Rick Fuson: All-Star 2024 will take Indy to new heights

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NBA All-Star 2024 is just a few days away, and the question we “old timers” get more than any other is, “What is different this time from 1985?”

The answer, of course, is just about everything.

But that answer does not do justice to the intentionality with which we have sought to make NBA All-Star 2024 the most inclusive ever, nor does it give proper credit to just how significant the 1985 version truly was. I would like to provide a little more color.

I was hired in 1984 to represent the Pacers organization in organizing the 1985 All-Star Game, the first major event for the Pacers’ new owners Herb and Melvin Simon. City leaders and the business community, led by Mel and Herb, discussed holding All-Star at the newly constructed Hoosier Dome, a chance to bring more fans into the experience than ever before.

The group agreed, seeing Indy’s opportunity in its largest context, and ultimately 40,000 fans were able to watch the game in-person. That was an NBA All-Star attendance record that stood until 2010, and it represented, even then, the premium that city leaders and event organizers placed on ensuring more Hoosiers could experience for themselves professional basketball’s greatest stars.

That spirit certainly has carried through to today. NBA All-Star 2024 will be the most community-facing, fan-friendly and inclusive All-Star in NBA history, the result of a very deliberate effort on the part of the Simon family, our host committee and the league.

Banners throughout downtown announce the impending arrival of All-Star Weekend. (IBJ photo/Mickey Shuey)

It started with pivoting All-Star Saturday Night to Lucas Oil Stadium, allowing us to bring 35,000 fans to this immensely popular event. We made more than 10,000 tickets available to Hoosiers for as low as $24, and we distributed another 2,400 tickets free to local community organizations all over the state.

We also worked hard to build a diverse host committee, representative of communities across Indiana. We engaged minority- and women-owned businesses more directly than ever, an effort that has included mentorship and access to important certifications. Through the generosity of the Lilly Endowment and the Indy Championships Fund, we injected more than $2 million into our creative economy, largely aimed at supporting creatives of color.

Through our Legacy Grants Program, we invested more than $1 million in brick-and-mortar projects at gyms, community centers and parks in cities all over the state. We even expanded the NBA’s annual day of service, with plans to engage more than 6,000 volunteers for 24 Hours of Service packing one million healthy meals for Hoosiers alongside the Million Meal Movement.

The truth is, while the 1985 NBA All-Star Game was one of Indy’s milestone moments and helped position our city as the best anywhere for large events, the legacy of this year’s All-Star will undoubtedly be far greater.

That’s because we now see our opportunity in a far, far larger context.

The way we leverage the power of events like All-Star has changed. We thrive on delivering the best sports entertainment events, but we have also become straight forward in our commitment to use these events to bring new faces and new perspectives to the table. This is our opportunity to strengthen our neighborhoods, support equitable economic growth and empower a new generation of diverse leaders committed to taking Indy to new heights.

And we have fun doing it. Basketball has the unique ability to bring us together behind a common passion. Because nothing is more fun than basketball’s best and brightest on display right here in Indiana, where the game grew up.

Enjoy the show.•

__________

Fuson is CEO of Pacers Sports & Entertainment.

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