Longtime Pacers co-owner Simon takes over as team CEO

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana Pacers co-owner Herb Simon believes he's found the perfect person to take over after Donnie Walsh's departure -- himself.

Simon announced Wednesday that he is moving into day-to-day operations as chairman and CEO of Pacers Sports and Entertainment after years of mostly hands-off ownership. Walsh resigned last month after leading the Pacers for more than two decades, then accepted a job as president of the New York Knicks.

"When Donnie left, there was some reason for me to get more involved than I ever have been involved, and it's a time in my life ... where I have more time to devote to it," the 73-year-old Simon said.

Walsh had been both CEO and president of the Simon-owned company that runs the Pacers, the WNBA's Indiana Fever and Conseco Fieldhouse. Simon said the new president would be Jim Morris, a former president of the Lilly Endowment who has been an executive with the Pacers for the past year.

Larry Bird will remain as the team's president of basketball operations. Bird and Morris will report directly to Simon.

Before Wednesday's game between the Pacers and Knicks, Simon brought Walsh onto the court and thanked him for his service. Walsh got a standing ovation, then called his stay in Indiana "the best 24 years" of his life.

Walsh approved of the decisions Simon made.

"I like the organizational structure they've put in place," he said. "I think it's a great trio of people."

The Pacers reached the Eastern Conference finals six times and won the Central Division four times under Walsh. They made the NBA Finals in 2000, when they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers, and had the league's best record in 2004.

But the past three seasons have been a troublesome mix of losing and off-the-court problems. The Pacers have had back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1987-88 and 1988-89 and missed the playoffs for the second straight year.

Simon sees potential in the team, which enters Wednesday's game against New York having won 10 of 15.

"I'm getting energized myself over this, and I'm getting excited," he said. "I should have done this a long time ago. It seems like it's going to be hard work, but it's going to be rewarding, I believe, for everybody."

Brothers Herb and Mel Simon have owned the Pacers since 1983, but have allowed others to oversee things. Now, Herb Simon plans to look at the franchise from top to bottom and make it more responsive to fans and sponsors.

"Before, I was a 'hands on, hands-off' owner. Now, I'm going to be a 'hands-on, hands-on' owner," he said.