"I'm a fan, I'm a cheerer," the unheralded Beverly Hills millionaire come to Indianapolis to save the NBA franchise said. "I think money can be made with the team. I think it can be a winning team."
Sam Nassi, 57, told reporters in the Indiana capital yesterday he purchased the Pacers 100 percent for a price in "the seven figures, the high seven figures." Until the news conference, Nassi was a no-name to his interviewers; they had been watching all along for another Californian, Jerry Buss, to buy the team.
"I'm a businessman, not a basketball man," Nassi elaborated, emphasizing Bobby Leonard will stay with the team he has coached for 11 years and retain complete control of day-to-day operations.
So, somebody asked Nassi - said to have made his fortune turning failing businesses into profitable ones - whether he will actively seek the services of Indiana State senior Larry Bird whose negotiations with the Boston Celtics seem stalemated.
"I would think that Bird should stay in Indiana," replied Nassi, who said he has renewed the lease on Market Square Arena for 10 years to assure the Pacers will stay in Indiana. "But the decision would have to be with Slick (Leonard).
"All I can do is provide him with the dollars to make the decision."
And, by the way, Nassi mentioned, the Celtics' new 100 percent owner, Harry Mangurian, has invited him to attend a meeting where the future of Bird, college player of the basketball year, would be discussed - within the week, most likely.
Hmmmm. . .
Draft fever, or something, caught former All-Met basketballer Garcia Hopkins: the DuVal (P.G.) alumnus announced he is going "hardship" and making himself available for the upcoming NBA DRAFT. HOPKINS, 6-6 1/2, 215, WAS ALL-MEAC at Morgan State and maintained a 2.0 academic standing along with 21.4 scoring and 8.3 rebounding. But, said his mother, from Landover, he feels he is ready for the big jump - they call him "The Hop" or "Leapin' Lizard" - He said, 'Don't hate me, this is what I want'". . .
Touchdown Club sponsors its second annual area high school and college football coaches appreciation night today, 7 p.m., and public is invited; $5.
Bill Lucas, the Braves' veep, remained in very critical condition in the Atlanta hospital where a brain hemorrhage and heart attack landed him Wednesday - but some limelight shifted yesterday to the other high-ranking black in Ted Turner's front office.
Hank Aaron, Lucas' former brother-in-law who serves as director of player development, reacted to pitcher-sportscaster-author Jim Bouton's latest literary venture with: "I knew Mr. Bouton was going to do something like this. I told Ted and all of them that he something up his sleeve. I knew he would try to get back at me because I was the one who released him. I had told him in the beginning that there was nothing he could do for the ball club. We weren't in the business of promoting a 39-year-old knuckleball pitcher."
Turner, of course, overruled Aaron and the rest is history - or something.
In "Son of Ball Four," a Sports Illustrated article, Bouton had spiced the chronicle of his amazing pitching comeback through the Braves' farm system last year to the majors for a last filing in September by knocking Aaron as being so unfamiliar with details of his job he didn't know one player from another.
"He was a snake-in-the-grass," Aaron countered, "going around snooping on ballplayers. All he did for us to take 17 or more starts from some 18 or 19-year-old we're trying to develop". . .
Donald Gomes, the 6-footer who broke the barrier by judicial edict in Rhode Island and was awarded a berth on the girls volleyball team at Rogers High School in Newport, debuted yesterday against Middletown (R.I.) High. By far the tallest player on court, in his Rogers uniform of red T-shirt and red shorts with black lettering, a nervous Gomes missed his first shot (before 100 spectators, 50 reporters, TV cameras, while seven protesters waved signs outside the match site, Barrington High) before settling into the contest. Rogers, with Gomes generally ineffectual, lost; 15-4, 15-5. . .
Huff and Stuff? Frank Herzog, erstwhile play-by-play voice of the Bullets, comes on this fall as p.-by-p. man on the Redskin radiocasts! WMAL-630, flagship station of the Washington NFL network, let the cat out of the bag last night that Herzog is replacing Dan Lovett, who said he has too many other irons in the fire. Partnering Herzog, as he did Len (Puff) Hathaway before sidekicking "Sunshine to Ya" Lovett, will be the Old Linebacker, Sam Huff. Herzog continues in his regular role as WDVM-TV-9 all-around sportscaster while doing the Redskin thing on a free-lance basis. Now do the faithful on Redskin telecasts tune out the CBS yakkers - welcome, Curt Gowdy - to hear Herzog's audio over the Channel 9 video?