Staffers Share Their Favorite Moments
To take you behind the scenes in the final days of MSA, we offer these candid accounts of memories from franchise executive and staff members who worked in the old building (in alphabetical order).
As a spectator, the back-to-back nights that Billy Joel and Paul McCartney played. Two fabulous evenings of music.
As an employee and former Pacer beat writer, the best memory of all was Michael Jordan's comeback game, March 19, 1995. It was my first year working for the Pacers and we had less than 24 hours to prepare for an NBA Finals-like event at noon on Sunday. The way everyone chipped in to help, both marketing and facilities (who had a hockey game the night before), with little or no sleep showed me what a special place it was to work at and what special people worked there.
Plus, we won the darn game.
Compared to the palace that is Conseco Fieldhouse, Market Square Arena was a barn. But it was a barn in which much hay was made.
Everybody remembers the big games, the big shots, the famous players, so I won't repeat accounts of those moments. Instead, here are a few personal favorites:
Roger Brown's funeral on MSA floor . . . how touching and appropriate that was.
My best memories of MSA don't come from working there, they come from my high school days. Warren Central was one of the first high schools to have its graduation ceremonies at MSA, and my class (1988) was the second WCHS class to use MSA. It was still a big deal that we were bucking tradition by not using our own gymnasium. Considering the numerous ''General Admission'' concerts I attended at MSA during the late '80s, it was a perfect place to end my high school career. I grew up with MSA so I will be very sad to see it go.
MSA Memories of 1987 - 1999:
The Sound: The single most significant thought that comes to mind during the time period is the deafening sounds of the Pacers crowds during the many playoff runs of the mid-to-late '90s. Never before could I recall what nearly 17,000 people cheering and reacting to great Pacers shots, games or wins sounded like in other venues. Not even during the rock concert heyday of the '70s or '80s do I remember my ears humming long after the game was over.
Pacers Pride: Not only were the screaming sounds of Pacers fans ringing in my ears, but Pacers pride was shining through, too. I will remember with pride watching Donnie Walsh's precise and deliberate game plan of building the franchise with patience. From Chuck Person to Larry Bird, Donnie always shared his plans with his staff with honesty and integrity. You believed in him when others didn't. And to have his plan nearly reach the ultimate prize were the greatest years I can recall in MSA. It sure was fun being a part of it!
The Great One Returned: Seeing Wayne Gretzky walking to the Edmonton Oilers dressing room for an early '90s preseason NHL game in what looked like a two-piece suit two sizes too big. Knowing how this superstar changed the game of hockey, it was surprising to see how small a man in stature compared to the legend he truly is.
Thoughts: It used to be we'd see a building's era end, or a new one begin. Now, we're seeing arenas open and close in one lifetime.
What other building will we remember experiencing sitting above a street?
Boomer made his mark in MSA entering from the ceiling. It's something that the new building cannot duplicate.
My fondest memories are the people I've worked with at MSA. I remember Buddy, Paul, Curtis, Jerry Cole, Jim Snodgrass, Ron Languell, Bill Hart and so many others that are no longer with us. They made us laugh, smile and cry when we said goodbye. I think about the excitement I felt the first day I walked through the doors and the bittersweet feeling I had when I walked out for the last time. I remember and give thanks for the friends I have made the past 18 years. The owners, coaches, players, trainers, managers, media, and all the wonderful people that I have met and had the opportunity to get to work with. I'm so blessed to say that I was a part of it. MSA, I miss you!
Now you want the funniest story? It happened at one of the Disney on Ice shows. I was working on one of the doors for Crowd Management. A gentleman came to the door with a small child and said his daughter needed to use the restroom. He did not have a ticket, so I tried to explain to him that I could not let him in without a ticket and apologized that I could not leave the door to escort him to the restroom. He said his wife had his ticket and she was on the sixth floor. I advised him to go to the sixth floor to gain entrance in the arena and instructed him how to get to the restroom. He was pretty angry when he left because I would not let him in. Shortly thereafter, he appeared at the door and asked if I remembered him. I stated that I had seen a lot of people come through my door. He asked again. I apologized, because I did not remember where I had seen him. He then reached behind his back and put something in my face and said ''remember me now''? He stated that since I would not let him in, his daughter messed her pants. He was holding a pair of soiled underwear. He walked away so fast, I did not have time to react. I was really angry at the time, but when I went to tell Rick Fuson (the arena's general manager) what had happened, I started laughing so hard, I could barely tell him.
