Tag Archives: Pacers History

The trade that cost the Pacers their chance at Michael Jordan

In the dark ages of the Indiana Pacers early NBA history of the late 1970s and early 1980s, the team struggled and made many poor decisions at least partially due to financial instability. Perhaps none worse than one trade that involved a future draft pick.

(30 for 30 voice) What if I told you that after the Indiana Pacers traded away their chance at drafting the player many consider to be the greatest of all time in Michael Jordan?

In 1981, Head Coach Jack McKinney led the Pacers to its first winning season (44-38) in the NBA and their first trip to the playoffs on his way to being named Coach of the Year. But the team’s success was soon cut down when starting center James Edwards was lost in free agency to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

In order to keep pushing for the postseason, McKinney traded a first-round pick in the 1984 draft for Tom Owens, a journeyman center on the tail end of his career, to fill the void that Edwards left. Owens only played one season for the Pacers averaging 10.5 points per game and the team missed the playoffs with a 35-47 record.

Indiana then traded Mr. Owens to the Detroit Pistons for a second-round pick in the 1984 draft and won a combined 46 games over the next two seasons.

The Pacers finished with the worst record in the Eastern Conference in the 1983-84 season and McKinney was fired. That draft pick they traded away for a short-term fix ended up being the second overall selection.

The 1984 NBA Draft is widely considered one of the best ever and ended up having five Hall of Famers. Hakeem Olajuwon went first overall to the Houston Rockets. The Portland Trail Blazers infamously took Sam Bowie and Michael Jordan fell to third with the Chicago Bulls. 

Maybe the Pacers would have made the same mistake the Blazers did and that’s the decision that would haunt them the most from the 1980s instead of the Owens trade. Or maybe Jordan would have led Indiana to multiple NBA titles like he did with Chicago. We’ll never know.

Donnie Walsh took over the Pacers personnel decisions in 1986 and steadily built the consistently competitive, respectable franchise that came closer than anyone to beating the Jordan Bulls during their dynasty as they took them to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals in 1998. 

Jon Wertheim of SI.com once said the Pacers were trying to break the “curse of Tom Owens,” similar to the Red Sox curse of trading away Babe Ruth. With all their bad luck since he said that in the early 2000s, it rings a little more true: Malice at the Palace, the GQ Photo with the struggle of 2013-14, Paul George’s broken leg, and Victor Oladipo’s injury.

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A Brief Pacers History: The Curse of December 18th

The Indiana Pacers played what may end up being their worst game of the season against the Cleveland Cavaliers last night.

The game was marred by a lack of energy throughout and crucial miscues in the final minute including three consecutive missed free throws by Victor Oladipo and a blatant foul that went uncalled as Larry Nance Jr. tossed Oladipo to the ground before tipping in the game winner at the buzzer as the Pacers lost 92-91. Just like that the hottest team in the league lost to one destined for the lottery.

Every good team has a game or two like this during the course of the season, but what if I told you this one may have been predetermined by cosmic forces beyond their control?

This isn’t the first time a frustrating, painful loss occurred recently on December 18th for Indiana. It’s starting to look like they’re cursed on this seemingly random day in the final month of the calendar year.

Reddit user ArchBishopBanana first called attention to the date by pointing out that the Pacers are just 1-5 on the 18th of December in the last 10 years. And there are some of those worst, most painful regular-season losses of the last decade among the five that have happened on that date.

Just last season, December 18th was a night that everyone would love to forget when Bojan Bogdanovic inexplicably threw away the game against the Boston Celtics as the Pacers lost 112-111.

Which of the following sounds more likely? A career 85.8% free-throw shooter refusing to take the foul with his team ahead in the final seconds and instead throw up a hot-air balloon of a pass near the half-court line or the Pacers are simply dealing with some dark magic on this otherwise inconsequential day in their history?

I’d ask if anyone was denied entrance to Banker’s Life Fieldhouse with a goat or some other barnyard animal on December 18th in the past, but the struggles on this date have been on the road as well.

In 2013 during the peak of the Pacers and Heat rivalry, Indiana lost a close game in Miami after leading by 15 points midway through the third quarter as the Heat went on a 10-0 run late. This one featured another memorable missed call as Paul George went up for a potential tying 3-pointer with LeBron James’s hand on his hip with a subtle push. He was visibly upset by the no call after his shot was way off and the buzzer sounded. The Pacers lost 97-94.

