by Kent Sterling
After a decade of languishing among franchises like the Sacramento Kings, Charlotte Bobcats, and Washington Wizards, the Pacers are now in a media spotlight almost as intense as that enjoyed by the Miami Heat.
And they are doing it without taking themselves too seriously or attracting fans that enjoy them only because it has become fashionable.
No matter how good the Pacers get or the outcome of their battle to the golf with the Heat and whomever they might play in the NBA Finals, (if they can advance that far), it’s unlikely the Pacers develop the kind of bizarre coterie of fans that follow the Heat’s two stars.
Indiana doesn’t much care for stars, or more accurately treating people as though they are stars. I’ve seen Peyton Manning at the height of his popularity in early 2011 eat in a McAllister’s completely unharassed minus a brief and hilarious interruption by Fox 59’s Chris Hagan, 6’10 Dale Davis walk along a crowded Monument Circle sidewalk unbothered, and stood in line immediately ahead of 6’11” Antonio Davis in line at a crowded Taco Bell on 86th Street without any acknowledgement.
Indianapolis is the best city for a professional sports star to life because Hoosiers leave them be because they just aren’t very impressed by them.
They do like to buy tickets to watch them though when the teams are good, and the Pacers are not only very good, but are being aggressively promoted on every SportsCenter.
Pacers Sports and Entertainment can buy dozens of billboards, come up with creative (or silly) catch phrases, and host dozens of generous charitable events, but none of them can do what yesterday did for the franchise’s popularity.
Yeah, the Pacers allowed the Heat to go on a 10-2 run in the last 3:30 last night to eke out a tough win, but the game was a monster regular season event that galvanized a focused curiosity locally and nationally, and then paid it off with a fascinating narrative.
Paul George, Roy Hibbert, George Hill, Lance Stephenson, and David West are stars on the level the Pacers haven’t had since Reggie Miller. They are good players and good guys, which is what separates them from the goofballs whose character was revealed in the Brawl and in subsequent events driven by terrible judgement.
Unlike many cities, it’s not enough to be successful in Indiana. Teams need to be successful while players and management live normal lives. That makes winning especially tough, but also especially sweet.
The Pacers have found the right combination of talent and character that not only vibes with fans, but with the media. The local media have actually become unabashed fans of this group. That include some of the hardboiled old school guys who’ve been around the block several dozen times. The players treat the media with respect, and the media reciprocates.
With apologies to the fun teams of the late 1990s, the Pacers are entering an era with the potential to be its best since entering the NBA. The burgeoning rivalry between the Pacers and the Heat is helping facilitate a national awakening to what Indiana is learning just ahead of the national curve, and that is that the Indiana Pacers play basketball the right way, and live public lives the right way too.
There will be a lot of wins and a few losses, but fans will continue to watch, listen, and read those who cover the Pacers because they are worth that effort as a professional franchise made up of good men.
Hey, I know I sound like a cheerleader. Frankly it’s a hell of a lot more fun to fire clever Howitzers at pious self-indulgent twerps who pose as thugs, idiots in the front office who don’t have the vaguest notion of how to build a roster, and coaches whose best strategic thinking is done over a menu. I would much rather make myself laugh taking easy but accurate shots at Chicago Cubs President Theo Epstein than extolling the virtues of Larry Bird, but the work Bird has done is one of the great roster reformations in sports history.
Sometimes calling a spade a spade means writing and talking about something exciting and positive.