It was a typical Saturday preparing for the Pacers Sunday game vs. the Chicago Bulls. I strolled into the Pacers' office at Market Square Arena at 11:00 a.m., thinking I would get home in about four hours and enjoy the rest of the day. I sat down at my desk and about 11:50 a.m. my phone rings. It was the Media Relations Director of the Chicago Bulls. When I recognized his number on my caller ID, I answered the phone, ''Don't even.'' His reply was a simply, ''Yes.'' From that moment on, myself, along with my department (at the time all three of us) and some co-workers who came to volunteer, spent the entire day and night preparing for the return of Michael Jordan. Instead of spending four easy hours at work, we all spent over 11 hours in utter chaos as all the phone's in the office were ringing as media members just kept calling any number they thought would get through to us. I will always remember sitting at my desk, answering my phone and uttering some words that weren't very lady-like as I was the first to get the news of Jordan's return.
Here's another: We use to have a paging system in the Pacers' offices at Market Square Arena which was very beneficial, especially during playoff times. I can remember when the Pacers started making their first successful trips into the playoffs and office members, including the Vice President, getting on the paging system, and leading the office in cheers.
And yet another: One of my favorite moments was during the 1994 Eastern Conference First Round vs. the Orlando Magic. Our office staff had a viewing party in Market Square Gardens, the sixth-floor restaurant, of Market Square Arena. To my knowledge this was the first viewing party the Pacers' office had for front office members (at least since I had started), and it was packed. I adopted one of the cloth napkins as my ''official rally towel.'' We all watched and went totally crazy when Byron Scott hit the shot heard around Indianapolis (the Pacers defeated the Magic, 89-88). All of us staff members were dancing and screaming and running around the entire restaurant screaming Byron's name, along with everything else that came to mind. I was waiving that rally towel like crazy. It was great, one of the best times, I ever had as a front office member. And, believe it or not, that rally towel stayed on my desk until our offices were moved to Conseco Fieldhouse. (p.s. I still have it and pulled it out last year during the NBA Finals)
The cloggers that someone (who will remain nameless) booked for a halftime show and Tom Rutledge made them perform barefooted so they wouldn't destroy the basketball floor. Of course, he made it up to me years later when he arranged for a private Barbara Streisand concert, pizza and wine mid-court to christen the newly installed sound system.
I have been in the ticket sales and marketing dept of the Pacers for 13 1/2 years. My fondest memory is 1994 when we won the first round of the playoffs for the first time.( It was a home game) I was working the game (in those days everyone worked every game till the end) and at halftime I had the chance to sit down for the second half of the game with my husband and children. The nail-biting excitement generated during that game was unreal. I was hard to fathom ever making it into the second round. When the final buzzer went off and we had won the crowd was wild. To experience that thrill with my family is a memory we talk about often at my house. After the game I had to send John home with the kids because the staff had to stay most of the night to get ready for the second-round tickets to go on sale the next morning. The staff was in at a loss as to what to do next because we had never been in that position before.
The day after the first-round win in 1994 I will never forget the crowd wrapping around Market Square Arena waiting in line to pick up Pacer banners and to buy items in the gift shop.
The sales persons were in charge of booking acts, bands, choirs, etc. I will never forget the times we booked large groups and they were spread out in the back stage area ( that was sooooo small) warming up, along with the Pacemates , the color guard, Boomer, and a reception going on for our sponsors. This was all taking place outside of the visitors' locker room. To get to the floor the visitor players had to make their way thru all this.
Then there was Michael Jordan's return, and all the games that were won on last-second shots by Reggie and Rik.
Well there was the day back in 1977 that there was so much ice on the ramp, and Channel 4's remote truck got halfway up and got stuck. The driver, (the late Ken Houchin) could not go forward because the wheels were spinning and was afraid to go backwards, for fear that the trailer would go sideways. Once Woody iced the ramp down we had to wait about 2 hours before the driver could back down to New Jersey street. By then it was 5:30, but that great channel 4 remote crew was set to go by 7:30. I'm really not bragging on our work, MSA was just a very easy place to set up for television.
Then there was the time when that great Channel 4 crew came in at 8 a.m. to set up for a Racers Hockey game that started at noon. Following that game (3:30 p.m.), we struck the cameras and audio while the MSA set up crew reset the building for basketball. When they were done, our crew had to reset our cameras and audio for a 7:30 p.m. Pacers game. I remember the TV Producer from the Washington Bullets telling us that this could not have been pulled off anywhere else. That's an example of how great the people at MSA were back then.
