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Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Updated: September 24, 10:34 AM ET
No. 3: Indiana Pacers

By Carl Carchia
ESPN The Magazine

Last year's rank: 4
Title track: 65
Ownership: 22
Coaching: 22
Players: 15
Fan relations: 18
Affordability: 1
Stadium Experience: 11
Bang for the Buck: 1

Perhaps the Pacers' meteoric rise up our Ultimate Standings -- they've jumped 95 spots from 2010 -- parallels Paul George's stunning emergence as a franchise player. Danny Granger's injury opened the door for George, and the previously obscure Fresno State product burst through it, leading the Pacers to the brink of the NBA Finals (their best run since 2004) last season. The timing was perfect, since the do-it-all 23-year-old forward stands to earn a big extension in the near future.

More good news for Pacers fans: Hall of Famer Larry Bird returned as team president in June after taking time off to address health issues. As owner Herb Simon said to the Indianapolis Star, "He's got plenty of rings of his own, now I want him to win one for me." The Pacers, after all, already have championship-caliber players such as center Roy Hibbert, who has endeared himself to the fans not only on the court but off it too. Hibbert gives away season tickets to 55 "wild and crazy" fans to occupy the "Area 55" section at Bankers Life Field House, so it's no surprise that the team's players ranking jumped a spot this year, and that the fan relations ranking is up 53 spots since the giveaway started in 2010-11. In addition, stadium experience, up 25 places since 2011, has been bolstered by new twin 50-foot 1080p HD video screens installed for the 2012-13 season. Ready for the icing on the cake? The Pacers are the most affordable franchise in sports ($31.62 tickets and $8 parking), coming in at No. 1 in our bang for the buck category. Oh, and now they have their native son, a Hall of Famer with an eye for talent, back at the helm. It's almost unfair, isn't it, Wizards fans?