With these three excruciating losses all happening on the same day in recent seasons, it’s safe to say no Pacers fan would mind if they never played on 12/18 ever again.

The Curse of the Photoshoot: This Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words #4

In case this is your first time here, here’s the concept of This Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words: I take an interesting picture from the history of the Indiana Pacers from ABA glory to the modern era and literally write 1,000 words (or more) about the photo.

Previously in this series, we’ve looked at Reggie Miller’s torture of the Knicks faithful, Roger Brown and the ABA days, and the time the Pacers played with only six available players the day after the Malice at the Palace.

The Curse of the Photoshoot:

In the 2013-14 season, the Indiana Pacers looked like real challengers to the Miami Heat’s superteam at least for the first two-thirds of the season.

After taking the Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2012-13, the Pacers were on a mission the following season, starting off the year with a ludicrous 33-7 record. Paul George and Roy Hibbert were each All-Stars for the second time in their young careers. Hibbert was considered the best rim protector in the league with his mastery of verticality that made LeBron James bust out floaters that he used against nobody else, while George was one of the best 2-way wings in the league and still playing out the final season of his rookie contract before his extension would kick in.

Lance Stephenson, George Hill and David West completed the starting unit that made up the best 5-man lineup in the league that was light years ahead of anyone else defensively for much of the season under Head Coach Frank Vogel. This core was relatively young with great chemistry and the Pacers thought they had a team that would compete for years to come.

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“I thought we would be together five, six, seven years, making conference finals,” said Vogel, now with the Magic, recently to ESPN.com.

On February 25, 2014, the Indiana Pacers had a record of 42-13 when the infamous photo that would appear in the March issue of GQ Magazine with the Pacers starting five unintentionally portraying a 90s R&B group and perfectly embodying the team’s (awful) slogan of Blue Collar Gold Swagger hit the Internet. While it was unknown at the time, a curse had been born.

After that Pacers GQ photo appeared, the Pacers finished the regular season just 14-13 in their remaining games, losing as many games and losing twice as often in its final 27 games compared to the team’s first 55, and the Pacers chemistry started to unravel as well.

While they still finished first in the conference and made it back to the conference finals, they nearly lost to the 8-seeded Atlanta Hawks in the first round and the upstart Washington Wizards gave the Pacers all they could handle in the second.

The Pacers lost to the Heat in a respectable six games, but many of the players from the photo and the team itself are still suffering from The Curse of the Photoshoot and have never fully recovered from the end of that 2013-14 season that started off so promising.

“Our window closed fast,” Larry Bird told ESPN.com.

Now only one player remains (Stephenson who returned from his exodus in the NBA desert) from the 2013-14 roster only three seasons later after George was traded to Oklahoma City and Lavoy Allen’s team option was declined, taking away the last remnants from the roster besides Stephenson. Even Bird has a smaller role with the team after resigning from his President of Basketball Operations position.

The Pacers missed the playoffs the following season and have finished 7th in the East the past two years. They now look prepared to start a rebuild around Myles Turner after trading away George.

Let’s look at what’s happened to each player from the infamous photo since the 2013-14 season from least affected to most affected by the curse:

David West:

West and his tight pants from the Pacers GQ photo seem to be the least affected by the curse, losing money, but gaining an NBA Championship. West decided to leave the Pacers by declining his $12 million player option after George’s lost broken leg season to get back to competing for titles and became a ring chaser that no longer had to be the only grown man and veteran voice in the locker room. After one season with the San Antonio Spurs, West joined the Warriors and got his ring this past season.

The Pacers have missed his veteran leadership since he left and his departure may have led to the Pacers plan to put George at the power forward spot the following season.

George Hill:

Hill had a career-best season in 2014-15 with an increased offensive responsibility with no George or Stephenson to share the ball with, but he also missed nearly half that season with various injuries. The following season Hill went blond and the Pacers rewarded him for his outstanding year by signing Monta Ellis and taking the ball away from Hill while he stood in the corner on most possessions. Aggressive George Hill became a rare sight.

Hill’s time as a blond should be no surprise when Hill enjoyed the Pacers GQ photoshoot the most among the starting five.

“GHill was probably the one that was really loving the whole photo shoot and loving his look,” George said when the photo came out. “They gave him that outfit and he ran with it.”

