Former ABA commissioner, Pacers GM Mike Storen dies at 84

Photo courtesy of Hannah Storm via AP
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Mike Storen, a former ABA commissioner and multisport marketing whiz and the father of ESPN broadcaster Hannah Storm, died Thursday. He was 84.

Storm said her father died at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta of complications from cancer.

Known for his hearty laugh and creative mind, Storen rose to executive spots in basketball, football, baseball and tennis during a four-decade career in sports.

“I still have a red, white and blue basketball with his name on it,” Storm said. “All those things the ABA did — the 3-point shot, cheerleaders, the slam-dunk contest — those were right up his alley.”

Storen was general manager of the Indiana Pacers and Kentucky Colonels and president of the Atlanta Hawks. He owned the ABA’s Memphis Sounds with musician Isaac Hayes, worked for the Cincinnati Royals of the NBA and the Houston Astros, and was commissioner of the Continental Basketball Association.

With the Memphis Grizzlies of the World Football League, he brought in the likes of Paul Warfield and Larry Csonka on the field and Elvis Presley into the seats.

Storen promoted the Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston and major indoor tennis tournaments featuring Bjorn Borg in Memphis. His last sports job was with the Georgia Force of the Arena Football League in 2002.

“For me and so many other guys that might not have had a chance to continue playing, his influence on the ABA just gave countless kids and coaches to do something they love,” Basketball Hall of Fame coach and ABA alum Larry Brown said Thursday night. “And at the end of the day, when you consider the contributions some of those kids and coaches made in the NBA after the ABA was finished, it’s just remarkable. He just cared about the game and cared about the players in the league.”

The Pacers also paid tribute.

“It is impossible to overstate the impact Storen had on our franchise and the American Basketball Association,” the team posted on Twitter.

“He paved the way for the Pacers’ eventual entry into the NBA by putting together a talented front office and assembling a roster led by eventual Hall of Famers Roger Brown and Mel Daniels,” the team said, adding Storen “was instrumental in choosing the name ‘Pacers,’ designed the team’s first logo and chose its blue and gold colors. Storen was the first captain of the ABA’s flagship franchise and the foundation for the tradition of success the Pacers maintain to this day.”

It was a want ad in the newspaper that started Storen’s pro path. He answered that call — “without any appreciable experience but with a lot of charm and gusto,” Storm has said — for a ticket seller with the Chicago Zephyrs in the NBA in the early 1960s. He stayed with the team when it moved and became the Baltimore Bullets as their promotions director.

Storen eventually ascended to become commissioner of the American Basketball Association in the early 1970s. Boosted by stars such as Julius Erving, Storen helped put in motion the ABA’s move toward a merger with the NBA.

Brown said Storen’s impact on the game — both then and now — should not be understated.

“I would see him from time to time and shoot, I always admired him,” Brown said. That’s the thing that stands out in my mind. When you talk to the old guys from the ABA, the pride we all had in being in the league was just the best part of it. And Mike, to me, championed our league. He made people aware it was a special brand of ball with quality players playing.”

Tweeted NBA Hall of Famer Alex English, who started his rise to prominence with the Pacers: “Rest In Peace to another pioneer in sports, Mike Storen.”

Storen, from Michigan City, Indiana, played freshman football at Notre Dame as a defensive back. He later was a U.S. Marine and was involved with the popular Marine Toys for Tots program.

Storm followed her father to school at Notre Dame and, instilled with a love of sports, made that her career path.

“From the time I was a kid, I was always around sports because of my dad,” Storm said. “I remember always having a lot of very, very tall people in the house for Thanksgiving or Christmas or parties. Artis Gilmore, Dan Issel, Dr. J, so many athletes.”

Storen is survived by wife Lynn; sons Mark and Duke and daughter Hannah by his first wife, Hannah; two stepdaughters, Susan Duncan and Lisa Roberts; and 14 grandchildren.

Among Storen’s relatives is major league pitcher Drew Storen.