The internet has been uncooperative all day, but what I was working on wasn't all that great anyway. Here's a video of Kelsey Barlow's jam that was a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing day.
Lots of sports on tonight. The Pacers take on Utah in a Gordon Hayward homecoming, the Blackhawks schlep out to Colorado to try to break this slump, and the Boilers are in Columbus to see what they can managed against the Buckeyes. I don't hold out a lot of hope for Purdue tonight, unfortunately.
The Blackhawks, well, I don't know. They've been as frustrating as any of my other teams lately. They apparently can't beat any teams from Canada, including the ones that are supposedly rebuilding. It's a good thing most of the Canadian teams moved south, I suppose. Still, I'm leery of tonight. The Blackhawks better get it together and beat the Blue Jackets in a couple weeks when I make the trip to finally see them live.
The Pacers, although they took a tough loss to Orlando Saturday night (Orlando is still the only team to win in Indiana, despite staying in Cincinnati thanks to the Super Bowl), are still on a roll. They're in 4th place in the East right now, three games back of Chicago. A Bulls team, it should be noted, that lost to the Pacers in the UC. I've said it before, and I'll continue to state it. I have high hopes for this Pacer team. After several years of just hoping to make the playoffs, now we're already moving to hoping to make some noise. I'm sure the Pacers giving the Bulls the toughest five game (out of seven) series ever helped with that.
The Cubs' first spring training game is March 4th, by the way. Less than a month away until I can bellyache about them. I can't wait!
Well, I wrote this whole thing out, but then it disappeared when I published. I don't even know how to explain what happened. Oh well. I didn't really have much anyway. Because of that, where is a corgi puppy. We might be getting one, as it looks like the in-law's dog is pregnant.
Basically, my sporting life is really sucking right now. The Super Bowl is over, so no more rah-rah Indy. Wabash and Purdue look like their seasons are sunk. The Blackhawks decided to really start sucking. The only team really doing anything is the Pacers, and even they lost to the Magic on Saturday.
It is kind of crazy that the Magic had to stay in Cincinnati. Now, I'm sure that was a little bit of overkill. I don't doubt that all the hotels in Indianapolis were booked. But, there were hotels available in the state. But, I'm sure the Magic felt they needed a 5-star hotel, they couldn't have made a decent place work for a night or two. It's kind of annoying, actually.
Anyway, baseball season is on the horizon, and I can't wait. The Cubs won't really do much this year, but that can't dampen my love for the sport. Please hurry, spring training.
This seemed like a fitting way to end Pacers Week here at the blog. In 2000, the Pacers finally broke through to the NBA Finals for the first time since the merger. This was a very big deal, as you might imagine. The problem was there was no way they could beat the Lakers in a best of seven series. They met a Lakers team that had both Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant either at or near their primes. The rest of the roster was very solid, too. As much as I (and I'm sure a lot of Indiana) wanted to believe it, I think we all knew deep down there wasn't a basketball team on Earth that could beat this Lakers team, although Portland gave it a very good try.
Regardless, this didn't stop the Star from celebrating the milestone and doing a very good job of capturing how the city felt. Here was the front page from the day after beating the Knicks to make the finals.
One disappointing thing about working with microfilm means everything has been made black and white. It's not terrible, but you can definitely see a difference in pictures that were originally color and ones that started life as black and white. Here's the accompanying story to getting to that first Finals trip. One thing you'll notice is everybody thought this would be the first of a few trips for the Pacers to the finals in the 2000's. And that probably would have been true, except for, well, you know.
The feeling was contagious. The Pacers had finally made it past their biggest barrier. Things were really looking up, and nobody knew who Ron Artest* was yet. It's not particularly long or earth-shattering, but I really liked this article just covering some fan reaction. It was not lost on anybody that the Pacers had gotten by the Knicks to finally get to the doorstep of a championship.
*Ron-Ron is one of the more tragic figures in Pacer history. I, for one, wouldn't mind at all seeing him come back to the Pacers, but I think I may be in the minority there.
And that was just in the news section. The sports section, which was almost exclusively Pacers, opened like so.
