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Pacers games won't be the same without 'Big Time' Frank McGrath
He was the team photographer for 44 years. He passed away on March 30, 2021.
At every Pacers game, without fail, he was there. Camera in hand, Frank McGrath roamed around Pacers games to capture live action and moments that make game night special. For 44 years, he was always there — first at Market Square Arena and then Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
This season has been different for all of us, including McGrath. He has not been around The Fieldhouse and had his challenges since last summer. By Tuesday morning, the longtime member of the Pacers family passed away. He was 70 years old.
The organization issued the following statement Tuesday evening.
“Frank McGrath was a beloved member of the Pacers Sports & Entertainment family for so many years, capturing our special moments with his camera and documenting so much of the history of our organization. He was a friend and mentor to many here, and he will be missed.
“We mourning his passing, and we send his wife, Donna, and the entire family our deepest condolences and prayers during this difficult time.”
I mentioned Pacers games, but it was rare for there to be an event held without his presence. There were times after practice when I would go up in his loft, high above the court, and work in his office. He used to refer to it as “my penthouse suite.”
In reality, it was a quiet space where he could spread out and work.
I remember being up there to write after a Pacers practice and as Taylor Swift went through sound check. I left shortly after — I should’ve stayed for the concert, I heard it was amazing — but not Frank. He would stay through the show to take photos.
He was always around.
Team press conferences.
High school basketball state finals.
Big Ten basketball tournaments.
I’m not exaggerating when I say Frank was a Pacers legend. That’s why I always called him Big Time. He loved the Pacers and was grateful for the Simon family. He frequently wore Pacers sweaters and button-downs. You might think they were new, but with a vintage style.
Nope, they were originals. Most going back decades.
He was most proud of the photo below. It’s Mel and Herb Simon in the stands for a game in 1984 after they purchased (and saved) the franchise. He had it framed.
Another photo that was special to him was of two players lifting up Nancy Reagan to dunk a basketball at MSA.
Before the 2019-20 season, the 20th year at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, I spoke to 20 individuals who had been there from the beginning, including Frank. Here was the memory he shared.
“When the Simons first bought the team (in 1983), for their very first game here they put us all in tuxedos. Everybody — all the staff — in tuxedos, including me. I had to sit on the floor shooting the game on camera and I’m in a tux. (Laughs.)
“That was the most amusing game I’ve ever shot. Beyond that, it’s not a knock on who we got now, but who we had during the ’80s, we had the best core group of overall dominant individuals that there’s ever been in the league — with Bird, Magic and that whole group. And amusingly, Michael Jordan was kind of the outsider trying to work his way into that group.”
Frank was kind and always willing to help. He had a quiet, fun-loving spirit. He might come across cold at first, but look out — because he would crack a joke out of nowhere as he flashed an ornery smile.
He was in charge of annual staff photos, which then appeared in the team’s media guide. He always had a station at Pacers and Fever media days where he would take hundreds of photos of each player to use throughout the year. Some headshots, some serious and others for promotions that were planned.
When I first started covering the Pacers on my own in 2014, he came to me and asked if I wanted to use his photos to add to my stories. Absolutely. (Photos are one of the biggest challenges when independent.)
So after each game, he would bring a USB thumb drive and allow me to copy a half-dozen photos or so. And I wasn’t the only one. (Years later he began uploading to the cloud.)
I can’t even count how many photos he sent me from my time working with the Fever and Pacers. As a ball boy, I always worked the visitor’s bench so I’d often be in the shot if there was a big dunk or late-game shot. He had hundreds of photos from the Fever’s 2012 championship run, so many that he invited me up to his penthouse suite to have whatever I wanted.
He was just happy to help and he knew how much I appreciated it. I used to laugh how the subject line always read: “You!"
On game nights, I have a routine. Always have. So in normal times, when I make my way down the stairs and go through the door towards the media room, I pass Frank’s game night workspace on my left. Reporters pass it after games on the way to the interview room.
The Pacers plan to hold a moment of silence before the Pacers’ game Wednesday night against the Heat. It would also be special if they named that corner room after him.
We lost Bill Bevan, an original member of the stats crew, in early December. And now Frank.
Events just won’t be the same with him — in his vintage sweater, camera in hand and ready to snap the photo. You may not know him, but I guarantee you’ve seen dozens of his photos on the Pacers’ website and social media channels.
I’ll miss you, Frank. We all will.