Last week, Indiana basketball legend Mark Titus wrote a compelling piece wondering why the Pacers weren’t more popular in a state that loves basketball so much.
In it, Titus lists several statistics which seem to indicate that the Pacers aren’t loved and followed much at all by people in Indiana.
While I feel that some of those statistics are misleading (it’s easy to have one of the lowest attendance rates when you have the 5th smallest stadium in the league), and even wrong (the Pacers were consistently in the top half of the league in attendance from 1998-2004 and the only stadium that was smaller than theirs that ever averaged more people was Arco Arena in Sacramento), he did make some good points.
Why Don’t The Pacers Get More Love in the Hoops’ Heartland?
A lot of the Pacers’ lack of popularity can be traced back to the brawl.
In Reggie’s final season, the Pacers had the best team in the league. Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, and Jermaine O’Neal – the Pacers’ three best players – unfortunately ruined it.
That game and season left a terrible taste in many Hoosiers’ mouths. At the same time, Peyton Manning and the Colts were becoming incredibly popular. It was easy for citizens who had a limited amount of disposable income that lived in a small city to start choosing the Colts over the Pacers.
In the comment thread on Titus’ article, several people jumped to the wrong conclusion that since college basketball is “much better” basketball than the NBA, and the Hoosier state has several great college basketball teams, then that is why the folks in Indiana dislike the Pacers.
Now I must admit, although I don’t think college basketball is nearly as good as the NBA, college sports do tend to create more loyal and rabid fans than professional sports.
For instance, if you attended IU, you will be a Hoosier fan for life because you feel like you have something in common with every single basketball player that ever plays there. You also have an easy “out” if they become bad. It’s okay to love and cheer for the school that you attended.
However, I think there is a much bigger reason why the Pacers aren’t as popular as one might hope. You see, basketball fans in Indiana are different. Quite frankly, they are connoisseurs of the game that they love.
This might be hard to understand, but most people hate to watch basketball with me. Why? Because I’m not watching it to be entertained.
Just yesterday, I was watching the Clippers-Grizzlies game with my father. Chris Paul made a move late in the first half that amazed me. He dribbled with his left hand to the left wing and hesitated for a half-second. In that half-second, he stretched his right leg past his defender…almost in slow motion. His defender, Mike Conley, thought that he was going to plant and shoot the fall-away jumper, but instead, CP3 exploded by him into the lane where he missed a tough layup.
It was unlike any move I had ever seen. He basically performed a “drop step” while facing up his defender from the three-point line.
I rewound the play over and over again as my father and I broke it down in appreciation. Of course, my wife (who wasn’t thrilled to be watching basketball on Mother’s Day anyway) got irritated and left the room.
These types of things happen over and over in my house when basketball is on – to the dismay of most basketball fans I know, even close friends of mine.
And here’s where the fans in Indiana come in: they know basketball, they played basketball, and they understand what it takes to play winning basketball.
And quite frankly, the Pacers just don’t have a team that can win much of anything this year.
The Single Reason Why The Pacers’ Cannot Win It All
Oh, don’t get me wrong. I enjoy watching the Pacers play. They play nine guys who hustle and work hard on a nightly basis (something that’s not necessarily a given in the NBA). They work hard on defense and are well-coached. They move the ball beautifully on offense, and they don’t depend on just one or two guys to score.
But that’s the problem right there: they don’t have that one guy who can score.
Of course, this has been repeated ad nauseum on ESPN for the past few days. Over and over again, you will hear things like, “Can the Pacers’ team beat the Heat’s stars?”
The answer is no.
I’m not a pessimist, I’m a realist. We, as Hoosiers, have been down this road before.
We have watched great “teams” with no go-to guys before. You simply cannot win a championship without a star.
(Here’s where the NBA haters start screaming that this is what’s wrong about the NBA…college basketball is better…that’s why nobody likes the NBA…blah blah blah. I will respond very simply with two points.
- The last college team to win without a true star was in 1986. And even then, Pervis Ellison was a pretty good college player.
- Even Hickory High had Jimmy Chitwood.
That’s right…I just put bullets in the middle of a parenthetical paragraph. It was that important.)
In fact, we cheered for the greatest “no star” team of all time: the late 90′s Indiana Pacers.
Reggie Miller, Rik Smits, and Chris Mullin were all All-Stars at one point in their careers. Sam Perkins and Jalen Rose provided lots of offense off the bench. Mark Jackson was one of the greatest passers of all time (3rd all time in assists). Dale and Antonio Davis were tougher than almost anyone in the league and dominated the paint defensively and on the glass. Derrick McKey was a multiple All-NBA defensive player. Travis Best, Austin Croshere, Al Harrington, and other good players were stuck at the end of our bench.
Quite simply, it was an awesome collection of good to great players, with the absence of a superstar.
And what happened?
Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Patrick Ewing, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, and even Allen Iverson kept the Pacers from the promised land.
So we’ve been down this road before with the Pacers. It’s fulfilling to watch a bunch of hard-working, well-coached players win games despite not having a lot of talent. But we know where this road ends.
It ends in the wake of a superstar.
Does this make Indiana fans slightly fair-weathery? Maybe. But I prefer to call them realists.
Remember when you were a kid, and it didn’t matter HOW much your team was down, you always felt like they could come back? I remember going to games and my dad would make us leave early in order to beat the traffic. We were down 20 with 2 minutes to play, and I was upset because I thought we could still come back. When you get older, you realize certain things about sports, and you come to terms that sometimes, your team is just going to lose. Well, that’s what has happened in Indiana. Basketball aficionados in the state of Indiana have “come to terms” with the Pacers. We know their ceiling, so we don’t waste our time.
A friend of mine pointed out that nearly everyone in the state of Indiana has played basketball at some point. It’s just a fact: in order to win, you have to have at least one guy who can put the team on his back at some point.
The 2012 Pacers don’t have that guy. I have jokingly told my friends all year that unless the Pacers are up by 15 with 3 minutes left, I don’t trust any lead. They just can’t score down the stretch.
Of course, the whole world looks at basketball a little differently.
When asked what the difference was in the 4th quarter, LeBron James replied:
“To start the quarter, it was 70-70. We held them to 16 points in the 4th. It was all about our defense. Our defense won the game for us.”
Well, with all due respect, Mr. James, you were wrong. You DIDN’T play “great defense” in the 4th quarter. The Pacers scored 15 points in the first 7 minutes – good for a pace of 26. But after George Hill buried a three with 4:51 left in the game, the Pacers proceeded to score one point the rest of the way.
Most of it was bad offense, not necessarily good defense.
Again, we know where this road ends. The late 90s Pacers had exactly one guy that could create his own shot – Jalen Rose – and he was too young at that point to carry a team.
The 2012 Pacers have exactly one guy that can create his own shot – LeAndro Barbosa – and he’s too streaky to count on.
(Some of you that don’t watch the Pacers might think that Danny Granger is good. Just stop. If LeBron is only a 3 out of 10 on the clutch scale, Granger is a -5. Brian Scalabrine can go to his left better than Granger. I seriously am not certain that Danny Granger is better than Danny Green at this point.)
The fact is, until the Pacers get that guy, they don’t have enough. Until Eric Gordon comes home where he belongs. Until they trade Granger for a scorer, move George to the 3, and possibly even get a more consistent point guard, they will be destined to win a lot of games in the regular season and lose in the playoffs to superstars.
Fans in Philadelphia or Atlanta might get lured into “believing in miracles.” Not those in the Hoosier state. We can see the writing on the wall.
That writing says that our team is doomed to fail.
That’s why the Pacers aren’t loved, even in their home state, in 2012.