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.