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Indianapolis Committee Attends All-Star Weekend to Gather Insights for 2021

by Wheat Hotchkiss
Pacers.com Writer/Editor
@Wheat_Hotchkiss

The 2021 NBA All-Star Game may still be three years away, but preparations for the weekend are already well underway.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced on Dec. 13 that the league chose Indianapolis to host its 70th All-Star Game, the first time the event will be held in the Circle City since 1985. In the ensuing months, Indianapolis leaders have joined forces to create the 2021 NBA All-Star Local Organizing Committee to plan for hosting the NBA's signature event.

Pacers Sports & Entertainment President and COO Rick Fuson serves as chairman of the committee. The four co-chairs of the committee are Tamika Catchings (Indiana Fever legend and current PS&E Director of Player Programs and Franchise Development), Cindy Simon Skjodt (philanthropist and niece of Pacers owner Herb Simon), Aasif Bade (President of Ambrose Property Group), and Rafael Sanchez (President and CEO of Indianapolis Power & Light Company).

That group headed to Los Angeles this weekend to observe and participate in All-Star festivities, gathering insight as they prepare for Indianapolis' turn as host city. Steve Simon and other members of the Local Organizing Committee joined them on the trip.

A similar contingent attended All-Star festivities in Toronto in 2016 and New Orleans in 2017 as the Pacers prepared their bid to the league. The newly-formed committee will also have a presence in Charlotte next year and Chicago in 2020.

"Everybody does things a little bit differently," Fuson said. "And everything that we can pick up — when it comes to signage or some hospitality thing that they do or the transportation or how they treat people in the hotels — it makes it a little easier for us to say, 'Okay, let's elevate to that program' or 'Let's beat it by one more step.'"

No one played a more important role in Indianapolis being awarded the 2021 All-Star Game than Herb Simon. As the NBA's longest-tenured owner, Simon was the driving force behind the franchise deciding to bid on the game.

Pacers co-owner Steve Simon said it was especially important for his father to get the NBA "to shine a light on the city of Indianapolis" after all the city has done for him.

The Simon family continues to play an active role in the planning process for 2021.

"There's incredible excitement, but it's also nerve-wracking, too, because every year at the All-Star Game, the bar is raised higher and higher," Steve Simon said.

"We do big events as well as anyone, so I think we're all confident we're going to raise the bar and bring an incredible event with great activation and great energy. But there's a lot of work left to do."

Fuson said he considers his four co-chairs a "dream team," with each member bringing a wealth of experience and knowledge from a variety of backgrounds.

Simon Skjodt, for instance, worked side-by-side with Fuson when Indianapolis last hosted the All-Star Game in 1985. Much like the city of Indianapolis, the event has grown tremendously over the past three decades, but the lessons learned from that experience still can provide value.

"I think the key is to have really good people," Simon Skjodt said.

That description most certainly applies to Catchings, who herself is no stranger to All-Star Weekend, having represented the Fever and the WNBA in a number of All-Star events over the years.

That experience has allowed Catchings to share insight about what makes for a good host city. She learned firsthand just how exhausting the weekend can be for players, who have numerous commitments between the All-Star events, media obligations, sponsorship appearances, and community service events.

In Catchings' opinion, Indianapolis is naturally a perfect fit with a compact and walkable downtown area, with most of the major hotels, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Indiana Convention Center, and Lucas Oil Stadium separated by a half-mile or less.

Serving on this committee is a new role for Catchings, one of several committee members who Fuson said represent "a new generation of leaders in our town."

"I'm extremely excited to be representing Pacers Sports & Entertainment and the Fever and the Pacers," Catchings said. "It's not just NBA All-Star, the WNBA and the G League will be represented, as well. I think that's where my level of excitement is, being able to join forces with all of our organizations and put on a show."

This was the first time Sanchez attended All-Star Weekend, but he's no stranger to putting on big events. Sanchez served on the Indianapolis Super Bowl host committee in 2012, an experience that he said helps him "understand the big picture" of all it takes to host a major sports event.

For Sanchez, spending time in Los Angeles has provided invaluable insights into understanding everything that goes into hosting the All-Star Game.

"There's no substitute to seeing and participating and doing it yourself to just kind of visualize how would this work in Indianapolis," Sanchez said.

Bade, another first-time All-Star attendee, marveled at the scope of what transpires at the annual basketball showcase.

The committee attended numerous events while in Los Angeles, including the NBA Cares Day of Service at the LA Regional Food Bank, the Rising Stars Challenge, the Newsmaker Breakfast, All-Star Media Day and Practice, All-Star Saturday Night, the Legends Brunch, and the All-Star Game.

"Obviously as a fan, you're aware of the three or four things that are on TV," Bade said. "But I've been amazed in terms of all of the things going on behind the scenes and the reach that the NBA has…It's unbelievable the reach of the NBA and the WNBA. That's probably been the most eye-opening part."

When they return to Indianapolis, the committee members will compare notes from their time in Los Angeles and continue formulating a vision for what Indianapolis can do to push the envelope in 2021. But each member expressed extreme confidence in the city's ability to put on a great show, citing a long and successful history of hosting major events, including the 2012 Super Bowl and numerous Final Fours.

In fact, the 2021 All-Star Game will be part of a remarkable run for downtown Indianapolis, which in a 13-month span will host two Big Ten football championship games (in Dec. 2020 and 2021), the NBA All-Star Game (Feb. 2021), the Big Ten women's basketball tournament (March 2021), the NCAA men's Final Four (April 2021), and the College Football Playoff National Championship Game (Jan. 2022).

"It's embedded in our DNA," Sanchez said. "I think families come out and support it, they get behind it. People want to volunteer. There's all kinds of public/private partnerships.

"There's so much tremendous opportunity and I think it's just embedded at this point in the Indianapolis culture to put on high-caliber events with exceptional customer service and exceptional engagement from people from all backgrounds. It's what makes our city great."