'A living legend': Donnie Walsh visits Pacers training camp
"He’s a great, trusted friend of myself and anybody involved in this organization," Rick Carlisle said.
There was a very special visitor at Pacers training camp on Friday.
He needs no introduction or a tour around the facility. One of the two practice courts at the St. Vincent Center is actually named after him.
He helped shape the Pacers for decades.
None other than Donnie Walsh attended the team’s fourth practice of the season. He was hired by the Simon brothers in 1984, one year after they purchased the team. He ran the franchise for the next two decades, establishing a winning culture that reached the conference finals seven times and the NBA Finals once.
He was invited back to the facility by Rick Carlisle, who enters Year 2 as Pacers head coach (Part II). Carlisle called him a few days ago and asked if he would stop by.
“I’ve talked to him about coming as often as he can, as often as he wants to,” Carlisle said practice. “Only good things happen when Donnie Walsh walks into a gym.”
Walsh, 81, stepped down from his role as a consultant at the end of 2020, a title he held from 2013-2020 once Larry Bird was back running the show. He felt it was just time to be done after 60 years in basketball. He then joked one year ago that he’s kept “busy doing nothing” in his two years since retirement.
(This past summer, Bird, 65, came off the team’s payroll and no longer serves as an advisor, as I reported back in July.)
Walsh said he was not involved in the hiring process when Nate Bjorkgren was selected in 2020, but he was consulted before Carlisle was brought back for a second stint as head coach in Indy.
“I think it’s a very good hire,” Walsh told Fieldhouse Files in a phone conversation shortly after Carlisle agreed to return. “And I’m happy to see Rick come back.”
It was Walsh who first hired Carlisle back in 1997 to join Bird’s coaching staff.
“There’s a lot of history there,” Carlisle said. “He’s been a very important friend and mentor of mine in my career. He means a lot to me.”
“Larry is the first guy to tell me about him and he was 100-percent right,” Walsh said last year. “Larry really wanted Rick when he came as a coach so he described him to me and it was all good. I had watched Rick as a player and I could tell a little bit of that, but not what Larry told me. And then I had my own relationship with Rick and I found everything Larry told me about him was true.”
If Walsh is in the gym, everybody will want to talk with him. Especially since so many still working as scouts, athletic trainers or broadcasters overlapped with when Walsh had an integral role with the team.
It is the first time I remember seeing Walsh back at the team facility since retiring.
So, Walsh caught up with Mad Ants GM Chris Taylor as practice concluded, then Carlisle came over to talk basketball and family. A while later, after Tyrese Haliburton had shot well enough to ring the bell, he came over to meet the longtime architect of the franchise that he’s now the face of.
“Donnie’s a living legend,” Carlisle added. “He’s a great, trusted friend of myself and anybody involved in this organization.
“It’s just a really nice moment to have him here.”
It was the fourth straight day of practice to begin camp. No two-a-days, but it was an intense practice, as scheduled.
Carlisle: “It was very good, very competitive. A lot of back and forth, a lot of teams doing good things. I was very impressed with everyone’s concentration, everyone’s level of conditioning.”
They have Saturday off.
Ringing the bell: Buddy Hield (3rd time), James Johnson (2x), Aaron Nesmith (3x), Terry Taylor, Langston Galloway (2x), Chris Duarte … then at this time, assistant coach Mike Weinar stepped in to fix it because so many players had rung it … Deividas Sirvydis (2x), Tyrese Haliburton (3x), Bennedict Mathurin (2x).
By the way, the names are listed above in order of when it happened. Players get unlimited tries after practice.
“We’re making it competitive,” Carlisle said. “We’re keeping track of who rings it on a daily basis. That’s been the theme of these first four days — compete. Everything’s competitive. Every shooting game, every drill, every scrimmage, every situation that we’re working on. It makes everybody better.”
Myles Turner surprised members of the staff when he threw the ball off the side wall and into the hoop. It’s not the first time he’s made it, but it’s not easy.
I’ve been writing each day from training camp. If you’re NOT a paid subscriber, you’ll want to upgrade to stay on top of all Pacers news. And if you are, make sure you’re caught up on content from a very busy week.
Lastly, a lot of you first subscribed in the last year, so you’ve missed some stories. Including a two-part interview with Walsh. It was his first interview since retiring.
Click the links below to read those.