Hill was traded the following offseason in a 3-team deal that sent Jeff Teague to Indiana and Hill to the Utah Jazz. Hill had a great season for the Jazz but found his free agent market surprisingly thin as he again struggled with various injuries during the season that caused him to miss 33 games.

Hill ended up signing as a veteran mentor in basketball purgatory Sacramento on a 3-year, $57 million deal (fortunately for Hill, the Kings seem to be much less Kangz-like with their recent moves and draft picks) after he had declined an extension with the Jazz during the season for worth $80 million over four years. Teague meanwhile left the Pacers after just one season for the Timberwolves on a nearly identical 3-year, $57 million contract as the Pacers preferred to look elsewhere as they begin to rebuild.

Lance Stephenson:

Stephenson was nearly an All-Star in 2014 and led the league in triple doubles with five (which seems so small after last season’s MVP race) but also got into a fight with teammate Evan Turner, who was acquired for Danny Granger at the deadline, during a practice and became most well known for blowing into LeBron’s ear during the conference finals. He was also seen as one of the problems for the Pacers fraying chemistry down the stretch.

“There were issues with Lance not making the All-Star team,” Vogel told ESPN.com. “The addition of Evan kind of screwed him up. Evan’s a great guy. The moves totally made sense. They just messed us up a little.”

Stephenson was an unrestricted free agent the summer after the 2013-14 season and the Pacers tried to woo him with a personal movie and offered him a 5-year, $44 million contract when free agency opened. Stephenson and his (now former) agent declined the deal, thinking that the Pacers were low-balling and he would be able to find a better contract elsewhere.

“I wanted to stay there but they gave me a deadline where I had to choose,” Stephenson told the IndyStar when he returned as a Hornet. “So there wasn’t no time for me to make a decision. They gave me a deadline (before) how long it (was) going to take for them to go somewhere else. I had to make a quick decision and me and my agent decided we would see what other teams (were) talking about.”

Stephenson never found a better offer as he ended up settling for a short-term 3-year contract for $27 million with the Charlotte Hornets that had a team option on the final season as the Pacers quickly moved on to other free agents, signing C.J Miles and Rodney Stuckey.

After Stephenson had the worst 3-point shooting season in history in his first and only season with the Hornets, he was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers traded him to the Memphis Grizzlies halfway through the 2015-16 season and though Stephenson had some success, the Grizzlies declined his team option and didn’t bring him back.

Stephenson found little interest on the open market as he hit free agency again this past summer and ended up making the New Orleans Pelicans on an unguaranteed contract to start the 2016-17 season, but he was let go after just six games after injuring his groin. Once recovered, Stephenson signed a 10-day contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves, but after six games he an injured ankle and was not retained by the Wolves.

After playing for five teams in three seasons and his career prospects looking grim, Stephenson was given a lifeline by Bird and the team he now knows he never should have left in the first place. Stephenson signed a 3-year, $12 million deal and immediately looked like his old self once he was back in a Pacers uniform, providing a spark to an inconsistent Pacers team that went 5-1 to end the season to make the playoffs.

“I’ve been on so many teams,” Stephenson told reporters after he returned, “it felt like seven years ago. I’ve been in five different places since I left here. … It makes you stronger, it makes you smarter, and it humbles you also.”

Stephenson will in all likelihood come off the bench for the Pacers this season, but the real test for whether the curse is done with him will be if his humility from his struggles for three years outside of the organization remains with Lance as the team rebuilds.

Roy Hibbert:

None of these players have had a steeper decline in their career post-GQ-photo than Hibbert. Hibbert was an All-Star and the best rim protector in the league in 2014, but in the playoffs he became a laughingstock on the Internet as he had multiple scoreless games, even matching his zero points with zero rebounds on one occasion.

Hibbert, always prone to inconsistency, seemed to lose all confidence when the Pacers signed Andrew Bynum and fed him the ball in the post more in two games off the bench than the Pacers ever looked for Hibbert inside. Bynum’s time with the team was short, lasting only those two games before succumbing to injury, but Hibbert’s game never fully recovered. Rumors also swirled that George slept with Hibbert’s fiancé and that was causing his poor play (George denied these rumors in an Instagram post of him, Hibbert and Hill fishing together).