The crowds in Market Square Arena got national attention during the Pacers' conference finals appearances for being among the loudest and most passionate in the NBA. Rightly so. But in my 15 years with the Pacers, the loudest I ever heard the crowd in MSA - and the only time I literally saw a crowd carry a team to victory - was during the opening round of the 1991 NBA Playoffs. Let me set the scene. The Pacers finished the season 41-41 and faced the Atlantic Division champion Boston Celtics. Boston edged the Pacers in Game 1. However, led by Chuck Person's 39 points, Indiana won Game 2, 130-118, in the fabled Boston Garden. Returning to Indianapolis for the next two contests of the five-game series, the Pacers' fans hoped that the team could hold its homecourt advantage and win its first NBA playoffs series. The Celtics won the bitterly fought Game 3, 112-105. Two nights later in Game 4, the Celtics built a seven-point lead over the first three quarters.
During the timeout between the third and fourth periods, public address announcer Reb Porter implored the crowd to ''get on your feet and help YOUR Indiana Pacers during the final quarter.'' The crowd rose, began to make noise and no one - I mean no one - ever sat down the rest of the night. The Pacers began chipping away at the Celtics' lead. With every Pacers' point and every Celtics' miss, the crowd got louder and louder. Standing and cheering through every time out, every free throw and every second of action, the crowd needed no encouragement. There was no music played over the loudspeakers, no announcements to instruct the fans to support the home team. As the team's public relations director, my seat was next to the Pacers' bench. During timeouts, I could see in each player's eyes the adrenaline rush that was pushing them to new heights.
The team played harder in that fourth quarter than any I had ever seen. By midway through the quarter, the roar was deafening. The Pacers eventually grabbed the lead and held on for a 116-113 victory to send the series back to Boston for a deciding Game 5. (The Celtics prevailed in another thriller, 124-121, in a game still among the most storied in Garden history. Larry Bird, sent to the locker room to recover from hitting his head on the floor, returned to the court in the second half to inspire the Celtics to the victory.) But the intensity - on the floor and off - during those 12 minutes in the final quarter of Game 4 will never be matched - in my eyes, or in my ears.
I joined the Pacers' franchise in February 1994 to head up Game Entertainment. My challenge was to assist in creating a better fan experience. Up to this point, our fans were never perceived as being really boisterous. My boss at the time was Mark Andrew and I approached him with an idea on how to assist in creating a loud crowd. I really felt the crowd needed some prompting; perhaps a battle cry or fight song. It had to be something unique to Indiana fans and relatable to the team.
President Donnie Walsh had assembled a group of young talent along with one of the best coaches in the game, Larry Brown. We had the powerful Davis duo of Antonio and Dale, as well as the quickness of Reggie Miller. Coach Brown was preaching toughness and quickness. Larry demanded that the team be in place for both defense and offense. I can recall Coach Brown barking out instructions, ''Get back faster, move, move, move, don't stand there, move! Get tough down low and rebound so you can run!''
It occurred to me one day, there was a sound that really captured what Coach Brown was teaching and drilling in the minds of players and fans. It was a sound I had heard all my life as a Hoosier. It was the sound of Spring over-taking Winter; when Indiana seemed to come to life again. It was the powerful, racing sound of an Indianapolis 500 Motor Speedway Indy Car. At first everyone thought I was nuts, but I was able to sell the idea based on the team persona.
The fans immediately took to it because they could easily relate to it and it signaled to them that it was okay to scream and yell at the game. For some who may have been embarrassed to be acting like a youngster, the Indy Car sound assisted in unifying everyone so no one person was seen or heard to be acting jubilant alone and perhaps provided some false courage to scream. The race cars helped to create the image in Market Square Arena that our fans were the Loudest Sixth Man in the NBA, but in reality the race car noises merely acted as a catalyst to open the gates to Hoosier Hysteria bedlam.
What was really amazing is the notoriety the Indy Car sound received across the country. Other teams were screaming foul; that it wasn't right and they wanted the NBA to intervene to stop it. Nearly every newspaper in the country discussed the controversy. The race car noise was even a major story on NBC telecasts. Reggie Miller and other Pacers used the noise factor to help psych out opponents. All in all it was a great deal of fun.
The truth of the matter is that the sound effect of race car noises was merely a byproduct of a special season. It was a great team coming together with its fans. The team's dedication on the court and the fans believing in and embracing the team is the real joy. As many of you know, Coach Brown focused our team down the stretch to make an incredible run in the playoffs. It was the longest run in the Pacers' NBA history and Market Square Arena was absolutely the loudest building in the NBA Playoffs with an enthusiastic Sixth Man that continues to this day.
I'm not a storyteller, so here are the best tidbits I remember: