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News » Late Mel Simon was Pacers' savior

Late Mel Simon was Pacers' savior

Late Mel Simon was Pacers' saviorINDIANAPOLIS (AP) - NBA fans who remember Reggie Miller's playoff heroics can thank Mel Simon for stepping forward more than a quarter century ago.

Simon, who died Wednesday at the age of 82, bought the woebegone franchise with his brother, Herb, in 1983 with the intention of making it an NBA power.

It worked. The Pacers, with players like the sharp-shooting Miller, Jermaine O'Neal and others, reached the Eastern Conference finals six times in 11 years and the NBA finals in 2000. The success helped lead to the opening of Conseco Fieldhouse in 1999.

"The Pacers would not be here, Conseco would not be here, and in my judgment, Indianapolis wouldn't be the remarkable place that it is without what this man did for us," said Jim Morris, president of Pacers Sports and Entertainment.

Pacers President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird, an Indiana native, said he'll miss Simon.

"Melvin was a very dear friend and golfing buddy," Bird said in a statement. "He is a true legend to this city, not only for the visible things that everyone sees each day, but because he was a man who cared about people."

Miller knew Mel Simon well. All 18 years he played for the Pacers - including those astounding, last-second baskets against the Knicks that drove Spike Lee crazy - came under the Simons' ownership.

"My heart is very heavy today," Miller said. "Mel Simon was a great owner, but more importantly, a loving and giving friend. My thoughts and prayers go out to the Simon family."

NBA Commissioner David Stern said the Simons turned the struggling Pacers into a "model franchise" and one of the league's most successful teams. He also noted Simon's community work.

"His influence, on and off the court, will be felt for a very long time," Stern said.

As the Pacers' fortunes tumbled, Herb Simon took over day-to-day operations of the team. Morris said Mel Simon had been sick for some time, but still followed the team in his final years.

"They (the Simons) were disappointed with some of our difficulties," Morris said. "They were very pleased with last year, with the performance of the team, with our draft choices. Mel loved basketball and really had a very good basketball mind and wanted the team to do very well, and worked hard at it. He was pleased with where things were headed."

Morris said Herb Simon will remain the team owner.

"He has high aspirations for it, he's working hard and is committed to making it work here in Indianapolis," he said.

Conseco Fieldhouse will be different from now on to those who knew Mel Simon - especially for Herb Simon, his longtime partner.

"These guys were a great team, and they worked together in brilliant ways," Morris said. "It's a sad, sad day for everyone here. Together, Herb and Mel brought a special spirit to this place."

Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: September 16, 2009


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