Pacers Found a Happy Home in Anderson

The Pacers have played important games in Anderson, thanks to the availability of the Wigwam when they needed a place to call home.

As strange as it might sound today for a professional team to play on a high school court, the Pacers turned to Anderson's gymnasium frequently in their early ABA seasons when the Fairgrounds Coliseum had been previously booked for an event such as the circus or the Boat Sport and Travel Show.

The Pacers are believed to have played four playoff games in the Wigwam and won them all. They defeated Miami twice in the first two games of the second round (of three) in 1969, beat Utah in Game 5 of the second round in 1971 and beat Utah again in Game 3 of the second round in 1972.

The wins over Utah were particularly important. The one in 1971 came in an elimination game after the Pacers had fallen behind 3-1 in the series. It drew a near-capacity crowd of 8,279 to the Wigwam.

"You could close your eyes and imagine the Indians were playing a close one in the old days with Muncie's Bearcats or Attucks' Tigers," Indianapolis News sports editor Wayne Fuson wrote.

The Pacers had announced the signing of George McGinnis earlier in the day. McGinnis, who left Indiana University after his sophomore season to turn pro to help support his widowed mother, watched the game from the front row.

The Pacers won Game 6 in Utah, but lost the series back in Game 7 at the Coliseum.

The Pacers returned to the Wigwam in 1972 after falling behind 2-0 to Utah. Their 116-111 victory reversed the momentum of the series and they went on to win the championship.

To say the least, the players weren't pleased to have games on a smaller high school court, particularly the visiting players.

"I kinda get claustrophobic," Utah forward Willie Wise said. "I like wide open space."

Stars coach LaDell Andersen agreed.

"You can't communicate with your team," he said. "The players hear the crowd, not the coach's voice. You can't give a foul or call a timeout."

A story in the Indianapolis News before the game said the Pacers took an 8-1 record in the Wigwam into the game, with the only loss a regular season game in the 1969-70 season.

Anderson once had its own NBA team. The Packers, named after the meat-packing plant owned by brothers Ike and John Duffey, played in the National Basketball League from 1946-49. When that league merged with the Basketball Association of American to form the NBA for the 1949-50 season, the Packers were one of the new league's 17 teams. They finished second to the Indianapolis Olympians in the Western Division.

They were dropped from the NBA when it consolidated to 11 teams the following season.

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Mark Montieth's book on the formation and groundbreaking seasons of the Pacers, "Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis," is available in bookstores throughout Indiana and on Amazon.com.

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