Hollinger ranked the franchises based on some kind of math. The Pacers are 11th best all time.
Indiana is basketball country, of course, but during the Hoosier State’s history, NBA fans have been rewarded with a serious shortage of topflight stars. In more than three decades since joining the NBA in the ABA-NBA merger, the Pacers have yet to produce a first-team All-NBA performer; the only second-teamer was Jermaine O’Neal in 2004.
Indy’s glaring lack of star power through the years is underscored by the fact that its one NBA Finals team had a coach (Larry Bird) who was far more renowned in Indiana than any of the players. Its most famous player, Reggie Miller, made the All-Star team only five times, and from 1977 to 1990 the Pacers didn’t have a single representative. And not one Pacer has averaged 20 points a game for his Indiana career, including the ABA years.
Nonetheless, Indiana has had quite a bit of team success thanks to a series of ensemble casts. The Pacers made the playoffs 16 times in one 17-year stretch, and two teams in particular stand out: a 61-win team that lost to eventual champion Detroit in the 2004 conference finals, and Bird’s 2000 Eastern Conference champions that took the Lakers to six games in the Finals. Unfortunately, Indy never got over the hump, and the Nov. 19, 2004, brawl in the Palace of Auburn Hills marked the unofficial end of that group’s run as contenders.
In terms of stars, an earlier generation was a similar case. The Pacers were annually among the ABA’s elite, with coach Slick Leonard leading a band of scruffy-but-likable types such as Mel Daniels, Bob Netolicky, Roger Brown and Freddie Lewis to three titles in four years.
Unfortunately, they were already on the downswing when the NBA and ABA merged and had to give up George McGinnis to make ends meet. The Pacers spent the next decade and a half in the doldrums — it took 18 years, in fact, for them to win a playoff series, when Larry Brown and Donnie Walsh joined forces to usher in two decades of respectability.