I'm sure that picture of Jalen Rose looked a lot better in color. But, even this form, it's light years ahead of where the Indianapolis News was in covering the ABA championships. Bill Benner wrote a nice story that really conveys the feeling of relief after the game. Of "Finally, we've arrived." Attached to the continuation of Benner's story is a bit of a hodgepodge, but it does remind that Dale Davis really was a force once upon a time. Maybe the most overlooked Pacer of that team. There was nothing flashy about him, which probably led to Antonio being the better known Davis. But Dale was tougher than nails. I would not piss him off in a dark alley, probably to this day.
Also covered in both articles: you know how a lot of great players can't coach or judge talent? Don't ever put Larry Bird in that category. Nothing against Frank Vogel, but I don't think anybody would mind if Larry decided he had an itch to coach again and came down from the front office.
And as with any Pacer story or team of that era, everybody knew where the focus would be. And he earned it for all the right reasons. Here is the required (but still good) Reggie Miller story. It truly is a shame he only got one crack at the finals.
The Star also came up with a nice little timeline to sum up Pacers history to this point. Hopefully this scan translates well to the blog. In case it doesn't, the people involved are exactly the ones you'd expect. Slick Leonard, Reggie Miller, Rik Smits, and Larry Bird. I'd love to have them all in a room together to make a movie, write a book, anything.
This story of the Knicks side of things would have been a complete throwaway if not for the last section. "'Upsets' upset Van Gundy." I really truly recommend blowing this one up and just pick up the article at that subsection. You'll thank me for it.
One last article from this paper talking about the reserves. Mentions some players most Pacer fans probably haven't thought about in some time. But, it will bring a smile to the face. Travis Best, Sam Perkins, Derrick McKey. Now-Pacers-Broadcaster Austin Croshere. It really was a hell of a team, and deep, too. Something that Pacer team shares with the current Pacer team.
As I said before, the Pacers were not going to be the Lakers in a seven game series. But that doesn't mean they were necessarily blown out. Most of the games were within 10 points, including one overtime game. You can read all about that series on Wikipedia. One of those blowouts, though, the Pacers dropped the hammer on the Lakers in Conseco Fieldhouse. And it was sweet to watch.
That's it for Pacer Week, folks. It was so much fun to do all the research for this week and putting it all out here for the world to see. I felt like a professional writer there. It would be nice if I could use this week to make that dream come true.
To sign off, here a couple more Pacer videos. One that will make everybody smile (and just happened recently), and another that maybe not a lot of Pacer fans will admit to liking, but they do. Trust me.
God bless Reggie Miller.
That's how Indianapolis was greeted after one of the greatest moments in the Pacers' NBA history. Maybe the greatest. I could make the case. In any case, if you are very unaware of your Pacer history, the Pacers suddenly found some NBA success with the arrival of one Reginald Wayne Miller, the Knick Killer. This game is where he really cemented that reputation. Pacers-Knicks, one of the fiercest rivalries in the NBA at the time. It looks like the Pacers are going to come up just short again. And then, Miller Time happens. Read the story above for a more complete explanation. Here's the continuation.
And that was just in the News section. The Sports section was, as you can imagine, Pacer heavy. And you'll also notice a much more liberal use of pictures and graphics. I'm sure some of that was technology, but I think there was something about moving to the NBA and being in the "real" major league now. This was the front Sports page.
I don't know if it's true or not, but I would like to imagine that was Reggie getting right into Spike Lee's face. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside to imagine that. Another point to address before I get into the game. That's the jerseys. As you might have noticed, the Pacers broke out their jerseys from the ABA Championship era both at home against the Nets (who did not break out an ABA jersey) and last night in Minnesota (who did pull out a Muskies look). And I (obviously) appreciate the history of those jerseys. And to my dad and that generation of Pacer fans, those would be the throwbacks. To my generation who experienced Miller Time as a wide-eyed youth, though, the FloJo jerseys are the definitive Pacer throwbacks. I hope we don't have to wait until 2015 to see these on the court again. I don't know if the NBA has restrictions on wearing throwbacks in the playoffs, but if those jerseys made an appearance in the playoffs, preferably against the Knicks or Bulls, the arena would go nuts.
