Pacers owner Simon watches team rise again

Associated Press Modified: May 5, 2012 at 5:01 am •  Published: May 5, 2012
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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Just a few years ago, the Pacers were losing, fans had bailed and the team looked like it might even leave Indiana.

Now, the Pacers are selling out home games in the playoffs.

"It's certainly reassuring," Herb Simon, the team's 77-year-old owner, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "Hopefully, we'll keep that up. We're very excited about that."

Indiana, the No. 3 seed in the East, takes a 2-1 lead into Game 4 at Orlando on Saturday. The first-round series returns to Indiana on Tuesday.

The franchise has gone on a roller-coaster ride the past decade.

Simon, as co-owner with his brother, Mel, helped the Pacers reach the Eastern Conference finals six times and the NBA finals in 2000 during the Reggie Miller era. Indiana had the league's best record in 2003-04 under coach Rick Carlisle and looked ready to break through and possibly win a title.

The franchise began falling apart when Ron Artest fought with Detroit Pistons fans in November 2004. In the next few years, several Pacers found trouble with the law and fans started trickling away.

The Pacers, already losing money, struggled to reach an agreement on how to afford their lease at Conseco Fieldhouse, which since has been renamed Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Simon said all along that he didn't want to move the team, but the financial struggles meant tough decisions had to be made about the franchise's future.

Eventually, the city agreed to help the Pacers with operating costs, but problems remained. The Pacers were last out of 30 teams in the league in attendance in 2007-08, 28th in 2008-09 and 27th in 2009-10.

Simon gave team President Larry Bird the job of rebuilding the team. He shipped off every player who ever got in trouble, rebuilt, and now the team has been to the playoffs back-to-back years after a four-year drought.

Attendance was last again in 2010-11, but the season ended with a buzz after Frank Vogel took over for Jim O'Brien at midseason. The Pacers went 20-18 in the regular season after the switch and lost to the Chicago Bulls in a competitive first-round playoff series.

The Pacers were last in attendance for most of this season, but the fans started coming back late in the year. This resurgence in Indy is what Simon hoped for all along.