Longtime Indiana Pacers executive and NBA fixture Donnie Walsh is set to transition to the next phase of his life. The 79-year-old — who famously drafted future Hall of Famer Reggie Miller in 1987 and was the architect behind a number of the franchise’s winningest squads — told The Indianapolis Star that he is stepping down from his post.
“I’m getting older and don’t have the energy,” Walsh said. “It’s a young man’s sport.”
He further revealed that he intends to shift his focus from basketball to his family.
“This job has always occupied a great deal of my time. The Pacers were always in my head. This gives me an opportunity to pay attention to my children, my grandchildren and my wife (Judy) of 58 years.”
Although Walsh previously stepped down from his role as team president more than seven years ago, he had continued to serve in the Pacers’ front office in an advisory capacity and was a regular attendee of games.
He first joined Indiana as an assistant in 1984 following a stint with the Denver Nuggets and later became the club’s general manager. After his drafting of Chuck Person, Miller and Rik Smits over three consecutive offseasons in the late 1980s, the Pacers broke out of the league’s cellar and began the following decade with seven straight playoff appearances, reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in 1994 and 1995.
Under his direction, the franchise continued to be a postseason mainstay as years passed, advancing to the playoffs every year from 1998 to 2006. In 2000, a Pacers team led by Miller, Smits and Jalen Rose made it to the NBA Finals but eventually fell in six games to Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Walsh went on to take a job with the New York Knicks as the franchise’s president of basketball operations in 2008. In short order, he reduced the Knicks’ exorbitant payroll by tens of millions of dollars and laid the groundwork for the acquisition of All-Stars Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. Those and other moves ultimately enabled New York to break a multi-year playoff drought.
Walsh rejoined the Pacers in 2012 and the club has enjoyed multiple winning and extended campaigns since his return. Over his 22 years as president or GM, the Pacers reached the playoffs 19 times and were four-time divisional champions.
In a statement, team owner Herb Simon praised the work that Walsh has done in building his squad into one of the winningest clubs in the association.
“Over my thirty-year relationship with Donnie, I have been amazed to watch him help lead this organization to what it has become,” he said. “He was certainly the right leader at the right time, and the invaluable wisdom and counsel he has provided over the decades extend well beyond the lines of the basketball court. For that, I owe him an incredible debt of gratitude.”