Hibbert’s fall was quickened by a rapidly changing league that was going smaller and faster and spread the court with all five positions. Pero Antic forced Hibbert outside his comfort zone in the first-round against the Hawks by forcing Hibbert to defend him at the 3-point line and Hibbert became a liability instead of the lynchpin to the league’s best defense.

After one more so-so season with the Pacers, Bird lost his patience with Hibbert and after failing to get Hibbert to decline his player option by letting him and the world know his role would be limited next season, Bird traded him away for a 2019 second-round pick to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Hibbert played one season with the Lakers and started 81 games but scored just 5.9 points per game and was no longer able to make nearly as much of a difference on the defensive end. Hibbert played the first few months of last season as the backup center for the Hornets before being traded to the Milwaukee Bucks. Hibbert never played a game for the Bucks before being traded to the Denver Nuggets a few weeks later where he played garbage minutes in only six games.

The 2-time All-Star, 9-year NBA veteran is now still a free agent and if he finds a team, it may just be on a minimum contract as centers like Hibbert are becoming more and more obsolete as the NBA continues to evolve. The argument could be made that Hibbert deserves the “most-cursed” title on this list.

Paul George:

In the summer following the photo, George broke his leg while playing in an exhibition for Team USA. While George would eventually come back better than ever, the lost season in George’s prime would end up making George ineligible for the Designated Player Extension (George needed two of the past three seasons on one of the All-NBA teams, but in the first of those three seasons George played in only a handful of games due to his leg) that would have allowed the Pacers to offer George a massive $200 million plus extension this summer that may have made George more likely to stay.

Instead the Indiana Pacers likely started to lose George as soon as Bird decided to move him to power forward the year after his injury despite him seemingly having no interest in playing the position. Bird’s other failed additions like Monta Ellis, Rodney Stuckey and Al Jefferson combined with disappointing overall team performances also likely added to George’s discontent, but it all started with the photo and then the injury. George went from saying that one day he wanted to pass Reggie Miller to being destined for the Lakers in a span of just two years.

George seemed to lament being the last guy left from those teams before Stephenson returned as player after player was either traded away or left of their own accord in free agency.

“That team is gone,” George told ESPN.com of that group. “It happens. Players move on, organizations move on. You deal with it. You keep playing.”

George is actually the only reason the GQ photo exists in the first place. Originally GQ approached just George, but George asked if the entire starting unit could join him for the shoot. GQ obliged.

“They reached out to me to do some GQ, and I thought it’d be cool to get the whole starting five in it,” said George the day the picture was released.

With the way George handled his exit and his role in the creation of the curse (only half-joking on the latter), it may be a long time before most Pacers fans can look back at these teams and remember the good times fondly.

While you can claim that other factors actually led to the Pacers demise that season and beyond like the trading of Granger, the failed addition of Bynum, the league evolving overnight or the team’s crumbling chemistry, the Curse of the Photoshoot has struck a few more teams in the years since the Pacers GQ photo.

The Seattle Seahawks made the same R&B cover photo mistake that the Pacers made and lost Super Bowl XLIX to the New England Patriots after quarterback Russell Wilson threw at interception at the goal-line in the closing moments.

The Golden State Warriors had what appeared to be a JC Penney’s catalog shoot during their historic 73-win season, but lost a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers that season.

The New York Giants added to the curse and its rapidly growing list of victims last year with their boat trip picture before quickly losing to the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs.

George McGinnis elected to the Hall of Fame

A true Indiana basketball legend finally received his due today as George McGinnis was elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

McGinnis had seemed to come to peace with never being elected back in 2015.

“I probably won’t get inducted”, McGinnis said then. “I know and I know the guys I played with know what I did and what I brought to the game. That’s good enough for me.”

McGinnis was a key part of the Pacers ABA dynasty and joins fellow recent Hall of Fame inductees Mel Daniels, Roger Brown, and Bobby “Slick” Leonard from those ABA Championships.

“I’ve seen every player that’s come down the road the last 60 years,” Leonard told the Indy Star, “and you’ve got to be kidding me. There are guys in the Hall of Fame that Big George would eat alive.”

McGinnis’s career achievement list is long and impressive: 2-time ABA Champion, 1974-75 ABA Co-MVP with Julius Erving, six All-Star selections in a span of just seven seasons, and his number 30 is retired by the Indiana Pacers.

