Indiana Pacers owner Herb Simon sat down for an exclusive one-on-one interview with the IndyStar on Thursday after the conclusion of the regular season. The wide-ranging conversation included Paul George's, bringing the All-Star game to Indianapolis and, of course, Lance Stephenson:
Question: What are thoughts on Paul Georgeís performance this season and his future with the team?
Answer: This guy has taken over the team and pulled us up. I think very highly of him. I think he was incredibly personable at our breakfast in New Orleans during the All-Star weekend. He was very open. He wants to be a champion. He wants a winning team and itís our job to get him one. Heís got that desire to be a special player, which he is, and to have a special team. Weíre all on the same wavelength. Itís just a matter of we both have to produce. He has to produce and we have to give him the players to produce with.
Q: Was there any real consideration in trading George before the deadline in February?
A: Basically, we were offered a lot of things. We didnít even think of taking any of them. (President) Larry (Bird) will give you a better feel for it, but the answer is you canít stop people from making offers. But it wasnít any question of accepting any of them.
Q: Do you believe you can win a championship with George?
A: Of course.
Q: Are you always going to allow Bird to make the basketball decisions or will there be more of a back and forth?
A: We always discuss things. But I think anything Larry really wanted to do Iíve never stood in the way. Thatís not my job. My job is to ask good questions and to find what his thinking is and what his plans are. That final decision on which players are the ones he wants, thatís his decision.
Q: What has it been like work and give the basketball decisions to Bird?
A: Iíve been lucky. Iíve had two great basketball minds the most of my career: Donnie Walsh and Larry Bird. You canít get much better than that. Theyíre both different, but theyíre both passionate. They both know basketball, so Iíve been fortunate that way. Larry is very special, tremendous integrity. His word means something. I talk to Larry a lot. Iím going to see him right after this. I saw him this morning. I talk to him mostly after a victory as oppose to a defeat.
Q: Why was now a good time to bring Lance Stephenson back and what are your thoughts about what heís done the last six games?
A:I always knew Larry, especially, had a special feeling about Lance. Larry is a patient guy. When he felt it was the right time, and he was available, it worked out. Had (Rodney) Stuckey not gotten hurt, we might not have seen (Stephenson) this year. Sometimes you get lucky. Itís not the end-all, be-all, but it certainly was a spark to the team. Even the players say that. He gave them energy.
Q: NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in January that it would ďhighly likelyĒ for Indianapolis to host a future All-Star weekend. What has sparked your interest to host the event again?
A: We did it early on and it wasnít the big deal back in 1985 as it is today. When Rick (Fuson) said, ĎI think it would be nice to host it again,í I donít usually go to the All-Star Game because something always comes up or my kids were too young. Now, I took my 13-year-old to New Orleans and thatís when I really became interested. Itís such a professionally put on operation that it just enlivens the city and brings people together. Thereís a real, up-close connection between the fan and the stars. Itís remarkable how itís changed and how important it is to a city. Iím so grateful to this city of Indianapolis for taking Mel (Simon) and I under their wings and giving us an opportunity. When I realized it would be something the city wanted, I just jumped at the opportunity. We donít have it yet, but weíre going to put our best foot forward.
Q: Are you optimistic you will be awarded the event in the near future?
A: There are 15 teams that want the host the All-Star Game. We have to come in with our bids at the end of the month. The year 2020-21 would be our first year eligible to host it.
Q: Where do you see your future in relation to the team?
A: Usually the owner doesnít have to worry about his future. Weíre always thinking about estate planning and itís all aimed to keep the team here when Iím gone. I heard someday Iím not going to be here and I donít want to believe it right now. Anything I do with the Pacers would be to ensure that there is a team here in Indianapolis for the foreseeable future.
Q: In your opinion, how has the Pacersí fan base changed during your ownership?
A: Ever since the troubles we had back (in 2004 with the brawl with Detroit Pistons), weíve been, every year, winning back fans from that dark period. Itís a combination of putting an entertaining and a good team on the floor. Itís not as easy as you think it is. People try to pay the most salaries and theyíve lost. Itís just a matter of combination of skill and luck and being at the right place. Itís not easy to come back when youíre down. I think weíre coming back and weíre happy with the progress weíve made and weíre going to continue to work to give the fans the best experience that they can have.
Q: Why did you decide not to sell the team in the aftermath of the brawl?
A: When there came a time when there was pressure to sell, I just didnít feel comfortable selling. I didnít think selling for the highest bidder and someone moving the team out of the city was what my obligation to the city thatís been so good to me and gave me the opportunity to buy the team at the right time. There was no way, if it was in my power, I wasnít going to sell the team at that time. It was a tough period. We were losing many, many dollars a year and now things have turned around. Values, on paper, have gone up. They donít mean anything until you sell it. To me, this is my responsibility to whatever happens with this team to stay in this city as long as it and the city want it to be here. Thatís more important than the sale price. When we were losing all that money, my financial people thought I was crazy to take on the full responsibility of the team. I didnít have a long range plan, but I knew that I can save the team. I was lucky enough, so far, to do it.
Q: What does it mean to be the longest-tenured owner in the NBA?
A: You grow up for most of your life being the youngest guy in the room. And then sometimes you become one of the oldest guys in the room and you donít even realize it because youíre used to being one of the youngest guys. The answer is that my ownership is broken up into two parts. In the beginning, I was busy running a business. I had a lot of interest, but little time. Now I have more time and Iím more involved and Iím enjoying it every much.
