The Indiana Pacers have returned to relevance in the NBA and in the eyes of local fans. It was a hard-fought but welcome turnaround for the city and its oldest top-tier professional sports franchise. And it might have been just in time.
The city and Pacers brass will sit down later this year to map out the long-term future of the basketball team in Indianapolis. The resurgence should offer a better backdrop for negotiations, certainly better than the last time team and government sat across from each other to hammer out a deal.
In 2010, the Capital Improvement Board agreed to pay the Pacers $33.5 million over three years to subsidize operating expenses and upgrades at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. It was a politically unpopular, stopgap measure designed to help the Pacers survive a string of money-losing seasons until a longer-term agreement could be reached.
It was a tough pill to swallow for the city, but not as tough as it would have been to watch the then-43-year-old franchise fold or move. That would have left a hole in the city’s collective psyche and saddled the public with a mostly empty arena.
Much has changed since then. The NBA and its players saved the season late last year by agreeing on a new labor pact that gives teams a higher percentage of basketball-related revenue. It’s no panacea for financially strapped small-market teams like the Pacers, but it’s a start.
And of course there are the more public improvements the Pacers have enjoyed: smart player personnel moves that led to a winning record, a respectable playoff run and Larry Bird’s being named the league’s executive of the year.
Not all the benefits of an improved team happen inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Restaurant and bar owners, who at one time feared the financial losses they’d suffer if the season were lost, instead have enjoyed the windfall of a long playoff run. So have bartenders, servers and others who rely on a healthy downtown hospitality trade.
This season is a reminder of what the Pacers have meant to the city for most of the last 45 years. And we hope it sets the stage for an agreement that benefits the franchise and city for many years to come.
Last place, unacceptable
Indianapolis bars go smoke-free June 1. It’s a common-sense policy that’s worth celebrating. But the party might have been bigger 10 or 15 years ago, when implementing such a law would have been almost cutting-edge.
As it is, the city is bringing up the rear. While cities from Boston to Bloomington (and from Greenfield to Fort Wayne) did what clearly needed to be done to reduce health care spending and protect public health, Indianapolis lawmakers dithered.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Indianapolis is full of smart, talented people—the same people who are making the city a laboratory for education reform, who put on one of the best Super Bowls in years, and who conceived of and built the Cultural Trail.
In a city of first-rate achievements, there’s no reason public policy should lag the nation. It’s time to ramp up expectations. Being first isn’t always wise, but let’s dispense with the notion that it’s OK to be last.•
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