CALL OF THE WILD: Miller retired in 2012 and began hosting his own hunting show, Country Boys Outdoors, which airs on the Sportsman Channel.
No. 49 — Troy Murphy (2006-2010)
POS: PF PPG: 13.3 RPG: 9.2 FG% 46.7 3P%: 41.3
It’s easy to forget Murphy, who played on a series of rebuilding Pacers teams that never made the postseason. But Murphy’s skill set as a three-point shooting big man was a precursor to today’s play-making power forward — a role team president Larry Bird unsuccessfully hoped Paul George would fill a season ago.
BACK TO SCHOOL: Murphy left the league in 2013 and enrolled at Columbia University to complete his college education.
Before blowing into LeBron’s ear, he earned the nickname Born Ready on the hyper competitive blacktops of NYC. There, he built an arsenal of moves that would later bring sex appeal to a slow-footed Pacers offense. Ankle-breaking crossovers, flashy no-look passes and an unbeatable swagger were all put to expert use during his final two seasons with the team.
BALL DON’T LIE: Stephenson holds the NBA record for the worst 3-point percentage in a single season with at least 100 attempts, shooting 17.1 percent from long range in 2014-15 as a member of the Charlotte Hornets.
After 10 seasons and winning three titles with the Lakers, Scott came to Indy a 32-year-old guard on the backside of his career. He rarely started, but excelled as a sixth man, providing a scoring punch off the bench for teams that made back-to-back appearances in the Eastern Conference Finals.
BAD TIMING: Scott was named coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010 the day before LeBron James bolted for Miami. That season, the LeBron-less Cavs lost 26 straight games — a new NBA record at the time.
Best spent the bulk of his career playing behind teammate Mark Jackson, but delivered highlights of his own — including the series-winning shot against the Milwaukee Bucks in 2000 during the first round of the playoffs. The win helped Indy to its only NBA Finals appearance to date.
PLAYING FOR THE OTHER TEAM: Pacers fans love to hate director and New York Knicks fan Spike Lee, but Best played a small role in Lee’s 1998 basketball film, He Got Game.
DELAYED DEBUT: Mitchell was drafted by the Houston Rockets in 1985 but didn’t make his NBA debut until 1989 when Minnesota entered the NBA as an expansion team.
No. 44 — Michael Williams (1990-1992)
POS: PG PPG: 13.2 AST: 6.5 STL: 2.5 FG% 49.4
He earned a ring playing a limited role his rookie season with Detroit (1988-89), but Williams didn’t come into his own until he signed with Indiana as a free agent. In his two years with the team — including 113 starts — he set new career marks in points per game (15.0) assists (8.2) and field goal percentage (49.9).
BEST FROM THE LINE: Williams holds the NBA record for most consecutive free throws made. From the end of the 1992 season and into the beginning of the 1993 season, he converted 97 straight attempts.
The Big Smooth arrived in Indy at the age of 37 and unable to jump over a piece of paper. But athleticism wasn’t what stood out to the Pacers — it was his ability to stretch the floor with an unconventional jump shot in which his feet rarely left the hardwood. His playing time was scattershot, but Perkins was always a threat.
OLD MAN GAME: Perkins is the oldest player in Pacers history. When he played his final game on May 2, 2001, he was 39 years, 10 months and 29 days.
Jackson is infamous for off-the-court activities — hurling haymakers during the brawl in Detroit and firing his gun in 2006 during an altercation at Club Rio. Though Cap’n Jack is among the most controversial Pacers, he played up to his role as a potent scorer on teams that otherwise could have contended for a title. DISRESPEK: Jackson released a rap album in 2012 when he as a member of the San Antonio Spurs. Teammate Tim Duncan wished to make a guest appearance but was rejected by Jackson.
Nicknamed Tank for his imposing girth (6-foot-11, 275 pounds) and raw power, Thompson was a double-double machine for the New York Knicks and Sacramento Kings. He spent most of his time in Indy as a backup, but his presence gave the team a bevy of big-man talent alongside Rik Smits and Dale Davis.
TOP PROSPECT: Thompson played college ball at the University of Texas and was the fifth pick in the 1982 draft — the highest Texas player selected until LaMarcus Aldridge went second overall in 2006.
Check back tomorrow for 40-31.