Dick Tinkham worked behind the scenes for the Pacers in their formative years, but without his contributions some of the most crucial events in franchise history would not have occurred. In fact, the franchise might not have survived.
Tinkham, who passed away on Sunday after a long battle with muscular dystrophy, was one of the Pacers' founders and its legal counsel. His role extended to the American Basketball Association.
"Dick was the glue through all the years," Mike Storen, the Pacers' first general manager, said Monday from his home in Atlanta. "He held two groups together. He held the Pacers' ownership together and he was very active with the league. He was a clearly recognized leader in the league as well.
"We operated all those years without any money, really, and Dick was the guy holding the mirrors."
For starters, Tinkham was responsible for Storen becoming the Pacers' original general manager. They grew up in the same region in northwest Indiana – Tinkham in Hammond and Storen in Michigan City – but didn't meet until they entered the Marine Corps in 1957. Tinkham, a DePauw University graduate, arrived later than the others because he had been permitted to take his bar examination.
Storen recalls Tinkham's introduction to the drill sergeants when he first lined up with the other cadets in their Saturday morning inspection lineup. Identified as a budding lawyer, a sergeant asked Tinkham to recite the Constitution.
"Would you like to hear it frontwards or backwards?" Tinkham responded.
The two became fast friends and stayed in touch over the next decade. When the Pacers' original ownership group was in the initial stages of getting the franchise up and running, Tinkham sought advice from Storen, who by then was the business manager of the NBA Cincinnati Royals. And when the original choice to become the Pacers' general manager, Bob Young, backed out, Tinkham convinced Storen to risk taking the job with a new franchise in a new league.
Tinkham and Storen worked together on several projects, such as convincing officials at Butler University to make Hinkle Fieldhouse available for the ABA's first All-Star game. They also swung the greatest trade in franchise history, sending $100,000 and two little-used players, Jimmy Dawson and Ron Kozlicki, to the Minnesota Muskies for Mel Daniels in May of 1968. The deal was worked out on a cocktail napkin with the Muskies' owner at a league meeting.
The Muskies were moving to Miami and desperately needed up-front cash to stay afloat. The Pacers' owners did not want to invest that much money in a trade, so Tinkham and Storen went to the extreme length of getting approval for a bank loan to buy Daniels' contract themselves and loan him to the Pacers. Their dedication convinced the Pacers' Board of Directors to come up with the money.
Daniels, who had been the ABA's Rookie of the Year in its inaugural season, went on to become the league's Most Valuable Player in 1969 and '71, and was admitted to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012.
Tinkham also worked tirelessly to bring about a merger with the NBA in the early 70's, although his efforts were ultimately futile. The Pacers and three other ABA teams were finally admitted to the NBA in 1976.
Storen and Tinkham continued working together after Storen left the Pacers to take over the Kentucky Colonels in 1970. The Pacers and Colonels were the ABA's strongest franchises but had butted heads in the Eastern Division playoffs in 1969 and '70, with the Pacers winning each time. Storen and Tinkham had enough clout to maneuver the Pacers into the Western Division so the two franchises couldn't meet until the finals – which they did in 1973 and '75.
"Probably in retrospect he never really got the attention he deserves for the role he played," Storen said. "He was very creative."
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