His Co-MVP season is unparalleled by anyone in basketball history with 29.8 points, 14.3 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game. No one can match those incredible numbers in a single season.

McGinnis improbably led the Pacers to the ABA finals that season after Roger Brown and Mel Daniel were no longer with the team. They lost to the Kentucky Colonels 4-1.

McGinnis also won an Indiana High School championship while he was attending Washington High School in Indianapolis and was named Mr. Basketball. He also played at Indiana University and was the first sophomore to lead the Big Ten in scoring while averaging 29.9 points and 14.7 rebounds per game.

The Day After the Brawl: This Picture is Worth a Thousand Words #3

In case this is your first time here, here’s the concept of This Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words: I take an interesting picture from the history of the Indiana Pacers from ABA glory to the modern era and literally write 1,000 words about the photo.

If you missed the first and second of the series: Here’s my analysis of Reggie-Miller-tortured Knicks fans and here’s a look at Roger Brown and the ABA days.

My 1,000 words start now:

First, it is extremely hard to find pictures for this game, so this will kind of be “the box score is worth a thousand words” this time around with a couple of pictures sprinkled in.

Could you tell what game this is from just the Pacers side of the box score?  Continue reading The Day After the Brawl: This Picture is Worth a Thousand Words #3

How the Pacers have fared in past Game 7s

The Indiana Pacers face off in a series-deciding Game 7 tonight against the Toronto Raptors. In their NBA history, the Pacers are 3-4 in Game 7s, including 2-4 on the road. Here’s a brief overview of each one:

1994 Eastern Conference Finals

Indiana Pacers 90, New York Knicks 94


The first of the team’s Game 7s in their NBA History, the Pacers and Knicks faced off in the playoffs for the second-straight season. One of the epic series battles chronicled in one of ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentaries: Winning Time. The Pacers came up short in this one, losing 94-90. Reggie Miller led both teams in scoring with 25 points.  Continue reading How the Pacers have fared in past Game 7s

Mel Daniels, Pacers legend, dies at the age of 71

The world lost a beloved man today. Pacers legend and Hall of Famer Mel Daniels died at the age of 71. On the basketball court, Daniels was one of the Pacers all-time greats. He averaged over 19 points and 16 rebounds in his six seasons with the team while winning 3 ABA Championships. Daniels was a 2-time ABA MVP, a 7-time ABA All-Star, and the league’s all-time leader in rebounds. He turned down a scholarship offer to play with another Indiana hoops legend, Oscar Robertson, at Cincinnati to be the first first-round draft pick to chose the ABA over the NBA. He’s one of only four Pacers to have his number retired by the organization. After his playing career was over, Daniels served many positions in the Pacers organization including assistant coach and scout and was an active part of the franchise even today. Here are reactions from all over the NBA:

Continue reading Mel Daniels, Pacers legend, dies at the age of 71

Roger Brown: This Picture is Worth a Thousand Words #2

In case, this is your first time here: Here’s the concept of This Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words: I take an interesting picture from the history of the Indiana Pacers from ABA glory to the modern era and literally write 1,000 words about the photo.

If you missed the first of the series: Here’s my analysis of Reggie-Miller-tortured Knicks fans.

My 1,000 words start now:

Continue reading Roger Brown: This Picture is Worth a Thousand Words #2

Reggie Miller at the Garden: This Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words #1

Trying out a new blog post series today called This Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words. You can probably guess what this series will be, but here’s the concept: I find an interesting picture from Pacers history (from the way, way back in the ABA days to the glorious shots of the current team) and literally write one thousand words on it. This could be a disaster, but it should be a fun one.

I can’t think of a better way to start than with my favorite sports photo of all-time as seen above. Here we go, exactly 1,000 words starting now:
Continue reading Reggie Miller at the Garden: This Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words #1

How the Pacers traded Dale Davis for a 2019 2nd-round draft pick

Diving through a transaction web and seeing all the moves that had to happen in order for a team to get a certain player can be mesmerizing at times. I was thinking about this the other day and found one web that will go back nearly 30 years by the time it comes to fruition. It all boils down to this: The Pacers traded Dale Davis for a 2019 2nd-round pick. Confused? Well, let me explain:

Continue reading How the Pacers traded Dale Davis for a 2019 2nd-round draft pick