Anyway, Reggie was definitely the story. Here's the Star's breakdown of how the ending unfolded.
If anybody is curious, there is the box score. As we just mentioned, Smits' line is pretty darned good. And Reggie's ended up looking pretty good, though we saw in the earlier stories, had his early struggles. One thing that sticks out to me is how Patrick Ewing was kept pretty well in check. 11 points, 4-15 shooting, just one blocked shot. There's probably a reason Bill Simmons calls it the Ewing Theory.* One guy the Pacers did not keep in check was Anthony Mason. I'm going off memory here, but it always seemed like Mason tore the Pacers up, which was really frustrating because I never really thought he was very good. Maybe it's because he wasn't really built like your typical NBA player and he was, shall we say, rough. But he had his way with the Pacers. And, of course, Starks had a big game, which probably helped get Reggie into his assassin state of mind.
*In short, the Ewing Theory is a player who puts up really great numbers and on paper should be the reason the team is winning. But, somehow, the team plays better without him. According to Simmons and his buddies, this was true for Ewing both with the Knicks and even back at Georgetown. I wasn't really old enough to look for that sort of thing, but that article's charge of the Ewing Theory against Peyton Manning proved extremely false this year.
Another thing that sticks out is how many fouls were called. 59 fouls called in that game. Nine of those technicals. I told you this was a heated rivalry. And it wasn't lost on the paper.
This would be the series where the Pacers finally broke through against the Knicks, where they faced a Shaq-led Magic team. The Pacers gave the Magic all they could handle. I do remember the entire family gathering to watch those games. It might have happened for those Knicks games, too, I don't remember. But I definitely remember going to extended family's to watch Pacers-Magic. The Pacers finally went down in seven games, but it was a great series. We'll look at when the Pacers finally broke that ceiling tomorrow.
For now, let's end with a little video of what we've just talked about, thanks to the wonders of YouTube. And, as a bonus, here's 30 for 30's take on a game that I very well could have put into Pacers week, but not this time.
I had this post all but done when my internet dropped out and cost me everything I'd done. And it was beautiful. The kind of post I'd point somebody to when I might be asking for an advance to write a book. Let's just hope this attempt goes better.
It has been well documented, but the NBA was not kind to the ABA when the leagues merged. That article will talk about it in more detail than I will here. The part that matters to our story is the high buy in the Pacers had to pay to get into the NBA and not receiving any TV money for the first three years in the NBA. And once they did get that TV money, a seventh of it went to the former owners of the Spirits of St. Louis.* The Pacers were already on shaky ground coming into the merger and had to sell off their better players, which also did them no favors in making the move.
*That move had to be one of the shrewdest business moves pulled off in any industry at any time.
After the 1977 season, Indianapolis' position as major American city was under attack. The Pacers were in dire straights. The WHA team, the Racers, also had their fair share of problems. But, the NHL had a little more liberal attitude towards merging with their rival, as evidenced by this article.
That article does talk about the Pacers' struggles as well. It wasn't the first article to tell the world the sort of trouble the team was in, and if I were writing a book about this,* I would include more, but this is a good starting point for today. Anyway, we know how this story turns out. The Pacers just got done beating up on the Nets. In ABA duds, no less. When's the last time you heard the Racers make ESPN? Maybe it's just as well. Having two teams sharing an arena with names that similar might be too confusing.
*This is something I would absolutely love to do. Call me, people who might back me!
The Pacers, unlike the Racers, had an escape plan. They could get enough outside money to keep the team afloat and in Indianapolis, but it came with one big, thick string. The team had to sell 8,000 season tickets in a month. The deadline was the first week in July. As of June 25th, the date of the article above, the team had sold 4,000. There was work left to do. Professional basketball might fail in a place where a source no less definitive than James Naismith said "Basketball really had its origin in Indiana, which remains the center of the sport."
The Pacers had a few ideas how to make up this gap. First order of business was to get local (but bigger) businesses to underwrite season tickets for their employees, which would allow employees to pay for season tickets with smaller deductions taken straight from their paychecks. Colleges do this with their employees now, and I'm assuming did so then as well. Many companies jumped to the call. Indianapolis had long before hitched their economic wagon to sports. They needed to keep this team in this league.
Some of the bigger names to jump to the Pacers' aid: Eli Lilly, A&P, Detroit Diesel, General Motors, Bell Telephone, Steak n Shake, and Baker & Daniels.
First thing first: this became front page news. When sports jumps out of its section to the top headline on the front page, something big is happening. You might also notice that the continuation is the first mention of a telethon, which was just in the planning stages at that time.
You might also notice the continuation pulls no punches in pointing out why the Pacers were on the ropes. It notes at the end that the Pacers had better than average attendance (though season ticket sales seemed low, a lot of walk up business). That wasn't the problem. No, it was the draconian measures the NBA used to make sure their teams stayed supreme.
"The team's financial problems revolve around the $3.2 million entry fee into the NBA, and subsequent buy-out agreements with former American Basketball Association teams."
That doesn't leave a lot of room for interpretation, you know? The pressure was really starting to ramp up, and the Pacers had to start getting creative. That article was printed on June 28. It reports 4,688 tickets sold. Still quite a ways to go with just a few days to go.
The next day (Wednesday), the telethon was official. It was to start that Sunday (July 3) and go until Monday afternoon. The original deadline for getting to 8,000 tickets was that Friday, July 1, but it was extended just for the telethon. The players were feeling it. There was a very real chance the team would simply disband if the tickets didn't move. The Star made sure to single out the player that both was out in the public the most, and also was one who might have had the most to lose if the Pacers went away. Meet Dave Robisch, an otherwise nondescript journeyman backup center.
Under that story, you see the paper is going to make sure everybody is aware of the telethon. In the original version of this post, I had a bit about Channel 4 and how it probably doesn't receive the recognition it deserves in Indiana history. Being the independent station for most of its existence, it was the spot to go for local programming. That included the Pacers and college teams. For me that meant Purdue, but I'm told IU was shown on Channel 4 as well. As best I know, Channel 4 is essentially independent again. I don't know who runs the station these days, but I'm sure there are opportunities to really reclaim it at Indiana's station again. If life had cut a bit different for me, I would love to spearhead it. So it goes. Anyway, Channel 4 was the principal broadcaster of this telethon and didn't ask for a damn thing back. A damn sight more noble than The Decision nonsense. The Pacers ticket count on June 29: 4,853. Progress, but a mite smaller than the numbers the team needed to see.
It didn't take long for other channels to jump on board. Channels 6 and 13 quickly agreed to simulcast most of the telethon. On July 1, the date of the article below, the Pacers were up to 5,421. Again, progress. But it was a very good thing that July 1 deadline didn't hold. It is a little interesting to note that in those days 6 was the NBC affiliate, and 13 was ABC. Hopefully that will clear up any confusion when you read about 13 picking up the simulcast after the ABC late movie.
The next day came more good news, news Dodger fans can now appreciate. The Pacer owners announced they were able to meet their payroll obligations. It seems like the sort of thing most would take for granted these days, but I suppose when your employer is really struggling, you take the victories where you can get them. Any positive momentum was vital going into such a delicate situation as the one the team was headed towards the next night.
The headline makes it clear. All these underwritten tickets were a huge help, but everybody knew which basket all the eggs were in. The same basket that gets PBS lampooned. The same reason why nobody watches TV on Labor Day.* I would have been getting my resume in order if I worked for the Pacers. The fate of the Pacers rested on the shoulders of the one who would best be described, maybe even to this day, as the heart and soul of the Pacers. One Bobby "Slick" Leonard.
*Okay, so maybe that's a little bit harsh. Raising money for MDA is a very worthwhile cause, and in my guilt, here is a link to find ways to help. But, let's face it, your spokesman is easily confused for a guy that married his 13-year-old cousin. And if that's not what he's known for, he's known for the guy who wasn't Dean Martin. Great Balls of Fire, why did they wait so long to find another host? Sorry, that one was below the belt, too.
