INDIANAPOLIS – Donnie Walsh, the veteran Indiana Pacers executive, the architect of the franchise’s turnaround, announced his retirement Wednesday.
“During my 30-year relationship with Donnie, I have been amazed to see him help lead this organization to what it has become,” said the team owner, Herb Simon, it’s a statement. “He was certainly the right leader at the right time, and the invaluable wisdom and advice he has provided over the decades extends far beyond the lines of the basketball court.”
Walsh came to Indiana as an assistant coach in 1984, joining a franchise that had never won a playoff game during its NBA history.
Two years later, Walsh was promoted to general manager.
He made his biggest stir in 1987, defying the wishes of a basketball-mad state to move on to star high school and college. Steve Alford to select Reggie Miller. It didn’t take long for Miller to turn draft night boos into cheers.
Walsh continued to build the Pacers with solid draft picks and crafty moves. Indiana won its first playoff game in 1987, its first playoff series in 1994, and after reaching the Eastern Conference Finals four times between 1994 and 1999, the Pacers finally won the 1999-2000 conference crown. But the Los Angeles Lakers won the championship in six games.
Ultimately, Walsh received the titles of CEO and president of the team, which he held until he left to return to his hometown of New York as president of basketball operations for the Knicks.
Walsh resigned as New York’s decision maker in June 2011, but continued to serve as a consultant to the Knicks for another year. In June 2012, the Pacers regained Walsh as president of basketball operations, succeeding Larry Bird.
When Bird returned to the team a year later, Walsh continued to work as a consultant.
“I owe him an incredible debt of gratitude,” Simon said. “While he may be drifting away, Donnie will always be a part of the Pacers family and I’m personally excited for him as he moves on to his next chapter.”
Walsh played for North Carolina for coach Frank McGuire and was a senior captain on Dean Smith’s first team in 1961-62. He was selected by the San Francisco Warriors in 1962, but never played in the NBA, choosing instead to begin a coaching career that included 12 years as McGuire’s assistant in South Carolina.
Denver Nuggets coach Larry Brown hired Walsh as an assistant in 1977, and Walsh was promoted to coach during the 1978-79 season. Walsh was 60-82 before being replaced by Doug Moe just 31 games in the 1980-81 season. Walsh spent one more season in Denver as an assistant before heading to Indiana.