Bevan, Link to the Pacers' Birth, Retires
The buzzer that ended the Pacers' season in Cleveland on Sunday afternoon closed down another bit of franchise history, one that dates back to the very beginning. Before the beginning, really.
Bill Bevan, the Pacers' official scorekeeper for nearly 49 seasons and a member of the stat crew for all 51 of them, officially retired from his position at that moment after working more than 2,400 games. Had the Pacers won, he would have been back in Bankers Life Fieldhouse for the home games in the second-round series with Toronto, and any rounds that might have followed. Basketball, however, is a fickle game, the outcomes are unpredictable, and one never knows when a career might end.
Bevan, at least, chose his ending. He did so early this past season, when the Pacers were on a road trip and he was with his wife in Florida.
"One morning I was out walking the beach early in the morning and I thought, I could do this more often. I talked to myself for two weeks and then my wife and I talked about it.
"You always know when it's time to go."
This isn't headline news for fans, but for the people who frequent The Fieldhouse on game nights, it's the loss of an institution. Bevan was the smiling guy working the hallways between the home and visiting locker rooms and the officials' dressing room.
Aside from keeping the scorebook for each Pacers home game, his job required him to visit with the home team's coach to get a starting lineup and active roster and check with the trainer for an injury update, go to the visiting coach and trainer to exchange information, and take that back to the home coach so that everyone knows who's playing and starting an hour before the game. He also communicated with referees before each game.
"It's the best job going, because you're in both locker rooms," he said. "I get it from three different angles. I'll really miss the games when it starts up again.
"The players I've met, the coaches I've met, I consider them all friends."
Bevan is in the back row, second from left. First on the left is Bob Bernath, who joined the stat crew for the Pacers' second season and is still on it to this day. (Photo Credit: Mark Montieth)
Bevan became a member of the Pacers' stat crew in 1967. Bill Marvel had been hired as the public relations director and was charged with putting together a stat crew. Marvel's dad and Bevan's dad worked together at the telephone company. Bevan had played basketball at Scecina High School, so Marvel knew he was a fan and invited him to an organizational meeting at the team's original office on 38th St.
"There must have been 50 or 60 guys there, and I was the youngest (21)," Bevan said.
The candidates thinned out through subsequent meetings until a group of 10 or so was finalized. Bevan rode to the Pacers' first exhibition game, at St. Joseph's College in Rensselaer, with Marvel and crew chief Bill York, to keep rebounds, assists, and turnovers. Midway through the Pacers' third season, the original scorekeeper Dick Bussell had to give up the position because of the travel demands of his day job, so Bevan agreed to try it.
"I guess I did try it," he says. "It's been 48 years."
It would be nice for the purposes of this article if Bevan had juicy tales of anger and intrigue to tell. Players and coaches muttering complaints about one another, trainers talking about which players are too soft to play with injuries, officials talking about how they're going to stick it to one of the teams. He has no such stories, though, which is good for the NBA, not to mention his sanity.
Ask him for a story, and the best he can come up with is that Phil Jackson, when he coached Chicago, hemmed and hawed about giving out his starting lineup, as if he wasn't sure — and as if he hadn't been starting the same lineup all season.
Bevan's most proud of the fact he gained the trust of the coaches, players, and trainers, who didn't have to worry about what he might overhear even if the conversation wasn't gossipy.
"I can honestly say I've never had any trouble with players whatsoever," he said. "When a guy first comes into the league and he doesn't know who to trust, he might be hesitant to talk in front of me. I had a player in (the visiting training room) ask the trainer, 'Who is this guy?' And the trainer said, 'Hey, he's OK. He's one of us. He's been around forever.'
"That makes you feel good."
Bevan and the other stat crew members worked for free in the beginning but were given as many complimentary tickets as they wanted. He remembers having 100 tickets for a game in the early seasons when the Pacers were eager to have a sellout. He distributed them at work and to friends.
"Anything they could do to get people in the stands," he said. "And they did a great job of it."
Crew members were eventually paid $5 per game, with gradual raises given over the years. Bevan says he doesn't even know what he's paid now; money is simply wired into his checking account every so often. It's not the kind of job a person does for the money, however. The compensation comes from the enjoyment of being an insider at the games and the relationships formed.
That was especially true in the ABA days, when coach Slick Leonard and his wife, Nancy, brought a family atmosphere to the games.
"I tell you what, they ran a great show," Bevan said. "They were great people to work for.
"I remember going to parties at Slick and Nancy's house, for New Year's Eve or whatever. And there was the time (timekeeper) Paul Furimsky had a get-together after a game. Somebody bought a huge cannon-like gun and we shot it off in the backyard. The neighbors called the police. Pretty soon the doorbell rang and a couple of policemen showed up. But the mayor (William Hudnut) was at the party and he went to the door and said, 'Don't worry about it, I've got it under control.
"You had mayors, governors, all kinds of people who were involved with the Indiana Pacers in the early years."
Players, coaches, stat crew members, and their wives also gathered in The Pub at the Fairgrounds Coliseum after games, often with members of the opposing team.
"You could be beating the heck out of each other for 48 minutes, and the next minute you're elbow to elbow telling stories on each other," Bevan says.
Bevan, who still works as a substitute teacher at Scecina, still has relationships with some of the characters from those days. Slick and Nancy Leonard are presences at each home game, of course. York, who retired a couple of years ago, lives in the area. Marvel lives in Kentucky and comes back to Indianapolis occasionally.
But now there's just one active link to the Pacers' birth. Bob Bernath technically is not an original stat crew member, having joined in the second season, but is the next-best thing. He was the public address announcer and scorekeeper for the preliminary games that often were played before Pacers games at the Coliseum in the first season, and qualifies as a quasi-member of the group.
"I'm turning it over to Bobby," Bevan said.
But he'll keep his memories.
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Mark Montieth's book, "Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis," covers the formation and early seasons of the franchise. It is available at retail outlets throughout Indiana and online at sources such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
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