Q: What ways are you more involved now than earlier in your ownership?
A: Emotionally. Iím involved with the business, obviously, but the basketball is a very special thing for me. Iím a non-basketball player who happens to be an owner. Iím going to ask some questions, but Iím never going to try to second-guess the basketball people. Theyíre results are obvious.
Q: What are your thoughts on the Pacers making the playoffs in this particular fashion?
A: (Wednesday) I was so on edge for that ball game (against Atlanta). I was so uptight during halftime and I said to myself, ĎAfter 34 years, what is it about this game that means so much to you?í It meant a lot to me because I think making the playoffs was our aim this year. Now we thought weíd be higher and maybe go to the second round. But making the playoffs for all the work that Larry and the boys have done in putting together a team, for them learning to play with each other, going through those ups and downs and having the spunk to pull it all together at the end, it became such an important thing for me. I felt like my first year as an owner when I was nervously waiting for the second half (to start).
Q: Do you try to hide your emotions during games or is that just your personality?
A: Sometimes you're affected by the people youíre with. Sitting next to Donnie (Walsh) and in front of Larry, the most stoic, nervous, non-talkative people in the world, it rubs off on me. Although Donnie and I talk through most of the game. (Wednesday) when my friends saw me on the television, they said, ĎBoy, you look nervous.í I said I was.
Q: How do you feel about facing the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round?
A: We have only to go up. Weíre in a lower position than we thought we were going to be and weíre playing probably one of the toughest teams, but, you know, we took them to double overtime with LeBron (James) at their place. Weíre playing at a higher level than we were. I have some modest expectations that we can do something special.
Q: When did your love of basketball begin?
A: It was a civic responsibility. When the team was being ready to be sold to Sacramento in the early '80s, the city went around looking for someone to keep the team here. They came to my brother and I. Although we always liked basketball, we had no great desire to own a team. We were too busy building a business. Having said that, once we did get involve, it became a passion and something thatís been a big part of our lives.
Q: What has surprised you most about the growth of the NBA?
A: In the beginning, we could have never imagined anything like this. Weíve had two strong commissioners and they were both the right ones at the right time. Because of both of those guys and whatís happened, we have developed into one of the most desirable leagues in the world.
Q: How has your relationship with Commissioner Adam Silver developed over the years?
A: As he got into his job, he had some owners that he felt comfortable with. I was one of them and we talk. We have a good relationship. He doesnít look to me for advice. He looks to me for a general understanding of what weíre doing. He may ask me what I think of something, but he doesnít depend on me for my advice.
Q: What do you want for future of the team?
A: Well, our aim is to win a championship. Our aim is to be big supporters of the city and charitable in situations and to give the fans a great experience. When you travel the world like I have and see a Pacers fan in China, thatís a great feeling. Those fans are all over.
Q: How do you handle your relationship with the players?
A: I always felt from the beginning that Iím not a basketball person. I always felt Iím much older than the players. Not that I donít admire them, not that I donít watch every single minute of every game, not that I donít get involve. Itís a matter of choice. Iím not the locker room kind of owner. Iím just as intensely involved and emotionally involved with the team and the players as if I was in the locker room high-fiving people. I only really get involved with the players when basketball people think I should and when the player really wants to. Iíve had some meetings with players. I do like the players. I like to think of myself as a hand off, hands on owner. Iím there emotionally and involved in the top level of running the business.
Q: What are you trying to accomplish from a budget in terms of the salary cap when the cap continues to rise almost every year?
A: Believe me, our aim is to be competitive. We donít like to be paying the luxury tax, but most teams try to avoid that. It depends on how good your people are in putting together a team. Weíll always stay competitive. When the day comes we need one player to win a championship, we may even go over the cap.
Iíve been battling the league for 30 years, both under David (Stern) and now Adam, about the small markets and making sure that the rules give us a shot to be competitive and have an ability to win a championship like a San Antonio. Theyíve been on a wonderful streak. They are the small market idol. Weíre not taking a backseat to anyone, but weíre not going to spend wildly. Weíre not going to panic and Larry doesnít like to overpay and he knows talent. Thatís why Iím very comfortable with him.
Q: What are your thoughts of coach Nate McMillan in his first season?
A: I know Nate and Iíve had dinner with him a couple of times. Heís a wonderful person. I leave that evaluation to Larry and the basketball people. They seem to like him every time his name comes up. Theyíre very positive about them.
Q: How do you feel about George McGinnis getting into the Basketball Hall of Fame?
A: That was long overdue, long overdue. Iím proud of every one of those players up there in the rafters.
Q: What are your favorite memories as the Pacersí owner?
A: The most excited I got was when we beat the Knicks in the sixth game (in 2000) and everyone put me on television dancing and clapping. I never get excited, but just to get passed that round and get into the finals was such a relief that I got carried away. All the years with Reggie (Miller) and going to the finals and just one jumper (in Game 4) away from maybe winning the whole thing. Going up to Chicago for the seventh game (in 1998) and the (Bulls') owner giving me a hug and saying, ĎIf I have to lose, I wouldnít mind losing to you.í And the son-of-a-gun won. And all the people and the players. Weíve had people here for 40 years. People donít leave. I have good people here.Ē
Q: Do you like being labeled a loyal owner to his employees?
A: I value loyalty. I think everyone should. I know Larry does in the basketball end and Rick and Jim (Morris) on their end. You donít get into a community the size of Indianapolis without being loyal and being truthful.