Celebrating the Pacers' first division title since 2003-04
Pacers Having a Banner Year
by Mark Montieth | April 4, 2013
NBA division championships don't inspire confetti showers on the court or cork-popping celebrations in the locker room, but they mean something to the teams that win them. That's especially true for a team such as the Pacers, given the out-and-back journey they've traveled since winning their most recent Central Division title nine years ago.
The Brawl, the enforced trades, the off-court issues, the stuck-in-neutral seasons and all the other frustrations that smothered a previous decade of achievement seem far more distant now that the Pacers have clinched this season's division title.
“Everybody in this franchise has worked really hard to get over those periods,” Pacers president Donnie Walsh said. “This team is the exact opposite as far as the way they conduct themselves and play. I'm not putting the guys down who were here before. A lot of people get painted with a broad brush. That's just the way the world is right now. Individually all of those guys were fine people and good players, but the mistakes that were made painted them all with the same image.
“This helps put that behind us, and in that sense I'm very happy for the franchise.”
The division championship is the fifth in franchise history since the NBA restructured its alignment in the 1979-80 season and the Pacers became a member of the Central. They also won in 1995, 1999, 2000 and 2004. Each of those teams advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals, and the 2000 team reached the NBA Finals.
Some NBA teams (such as Chicago and Cleveland) hang banners for their division titles and some (such as Detroit) do not. The Pacers hung banners for the 1994 and '99 titles when they moved to Bankers Life Fieldhouse for the 1999-2000 season, and then added banners in 2000 and '04. A single banner has been painted on the wall of the hallway leading to the locker room, with the years of each division title listed.
For coaches and players, they represent a sliver of immortality.
“It's important to hang banners,” coach Frank Vogel said. “The banners will be there forever. You can come back 30 years from now and see that banner and say, 'I was a part of that.'”
Added Roy Hibbert: “I haven't had a banner since '07 at Georgetown that meant something. It would be really nice to get a banner, because whether I come back here 10 or 15 years from now I can always have a piece of myself in the arena.”
Division titles are somewhat the equivalent of conference championships in college basketball, although each NBA division consists of just five teams since the league moved from four divisions to six in 2004. They obviously are not remembered nearly as fondly as success in the playoffs, but they represent regular season accomplishment.
This season's team hopes it's a milestone on a longer road, rather than a destination.
“It means that we're improving,” Paul George said. “But it's just baby steps to where we want to be.”
The practical side of winning a division title is that it means a team cannot be seeded any lower than fourth in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Pacers currently are third in the East, a half-game behind New York and 4 1/2 games ahead of fourth-place Brooklyn.
A look at the Pacers' previous division championship teams
1995: Larry Brown's second team won 52 games, a then-record for the franchise's NBA history, and finished two games ahead of Charlotte in the seven-team Central. After sweeping Atlanta in the first round of the playoffs it answered the previous season's seven-game loss to New York in the conference finals with a seven-game victory over the Knicks in the second round – a series still memorable for Reggie Miller's eight-points-in-8.9-seconds outburst in the final minute of Game 1. The Pacers lost to Orlando in seven games in the conference finals, but the division title still represented a breakthrough. “When we won it the first time, I was ecstatic,” Walsh said.
1999: Assisted by Michael Jordan's retirement from the Bulls, the Pacers won the lockout-shortened season title by two games over Atlanta with a 33-17 record in the eight-team division. They swept Milwaukee in the first round and swept Philadelphia in the second round, but a seven-day layoff before meeting New York in the conference finals contributed to a Game 1 loss at Market Square Arena. The Knicks won the series in six games, with help from Larry Johnson's four-point play in Game 3 at Madison Square Garden. A year later, referee Jess Kersey admitted he had been wrong for allowing Johnson's three-point shot to count after being fouled by Antonio Davis.
2000: Coach Larry Bird's final team beat second-place Charlotte by seven games in the eight-team division with a 56-26 record. It barely escaped Milwaukee in the first round, needing to win the final game of the series at the Fieldhouse, then eliminated Philadelphia and New York 4-2 in subsequent rounds. A Game 6 win at Madison Square Garden sent them to their first NBA Finals appearance against Los Angeles, which they lost 4-2.
2004: Coach Rick Carlisle's first Pacers team set a franchise record with 61 wins and won the eight-team Central by seven games over Detroit. It was a landmark season for the Pacers, as Jermaine O'Neal finished third in the league's MVP voting and Ron Artest was named Defensive Player of the Year. Both were selected to play in the All-Star game, and Fred Jones won the Slam Dunk title the previous night. The Pacers dominated Boston in the first round, winning each game by at least 13 points, and eliminated Miami 4-2 in the second round. They were tied 2-2 with the Pistons in the conference finals, but dropped the final two games. Detroit went on to win the championship.