Indiana Pacers: Night of Celebration for ABA Long Overdue

Geoff EstesCorrespondent IApril 24, 2012

Wednesday night is not about the Pacers against the Bulls as much as it is about the Pacers' greats of the ABA. 

The game means very little to the Pacers.  The third seed is locked up.  Sure, there is some bad blood with the Bulls, but anything chippy that could be the least bit suspension-inducing would be stupid, quite frankly.

Wednesday night is a final tune-up for the Pacers before the playoffs begin this weekend against (hopefully) Orlando.

In the history of the franchise, however, it is a long-overdue night to recognize the teams that first put Indianapolis on the professional basketball map.

Last week the Pacers announced that all former ABA players for the Pacers would be invited Wednesday night to participate in a celebration of those teams, as well as the fact that Mel Daniels will be the first Pacer inducted into the Hall of Fame.

As most Pacers fans know, I would hope, the Pacers have never won an NBA Championship.  This was not the case in the ABA.  The Pacers were the class of the league, winning three championships in a four-year span (1970, 1972, 1973).

Those great teams were led by Roger Brown and Mel Daniels, and later George McGinnins as well.  They featured great role players like Darnell Hillman, Bob Netolicky, Billy Keller and Rick Mount.  They were coached, of course, by Bobby "Slick" Leonard, who should be not too far behind Daniels on his way to the Hall of Fame.

These teams were not just great, they were also extremely likeable.  My dad tells me stories of driving from Iowa to the Indiana State Fairgrounds Coliseum to watch these teams play, and the party-like atmosphere of the place.

In Terry Pluto's classic book Loose Balls, he tells stories of the Pacers thinking they were cowboys because of riding horses at Daniels' ranch and actually wearing holsters equipped with six shooters in the locker room.

A lot of this history is forgotten by some people because it occurred in the ABA.  One subset of people who have not forgotten about it is true Pacers fans. 

They know of the eccentricities of these teams and the success they achieved.  They remember the dominance of Daniels in the paint.  His fearlessness of opposing big men.

They remember Netolicky's wild behavior and the fact that he owned the bar (Neto's) that became the hangout for Pacers players after the games.

They know how good it feels to see Mel Daniels, two-time ABA MVP, finally earn his rightful spot in Springfield.

At least I hope they do.

We Pacers fans were heartbroken by Larry Johnson's four-point play.  We hated Kobe and Shaq for beating our 2000 Pacers.  We were mortified after the brawl.  We were helpless the last seven years, watching subpar and seemingly uninspired Pacers teams slogging their way to another mid-first-round pick.  We knew something had gone terribly wrong when Daniels left the organization and Jim O'Brien was still there.  At least I think we did.

Tomorrow night is a night to remember all of that and to forget what we want.

We can remember the good times and celebrate a successful season, along with the greats from the Pacers' past in one place.

We can rejoice in seeing Mel Daniels back in Banker's Life Fieldhouse.  Daniels should always be standing in the tunnels of that place cheering on the Pacers until the end, just like he described himself doing in the Reggie Miller documentry Winning Time.  Daniels is the Indiana Pacers.

Start biting your fingernails and waving your rally towels this weekend.  The playoffs will still be there.

Tomorrow night is a night to show the ABA Pacers they are a long, long way from forgotten.  Celebrate the past—we can worry about the future on Thursday.