(Note: This post originally appeared on my blogspot blog here. Datestamped footnotes with commentary may have been added for my own reflection and amusement.)
Professional sports are a curious enterprise. People expending a lot of energy, emotion, and oftentimes money pulling for grown men, most of which are millionaires, to score points based for the most part on where they happened to grow up is kind of a silly idea when viewed from the outside in. But, I don’t care- sports are interesting, entertaining, and fun to invest in emotionally1. Yes, even professional sports. There’s something to be said for seeing athletic competition at its highest level, and if it’s fun to participate in as a spectator too then I’m all for it.
Growing up in central Indiana I’ve had some interesting experiences following the pro teams nearby, at least once I got past the ‘front running little kid’ phase of my sports fan experience. I don’t really care much about major league baseball other than I generally wish the Cubs and the Reds well. The Colts are king around here right now, and I am enjoying it immensely. The NFL is a great league and having one of the elite teams is a great thing for a football fan especially now that they finally got over the hump, and I can’t wait for our season ticket spots to open up next year2.
One thing I do have to cop to, which is true really mostly everywhere, is that I share a spot in the fan base with an extreme amount of bandwagoners. Of course, this holds true for almost any good team, but it seems like our ratio is much worse than other places like Green Bay, Cleveland, etc. The last Colts game I went to the fans started doing the wave when the offense was on the field. I get absolutely infuriated by our fans way too often.
Which brings me to the Pacers. I remember feeling the electricity around the state when those mid 90s playoff series were heating up. Reggie. Spike Lee. John Starks. The Dunkin’ Dutchman. Boom Baby. Indiana is ‘the home of basketball’ and no place rocked quite like Market Square Arena during the eastern conference finals. An elite team that always fell just short (sound familiar?) but that always had the support of a great fanbase. Getting edged out in game 7 of the 98 eastern finals in Jordan’s last Bulls year was a heartbreaker. But the team made the right moves and persevered until finally it looked poised for a championship run in the 2004-5 season.
Pretty much everybody knows what happened next.
What people don’t seem to remember is the stretch after the brawl how large crowds continued to show up while probably the least talented group of players in the league fought (not literally) through every game and still made the playoffs. But the damage was done. The brawl and the subsequent flip out of Artest put a stigma on the Pacers that sticks to this day and will continue for years. After the brawl was a few months old but still a major sports topic the word ‘thug’ started to pepper more and more conversations involving the Pacers. Reggie Miller retired. Jermaine O’Neal battled injuries. Jamaal Tinsley got a huge contract but struggled under Rick Carlisle. Stephen Jackson fired his gun in the air outside a strip club. Tinsley and Marquis Daniels got into an argument at a bar. The Colts continued to prosper, Conseco Fieldhouse attendance dropped.
Enter 2007- the Pacers are a PR disaster, but they have a new coach who may be just the guy for the roster they have3, and the guy with the system to really unleash the talent on the squad, and nearly every game is on tv. Ron Artest is long gone. Stephen Jackson is gone. Jamaal Tinsley is still here, and the fans are not happy about it. But, quietly the Pacers are quietly adjusting to the new system and Tinsley is the centerpiece of the team, playing up to his contract finally. Jermaine O’Neal’s purported unhappiness starts to disappear after he rests his knee for some games, and the momentum is building behind the positive play of the team, putting them maybe in position to win some fans back.
And then Tinsley, now a big leader on the team, decides to step out in the middle of a few days off to the wrong part of town. Goes with his brothers, a couple friends, and a pacers employee and Larry Bird’s friend (you think he’s not there to keep an eye on things?) to an R. Kelly Concert, watches the Mayweather – Hatton fight, and then makes the decision after midnight to head to a west 38th street club where the after party for the concert is being held. When word hits the Tinsley group that a fight broke out earlier, they leave immediately, but when they get back to their cars, some real thugs are waiting, and they want to party with the rich guys. When told they’re just heading home, said thugs are reported to have said ‘We’re going to party with you whether you like it or not.’ Words exchanged, high speed chase downtown, Larry Bird’s friend shot in the elbow. Everyone lucky to be alive.
In the aftermath, the fan base reaction has been mostly on the level of another club rio incident, when really the only thing Tinsley is guilty of is being out too late and at the wrong club. He and his group made every effort to avoid trouble, and yet is fired on by an assault rifle, but he’s ‘in trouble again’ and the fans around town who haven’t seen the turnaround this season and have their mind made up on the guy want him gone. Oh, and trade Jermaine while you’re at it! At the very least you probably won’t see any Pacers go anywhere remotely sketchy again soon, at least I hope not. For somebody who’s been won over by the team’s great effort and play on the floor, this is the most frustrating thing that can happen because it’ll keep people from tuning in to watch the turnaround. And Jamaal Tinsley did nothing illegal.
I guess all I can do is keep watching the games, and telling people how things are different this year. And watch as Jermaine O’Neal returns to form4 and looks like a happy player on the floor again now that he doesn’t have to carry the whole team on his back. Even Mike Dunleavy is putting up career numbers and looking like a solid player and I hated the guy last season. I guess Donnie Walsh was right to make the trade he did, the ingredients just needed a different chef. And did I mention the games are much more fun to watch now? Give it a shot former Pacer fan, tune into FSN, and read Indy Cornrows. Tonight you would’ve seen Troy Murphy get half punched in the face and also ejected, and watched the Pacers come from 16 down to winning convincingly. It’s hard not to be entertained by that5.
I still enjoy sports, but take them far less seriously now than I did even 2 or 3 years ago. (08/2013) ↩
As a Colts season ticket holder since that season, I have had a lot of incredible experiences going to games, and plenty of bad ones in 2011. I have no plans to get rid of my tickets, but I wouldn’t mind cutting back to going to 3 or 4 games per season. (08/2013) ↩
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, JIM O’BRIEN! Actually Jim did a great job for a seaosn or two, then lost the team and that was it. Luckily there was an upstart assistant on the team that turned out to be a really good coach. (08/2013)↩
Whoops. (08/2013) ↩
This entire last paragraph is hilarious. I’m so glad I finally don’t have to write posts like this anymore to beg people to pay attention. (08/2013)↩