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What's in a Name? For the Pacers, Quite a Bit
By the time Indianapolis' new American Basketball Association franchise announced a head coach and an official name, they already had conducted a draft, signed more than a dozen players to contracts and made a trade. Some things just take time when you're starting from scratch.
It was June 16, 1967 – 49 years ago today – when people in Indianapolis first learned what the new team in the new professional basketball league would be called: The Indiana Pacers. It also was announced at the same press conference at the Marott Hotel that the team would be coached by Larry Staverman, formerly an assistant at Notre Dame.
General manager Mike Storen, who had been operating in overdrive since his hire in March, said the nickname was chosen because "we feel we will set the pace in the ABA, we will be playing at the Fairgrounds Coliseum across the street from where the (harness racing) pacers race at the fair, and the pace in auto racing is set in Indianapolis each May."
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Apparently nobody at the press conference thought to ask who had come up with the nickname, because no credit was given for it. It was never reported in a newspaper article, and attempts to find out have been inconclusive. Storen in later years claimed credit, and said he had also jokingly thrown out Potholes as a suggestion. But others, including founding board member Chuck DeVoe, thought it was one of the wives of the board members. Lois Barnes, the wife of Chuck Barnes, recalled being the one.
According to Lois Barnes, board members had been asked to bring three possible nicknames to a meeting, and she suggested Pacers. She also remembered throwing out Gassers as a possibility. DeVoe remembered Storen focusing quickly and enthusiastically on Pacers, and it won the vote.
Selecting "Indiana" rather than "Indianapolis" also was significant. The three previous professional basketball teams in the city, the Olympians, Jets and Kautskys, had gone with Indianapolis. The board members, however, agreed Indiana not only fit better on a uniform, but also would be appropriate for a team that planned to spread its product to cities throughout the state.
The Pacers wound up playing regular season games in Kokomo, New Castle, Shelbyville, Madison and Fort Wayne that first season, as well as Dayton, Ohio. Those games didn't draw well, however, and the practice was dropped the following season and rarely utilized in later seasons.
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Staverman, meanwhile, was not the team's first choice to coach the team.
The founders aggressively pursued Oscar Robertson to be the player-coach. The legendary player who had led Attucks to consecutive state championships in 1955 and '56 was 28 years old at the time, and a free agent. The Pacers put together an offer of about $100,000 per year, with some of the money deferred, but never got a serious response or counter offer.
They also offered the job to Ed Jucker, who had coached the University of Cincinnati to consecutive NCAA championships in 1961 and '62 before stepping down in '65, but he wound up accepting an offer from the Cincinnati Royals that year.
Storen also talked with Jim Holstein, a former NBA player who was coaching at St. Josephs College in Rensselaer, Ind., about the position, but they couldn't agree on the length of a contract. Storen was looking to pass out a one-year deal, while Holstein wanted more security to leave his position.
Storen, a Notre Dame graduate, was referred to Staverman by Irish head coach Johnny Dee. The 6-foot-7 Staverman had played professionally for five seasons in the NBA and American Basketball League, and fit Storen's desire to hire someone with professional experience. Bob Leonard, a former All-American at Indiana University who had played and coached in the NBA, also recommended him, having coaching him for one season in Chicago.
Staverman, 30 years old when hired, lasted just one full season. He was fired after a 2-7 start to the second season, and replaced by Leonard.
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