Veteran sportswriter Mark Montieth (Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis) returns to the podcast (Episode #41) to help complete the story of the Indiana Pacers’ nine-year sojourn through the American Basketball Association – including its shaky transition into a merger-expanded NBA in 1976.
Arguably the most stable and successful franchise in the ABA’s short but colorful history, the franchise nearly collapsed under its own weight after its inaugural National Basketball Association campaign – if not for a hastily arranged 1977 Independence Day weekend telethon fundraiser devised by head coach Bobby “Slick” Leonard and his wife Nancy, that miraculously saved the team and cemented its place in the Indianapolis cultural landscape.
Along the way, however, the ABA Pacers made indelible marks on both the city and the basketball establishment, including: barn-burning rivalries (especially with the Kentucky Colonels and Utah Stars); stellar local collegiate talent signings (including Purdue All-American and Sports Illustrated high school cover boy Rick Mount, and Indiana University standout and eventual Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer George McGinnis); a downtown-revitalizing, franchise-stabilizing, state-of-the-art Market Square Arena; and the acrobatic, yet distinctively ‘fro’ed Darnell “Dr. Dunk” Hillman, who just may have been able to leap high enough to nab quarters off the top of backboards, according to sportswriter legend.
Plus: Pacers general manager Mike Storen answers his own letter; Bob Netolicky secures a trade, then begs to come back; the WHA hockey Racers nearly sink the franchise; and why Indianapolis' Pacers made the NBA cut - but Louisville's Colonels did not.