The Saddest Story Never Told: One Pistons Fan Reluctantly Finds Pity in the Rise and Fall of the Mid-2000′s Indiana Pacers
The Saddest Story Never Told
One Pistons Fan Reluctantly Finds Pity in the Rise and Fall of the Mid-2000′s Indiana Pacers
Fuckin’ Ron Ron
Self-identified NBA goons such as myself (you know, the ones to whom you always say “how can you watch that regular season shit?”) have seen a sea change in the last few years regarding how David Stern is attempting (and for the most part succeeding) to run his sport. The Stern One (assuredly of no relation to Daniel) started with a dress code (read: Operation: De-Thug) and before we knew it Chris Webber wasn’t the only person now infamous for putting his right fingers to his left palm at a perpendicular angle.
But don’t get it twisted: the game is quite possibly as good now as it’s ever been. Davy has recovered from the unrecoverable: first, a nationally televised Nigga Moment that ESPN went right the fuck ahead and gave a catchy name, thus forever immortalizing the “Malice in the Palace” as a dark, dark moment in sports history. Next this sinking ship managed to recover from a massive referee cheating scandal, then proceeded to keep Kobe in Los Angeles, subsequently prevented Mark Cuban from doing this, and for his grand finale Stern somehow at least delayed the inevitable crucifixion of LeGod.
But people who follow physics like I follow baseball (read: lazily) know that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The receptacle for the inevitable shitstorm that theoretically must accompany David Stern’s Hand-of-God attitude to repairing the NBA is clear to me now, and they play basketball games in Canseco Fieldhouse, wear navy and gold, and had the living dead starting at shooting guard not too long ago-you guessed it, the Indiana Pacers.
The Pacers at this point remind me of a short story by Ursula K. LeGuin called “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” wherein a beautiful utopian city has a singular starved, physically abused, and light deprived young boy in the basement of city hall-all of the city’s pain and suffering get channeled into this singular being. That is the fate of Larry Legend’s boys. While the Pistons managed to win a championship and remain extra competitive for the past five years, the Pacers have fallen flat on their face.
Non-Pistons fans, ones who didn’t have the Pace as their division rival and general nemesis for three or four seasons probably don’t realize just how good this team was before all of this nastiness went down. The Pacers, run by highly-lauded exec Donnie Walsh from 1984-2007, built a core of excellent talent through trades, smart drafting, and an immeasurable amount of loyalty from Reggie Miller. It is so easy to write this team off as a stain on the NBA, the franchise with all the gun-toting thugs and hotheads that turned David Stern into a character from George Orwell’s interpretation of a Mitch Albom story. Don’t. Don’t forget that this team had the best record in the NBA the year before the brawl, 61-21, before they lost to the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals, and Artest, not Ben Wallace, won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year that season.
And it all came crashing down with such remarkable quickness. Ostracized for not fielding a team of “character” guys, the Pacers instead did their fans one better-they fielded a team of talent, upside, size, and speed. The complete one-eighty of Pacers fans’ sentiments regarding their team after the fall is shameful, and these athletes (Tinsley excluded) deserved better.
Heads began to roll near the trade deadline of the next season, as the Pace shipped Ron-Ron off to the Sac for an already visibly declining Peja. Ron-Ron for a white player seemed good enough for the time being, of course until Stack Jack made it rain, got hit by a car, and fired off a warning shot in a titty bar parking lot. Good call. The Pace made a smart move amongst all of this, trading Peja to free up cap space to sign Al Harrington, but again, this “thug image” came back to haunt them.
2007 rolled along, and it became abundantly clear to Walsh that Pacers fan was not okay with the current roster. Enter more generic Caucasian chuckers-Dunleavy and Murphy for Stack Jack and Harrington-a trade that cost Rick Carlisle his job and reminded us all how much of a genius Don Nelson really is. Meanwhile, Jermaine O’Neal, still the (baby)face of the franchise, spent his time doing that seemed like two months rest, one month playtime.
Before the season, the Pacers finally completed the process or giving themselves a personnel enema-Jermaine O’Neal’s trade to the Raptors for T.J. Ford may not make too much sense (no knees for no spinal column) but it is symbolic-they finally completed the purge their fan base felt necessary, and unfortunately, in a market like Indy, that was enough.
Today, Indy still sucks. The incredible show that Granger is putting on this season is awe-inspiring-as of today, he has had three straight 35-plus nights and is fifth in the NBA in ppg. Unfortunately, they don’t have too many other pieces. Rasho Nesterovich is embarrassing, Dunleavy is glass, and Ford is another epic Stern-panicking catastrophe waiting to happen. But seriously, Granger; he’s like a healthy cigarette: all that robust Ron-Ron flavor without the pesky cancer, and he’s a joy to watch (so long as Michael Curry isn’t assigning Rip Hamilton to guard him).
The Pacers have replenished their team with upside, talent, and career role-players-in other words, they are a shell of what they were and are probably a decade away from being a serious title contender annually. But if all this pain and suffering was what it took to get the NBA that we have today, I suppose it was all worth it.