Big Weekend in Indianapolis Sports

Larry Bird Steps Down and Kevin Pritchard Takes the Reins

Larry Legend has stepped down as the Pacer’s head honcho. Mr. Bird became the head coach in 1997 and stayed in that capacity until 2000. In 2003 he was named the club’s President of Basketball Operations. He retired in 2012 only to come back a year later in the same position and has acted in that role ever since. During his career, he is the only person in NBA history to be named the League’s Most Valuable Player, NBA Coach of the Year, and NBA Executive of the Year. Mr. Bird turned 60 this year. Being the president of a sports franchise is a 24/7, 365 day proposition that he has essentially been carrying out for thirteen of the last fourteen years. That’s a whole lot of stress for a man to bear. He says that he wants to spend more time with his family and I can certainly believe that. Larry may still be connected to the Pacers as a special consultant although there is another rumor stating that Bird will wind up as the President of the Orlando Magic after all is said and done. No matter what, however, Larry Bird will always be one of the greatest names in Indiana sports history.
Bird is being succeeded by his aide Kevin Pritchard.     Pritchard was the General Manager but now adds the President’s hot seat to his duties. Pritchard is 49 years old and hails from Bloomington, although he grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He played college ball at the University of Kansas and pro ball with the Golden State Warriors as a point guard. After serving administrative stints with the San Antonio Spurs and Portland Trailblazers, Pritchard joined the Pacers in 2011 as Director of Player Personnel and a year later in 2012 was named the team’s General Manager.
The biggest challenge facing Pritchard will be the Paul George contract. This is George’s last season under his old contract.  According to the new NBA player’s collective bargaining agreement with the league, any player who achieves All NBA status is eligible for a $223 million contract extension. In addition, George has maintained that he wants to play in his hometown of Milwaukee. Magic Johnson has made it clear that he will do whatever it takes to get George on the Laker’s roster. So a trade with the Lakers for George is entirely possible. That is just one of the headaches Pritchard inherits. The new Pacer President will really be earning his salary.

Colts Draft

A week ago Thursday night and Friday night and then Saturday afternoon the National Football League conducted its annual college football players draft, this time from Philadelphia, PA. For the first time, the process was conducted outdoors from the front steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, so the “Rocky” statue figured prominently in the proceedings. I will give more detail to the story in a future column but I will tell you that new Colts General Manager Chris Ballard came through with flying colors. The Colts were able to select Ohio State safety Malik Hooker with the 15th pick. Hooker was considered by many experts to be a top five prospect but there was a run of offensive players with the first 14 picks, so Hooker fell to the Horseshoe. In the second round the Colts selected Florida corner back Quincy Wilson. Wilson was regarded as one of the top corner back prospects in the draft and has already been all but guaranteed the starting spot opposite Vomtae Davis. The team has three fourth round picks and two in the fifth round for eight total.
One of the more intriguing picks was fourth round draft pick Marlon Mack, a running back from the University of South Florida.  Mack is 5’ 11” and 214 pounds. He could be the team’s runner of the future. One of the Bronco scouts said, “the Colts got a steal on this kid. He can really run!”
One of the funniest and most interesting episodes of the draft occurred during the fourth round where the Colts had three picks. The Colts announced their three fourth round picks from the Indianapolis Zoo. Colt Vice Chair Kalen Jackson read the draft announcement and Rocky the Orangutan hit a screen in his cage and the name of the prospect appeared. It was fun and a bit of a lift from boredom of the hour. However, analyst Mike Maycock was enraged. Maycock had been treating the process as though it was a holy moment and his predictions were totally wrong. He was saying that the Colts were not taking the process seriously and he was about ready to walk off the set. He was made to look a fool. One expert called Rocky the day three draft winner.

Phoenix IndyCar Race

The Phoenix IndyCar race last Saturday night can be summed up in three words. Penske, Penske, and Penske. Helio Castroneves and Will Power broke the old single lap track speed record and started first and second and Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenand started fourth and fifth. Only Scott Dixon starting third broke up the total dominance.
On the first lap going into the first turn, Schmidt/ Peterson Honda driver Mikhail Aleshin lost control and crashed into Sebastian Bourdais.  Marco Andretti, and Charley Kimball. Graham Rahal, with nowhere to go, banged into the mess and was eliminated. So before one full lap was completed almost a third of the field had been eliminated. It probably would not have mattered. The Penske drivers took turns leading the race and it was Pagenand, the defending series champion collecting his first win of the season for the Captain. Power was second. Pole winner Castroneves was fourth. In third place, J. T. Hildebrand, driving the Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevy for Ed Carpenter showed a lot of moxie driving with a splint on his finger. After missing the Honda GP of Alabama he showed he is ready to compete again. After dueling for the lead with his teammates, Newgarden finished ninth because of a late pit stop for a new tire. Pagenand now is the series point leader. The next event is the Grand Prix of Indianapolis on May 13.