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Conseco Fieldhouse: Ten Years Later

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[Conseco Fieldhouse opened ten years ago toay, so Tony Laurenzana aka duke dynamite aka Pacers superfan sent me his thoughts on those ten years to post here today, which follows. Thanks, Tony!  - TL]

In the 1980's, Indiana University was the best it got. The Hoosiers won two NCAA Championships within that decade and they became the focal point in the state for good basketball.

There was an entirely different story unfolding just up Highway 37. Unfortunately, the Pacers were struggling making it through an entire season. They were a perpetual stepping-stone for Larry Bird's led Boston Celtics. Magic Johnson's LA Lakers.

Real estate moguls Herb and Melvin Simon took over the team in 1983 and tried to inject new life into a once-proud franchise. Before the decade came to a close, there were questionable draft picks, a couple of odd trades, new front office leadership and a handful of coaches later, the team somehow became...better?

The Pacers made a run for a conference title or two in the early 1990's, led by Coach Larry Brown and players like Reggie Miller, Rik Smits, Dale Davis and Byron Scott.

In 1996, it wasn't as pretty. The Pacers failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 1989.

Within the dilapidated confines of Market Square Arena, the Pacers were going through their renaissance and showing the nation what kind of a team they were. Hoosier Legend Larry Bird was leading the team towards a Conference Title three years straight. He won the NBA Coach of the Year award in 1998.

July 22, 1997. It almost seems like an eternity ago when the franchise and city broke ground on the cathedral of basketball arenas. This new state-of-the-art arena would not only showcase the Pacers, but local college and high school basketball games and historical mementos as well. Think of it as a museum with a basketball court inside it.

Conseco Fieldhouse opened on November 6, 1999 where 18,000-plus fans jammed the "House that Bird Built" with Indiana Basketball Hysteria. The Pacers went onto beating the Boston Celtics that night, and it ushered in a new era of Indiana Basketball.

We all know that the game of basketball wasn't invented in Indiana, heck, it wasn't even conceived by an American-born citizen. But all that doesn't matter, because the game has adopted this state as it's home, and not the other way around.

During that inaugural season, the Pacers sold out every home game and made it to the NBA Finals for the first time. They even won 25-straight games at Conseco Fieldhouse. Then, it was our turn to show the world why Indiana is the basketball capital of the world. They gave it their best shot, but lost to the Lakers four games to two.

After that year, Larry Bird retired from coaching. Some of the great players that were on the team either retired, signed with other teams, or were traded for younger talent. This surely wasn't the end of this renaissance was it? It kind of signaled an end. But there was a new beginning over the horizon...

The Pacers made it to the playoffs each year they've been in the Fieldhouse up until the 2006-2007 season. They even made another Eastern Conference Finals appearance in 2004 where they lost to the eventual NBA Champion Detroit Pistons.

Just like a roller coaster, there is usually an apex and a long, steep drop with this franchise. On November 19, 2004, one of the worst displays of sportsmanship tainted the history of the team. Similarly, it's like getting an expulsion put on your elementary school permanent record. It sticks with you pretty much forever.

This also marked the final year for Pacers' Legend, Reggie Miller, who played all 18 of his seasons with the team. The team was without defensive standout Ron Artest for the remainder of the season, Reggie's successor, Stephen Jackson was out for a few games and powerhouse Jermaine O'Neal due to a suspension and injuries.

Looking back, the Pacers had a shot to repeat an Eastern Conference Finals appearance that season, but they came up short against the Pistons, again.

Since then, ties have been cut with most of those players involved, and a new batch of promising young talent has got a chance to wear the blue and gold. The team has lucked into drafting a now All-Star player, Danny Granger.

With the past few years being marred by off-the-court incidents, injuries and three draft lottery appearances, things haven't really gone the Pacers' way.

Things obviously have changed within the past 10 years. The once-great Pacers were a team on the brink of contention for an NBA title for three years straight, including twice within the building's first year of operation. From a couple of promising seasons to now a consistent lottery team. From thousands of empty seats and cheaper ticket prices, the Pacers have really lost what it meant to have the privilege to play in the basketball's rendition of The Vatican.

Hopefully, the next ten years can be proud ones, and a new renaissance can emerge.