Pacers and Indianapolis use 3-year delay to add new wrinkles to 1st NBA All-Star weekend since 1985


INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The signs are all around downtown Indianapolis now: NBA All-Star weekend finally has arrived.

Yes, nearly seven years after Larry Bird drove a blue-and-gold IndyCar down New York’s Fifth Avenue to hand-deliver the city’s bid, and three years after Indianapolis’ game was moved to Atlanta amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Circle City is about to host another big basketball bash.

And it could be even better than organizers initially thought.

“We could have done it in 2021 like Atlanta with 1,500 people, but we wanted to do it in Indy style,” Indiana Pacers COO and president Rick Fuson said Tuesday. “We said, ‘Hey, we’re going to do this thing bigger and better.’”

Much has changed since Indianapolis last hosted the league’s midseason classic in 1985, when a then-record crowd of 43,146 braved a driving snowstorm to watch Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Ralph Sampson lead the West past an East squad featuring Bird, Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas at the Hoosier Dome.

Back then, the city was nicknamed Indiana-no-place.

Today, Indy has grown into a staging ground for some of the world’s biggest events — the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals, men’s and women’s Final Fours, the CFP title game, Olympics trials and the Indianapolis 500 — largely because of its reputation for creating hospitable, fan-centric environments in a town where everyone embraces the parties.

Out-of-towners will find more of the same this weekend.

Images promoting the game and its events can be found seemingly everywhere from city skywalks to crowd barricades.

Posters of the All-Star players cover Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts and host to All-Star Saturday Night, and Gainbridge Fieldhouse, home of the Pacers and WNBA’s Indiana Fever and site of Sunday’s All-Star Game. There’s even a larger-than-life graphic of Pacers star Tyrese Haliburton on the towering 33-story glass facade at the JW Marriott hotel.

The recently opened Bicentennial Plaza features local art and organizers will have three IndyCars on the city’s streets, and even Bird could be back in his home state.

But in 2021, amid mask and social distancing mandates, this kind of show might not have been possible. So organizers opted for the delay, using the extra time to complete the fieldhouse’s renovation project, adding the plaza and expanding the already grand plan.

They added a high school basketball Knockout Competition that features all of the state’s 92 counties and added three new legacy projects, increasing the number from 21 to 24. Heck, the Pacers even acquired Haliburton, a first-time All-Star starter, in February 2022.

“When we had to shift the All-Star Game off of 2021, we were trying to figure out when it would work out and we landed on 2024,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in October. “But that three years, I think, has really turned out to benefit us.”

Now, the Pacers appear ready to shine under the spotlight of a second All-Star weekend.

For Herb Simon, the longest-tenured owner in NBA history at 41 years, and his family, it’s everything they imagined it could be — and so much more.

“We’re going to welcome the world and showcase our city, showcase everything that we’re doing, our organization, our city,” said Steve Simon, Herb’s oldest son and future team owner. “We’re just so thrilled to welcome the world, to do this in partnership with the greatest league in the world, the NBA, and can’t wait to host you guys.”



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