This week, the Indiana Pacers announced they had rescheduled their game Saturday night against the Sacramento Kings to an earlier tip time of 6 p.m., so Indy sports fans can go to the game and get home in time for kickoff of the AFC Wild Card game between the Colts and Chargers.
Based on attendance numbers so far this season (avg. of 13,876, though those numbers are cooked for sure. Something tells me the Nov. 15 game against Charlotte didn’t attract 17,160 fans, which would make it the second biggest turnout of the year behind only Boston in the home opener.), I don’t think many Indianapolis sports fans care.
But hey, at least the Pacers are trying. Perhaps no other professional franchise has had a quicker and greater disconnect with their fan base than the Pacers have had in the last three years.
Indianapolis once bled blue and gold, not blue and white. And for good reason too. The Pacers were good – real good.
Indiana reached the Eastern Conference Finals five out of seven years from 1994-2000. However, the Pacers made just one appearance in the NBA Finals (2000).
Some dudes named Jordan and Ewing always stood in the way.
Heck, Isiah Thomas even managed to have a winning record (131-115) as the Pacers boss from 2000-03, understandably the team’s down years.
In 2003-04, under Rick Carlisle they sailed to a 61-21 regular season mark and made it back to the Eastern Conference Finals. Detroit won in six games, but the Pacers remained relevant.
Sure this Peyton Manning character was stealing the headlines and winning game after game after game, but this was still Indiana after all. Bob Knight, John Wooden, Larry Legend and “Hoosiers.” Indiana is basketball, right?
Then Nov. 19, 2004 happened.
The brawl. The melee. The Malice in the Palace.
Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, Jamaal Tinsley and the Pacers introduced themselves to some Detroit fans – some with fists, others with dustpans.
Artest was suspended for 86 total games. Jackson got 30 and Jermaine O’Neal was given 15 games after appeal. To Carlisle’s credit, the Pacers made the playoffs with a 44-38 record and guys named John Edwards (the tall white guy from Kent State, not the Senator from North Carolina) and Britton Johnsen seeing minutes.
However, the brawl would become a debilitating blow to the franchise. One they still haven’t overcome from.
The perception became that Indiana’s players were hoods, looking to get into trouble. It didn’t help that a few of the players lived the perception. Some thought it would be a novel idea to shot guns off in a strip club parking lot. Others were arrested on drug charges.
Well, it didn’t take long for the Pacers fan base to ditch the ship faster than Billy Zane in “Titanic.”
It would be irresponsible to ignore the role race has played. The NBA is a black game now. Ninety percent of the league’s players are black. It’s just the fact.
While Indianapolis-proper boasts a 25 percent black population, it’s misleading. Much of the city’s “unofficial” population live in affluent suburbs on the city’s northside and aren’t counted in the census as Indy’s own.
Simply put, Indianapolis is a dominantly white town. Shocker I’m sure to all of you.
So black athletes running afoul with the law continuously was a surefire way to turn the Pacers fan base off. And losing didn’t help either, something the team’s fans weren’t used to.
Attendance nosedived and the Pacers became an afterthought. Conseco Fieldhouse was nothing more than a beautifully designed mausoleum.
So the Pacers have tried to re-attract their fans.
How? By going white. Need evidence? The Pacers now have the same amount of white players as the Utah Jazz (six).
Jeff Foster is the lone holdover. Troy Murphy, Mike Dunleavy, Travis Diener, Rasho Nesterovic and local kid Josh McRoberts, from one of those affluent northern suburbs I told you about, were brought in to clean up the team’s public image.
Add in budding superstar and all-around great kid Danny Granger and the Pacers pitched an ad campaign this year telling fans they were putting a product on the court, “You can be proud of.”
Truth be told, the Pacers looked markedly better than last season. But they have nothing to show for it with a 10-21 mark, in the cellar of the Central Division. They’ve lost a ton of a close games, had a brutal early season schedule and had bad luck with injuries (Dunleavy hasn’t played a game and the whole team got the flu for two games), but they haven’t won. And the fans haven’t come.
They offered $5 tickets. Discounted club level seats from $70 to $15 for certain games. The economy hasn’t helped. Teams around the league are hurting. But this was a long time coming for the Pacers.
Moving Saturday’s game up won’t help attendance numbers, but it’s a solid goodwill gesture to the fanbase. It says, “Hey, we’re trying. Hang in there with us, please!”
Hang in until when?
“Until that Manning guy retires.”