After what I'm sure, to Pacer employees and Indianapolis officials, felt like both an eternity and a blink of an eye, the night came for the telethon. Season tickets sold to that point: 5,720. Again, the number everybody knew all too well: 8,000. For those trying to do the math in their head, that's a difference of 2,280.
As mentioned before, the telethon started later that Sunday night and went on into the afternoon on July 4th. That meant by the time the paper was printed the next morning, the results were still unknown. Still, in talking before the telethon started, Slick was in high spirits. He had to be, I'm sure. I doubt he could bear to be any other way.
I so dearly wish there was video of the telethon on the internet. If it's out there, I couldn't find it. I have seen the clip (also apparently not on the internet) of the end. I simply couldn't imagine being there at the time. After selling all of 3,800 season tickets the year before, your goal is to sell 2,280 tickets over 16.5 hours on the Fourth of July. When 2:30 rolled around, Nancy Leonard took the microphone, tears coming down her cheeks and barely finding breath. She managed to get nothing out except the only thing that mattered: How many tickets had the Pacers sold? "8,028."
As Slick (and all the Pacer loyalists) would say, "BOOM BABY!"
Headline typo aside, how ecstatic would you have been to be able to put that into the paper? An after the end (remember, the deadline was extended just for this telethon) desperation plea to save the team, and it worked. It worked! I have serious doubts anybody could pull this off today. Truly, it was something special.
Also, did you read the continuation? You need to. Imagine this scenario. The team is on a lifeline, also known as this telethon. Things look to be going well. It's a bit past noon, you look at the counter. 7,600 tickets, it says. 400 more to go. That's a lot in two hours, but at least we can see the finish line. Then comes some news that's about to rock your world. Somebody screwed up counting. We've only sold 6,730.
Now, let's not even touch how you miscount by a thousand. Last season, the Pacers sold all of 3,800 season tickets. It was already a daunting task to sell 400 in a couple hours. Now you suddenly have to sell almost 1,300 in that same time frame. Hope must have been in short supply at that moment. But, in possibly the least cursed moment in Pacer history, the way was found.
Think about that. 8,028. They made it by 28 season tickets. Without that number, there would be no Pacers in Indianapolis. The Racers clearly didn't make it. Without the Pacers, there likely are no Colts in Indianapolis. 8,028. No Fieldhouse. No Big Ten Championships. The NCAA likely doesn't come to town, and the Final Four doesn't have a deal to keep coming back to Indianapolis. No Lucas Oil Stadium. No Super Bowl. 8,028.
Again, this town had, with the Pacers and the Indianapolis 500, pretty well already hitched its economic wagon to sports. This town would have gone bust, except for one number. 8,028.
It really does blow my mind to think about it. If this happened in New York or LA, or maybe even Chicago, you would hear about it ad nauseam. Furthermore, I don't believe this could have happened in those cities. It would have been swallowed up, dismissed. I think Slick had it right. "Something like this can only happen in a place like Indiana."
On July 6, the Star had two things. First, a short blurb about how the Pacers simply couldn't believe the telethon worked. Secondly, a letter from the Mayor, Bill Hudnut. You might recognize the name from a little while ago when I posted about the Colts coming to town. I don't know much else about him, but the path of Indianapolis was set by keeping the Pacers and bringing in the Colts. There ought to be a pretty grand statue to Mayor Hudnut for what he set in motion with Indianapolis.
8,028. That should be a number known to every Pacer fan. Maybe to everybody in Indianapolis if you want to appreciate how the city got to where it is today. Which is pretty impressive, if you haven't noticed the last couple weeks. There ought to be a banner up with the ABA championships and NBA accomplishments. Or maybe over by the retired numbers. Maybe right there next to Slick's banner. 8,028, for the fans and for the city. I have never spoken to Slick, though I do sincerely hope to be so lucky to get the opportunity someday. I know time is short. But I would ask him how he viewed the telethon. I hope he takes a lot of pride. He was there from start to finish, begging for a chance make professional basketball work in this city. And by God, it happened.
Tomorrow, we're going to start looking at some brighter days in the Pacers' NBA tenure. Back in a simpler time. A time we all just called "Miller Time."