ESPN's Colin Cowherd opened up a can of worms today when he blasted sports fans in Indianapolis for not getting behind the Pacers, and being hypocritical about their different approach to the Colts. While I don't agree with everything that he had to said, there were some truth to his arguments.
Yes, the Pacers rank near the bottom of the NBA in attendance. But, we’ve been down this road before. <Insert media member here> complains about the fact that the Pacers’ attendance is in the gutter, and that person tries to rationalize why that is the case (i.e. "Racism!" "Bad sports fans!" "Economy sucks!", etc.)
I think the best way to approach this is in a open dialogue manner. Rather than the media being accusatory, let's just ask the question: Why don’t you - the fans - go to games? What is it about the Pacers that keeps you away?
Here are the responses that I’ve seen:
THE PACERS ARE “BORING”
I’m not going to argue that the Pacers play the most aesthetically pleasing style of basketball. Indiana is a team built on rebounding and defense - two areas where they are among the best in the NBA. But, the Pacers are the third-lowest scoring team in the league (92.8 ppg), so they don’t exactly light up the scoreboard like Oklahoma City, Houston, and New York. But, what is “boring” about winning? Technically, I became “bored” with the Colts’ regular season dominance in 2005-09, which included starts of 13-0 (2005), 9-0 (2006), 7-0 (2007), and 14-0 (2009). Many of those games were one-sided blowouts, yet I have yet to meet a fan that gets bored with winning, something that the Pacers have been doing consistently on their homecourt (20-5 at home) this season.
FALLEN OUT OF FAVOR WITH THE NBA
My dad and I used to watch NBA games together constantly in the 1980s through the 1990s. Though I have kept up with my viewing habits, he barely even follows the NBA anymore. Part of that could be due to the Knicks’ decade-long period of suck during the Scott Layden and Isiah Thomas eras, but overall, he told me he just doesn’t find the NBA game appealing any longer. If you don’t enjoy watching NBA games, then obviously you aren’t going to pay to see one. I'm not going to force you to watch something that you don't like.
THE BRAWL/ANCIENT OFF-COURT ISSUES
Nearly a decade after the Malice in the Palace, this is still a wound that hasn’t completely healed in Indianapolis. While every player from that team has since been jettisoned elsewhere, the stain of that night in Detroit still exists on the Pacers’ franchise. Is that fair? Of course it isn’t. A large majority of the current Pacers have been excellent both on and off the court. But, perception isn’t fair.
How long are the Pacers going to have to pay for the sins of the past?
If you read through the comments on WTHR's Facebook page, it's absolutely mind-numbing what people in this town are still saying about the Pacers. I wish that all of these people could sit down and have a conversation with Paul George, or Roy Hibbert, or Tyler Hansbrough and see who these guys really are. While there might be a hiccup here or there, Indy should be proud to be represented by these players.
SMALL MARKET TEAMS LIKE THE PACERS CAN’T WIN
This excuse should be debunked by the fact that the San Antonio Spurs have four NBA titles, and have won 50 games or more in every year since 1997 (outside of the Lockout-shortened ’99 and ’12 seasons). In an even closer examination, four of the top five teams in the Western Conference rank 37th, 49th, 48th, and 19th in market size. That list includes Oklahoma City, who made the NBA Finals last season. Small-market teams have more challenges than the larger markets, due to their inability to lure prized free agents, but they are not incapable of winning.
I never want to be a person that tells other people what to do with their money. It would make me a huge hypocrite to scold fans for not paying for tickets when I have a media credential that allows me a free seat. That said, it should be noted that most Pacers’ tickets can be had for under $10 (sometimes less than $5) for nearly all of their weeknight matchups, and games against low-interest opponents. In Cleveland and Charlotte, people are also struggling financially, yet both of those teams draw more fans than Indiana, despite being at the bottom of the standings. Also, shouldn't those same economic struggles exist in the Fall? Last time I checked, the Colts have had little trouble packing a 70,000-seat stadium for a large majority of their home games over the past five years.
PACERS AREN'T WHAT THEY WERE
We often glorify the past. There was a time in this town where the Pacers dominated everything. Reggie Miller was the central figure, and Market Square Arena was the place to be. That was back in the quaint days of Indiananoplace, when a winning professional football team, and landing events like the Super Bowl, were considered pipe dreams. Things have changed. Indianapolis, like most markets with a pro team, has become a football town in today's NFL-dominated sports' landscape. As the Pacers fell out of contention in the mid-2000s, they also fell out of relevance, and there's a chance that they'll never fully re-capture the magic of the "Boom Baby!" days.
I hear this same argument all the time when discussing the Indianapolis 500 in May. I know that the race isn't what it was in the 1970's, and that the Pacers aren't as meaningful as they were in the 1990's, but that doesn't mean that either are unentertaining today. I remember sitting at Bankers Life Fieldhouse during Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals last year and hearing a roar that I had never heard before in that building. These games, and this team, can still be great.
Personally, I don't care what you decide to do. It's your choice to watch/support whatever you wish. All I would ask is that you give this team a chance. You may have forever soured on the NBA product, or on the Pacers themselves, but try it. If you don't like it, blame the 5'6 bearded radio guy (sorry, no refunds).
We'll discuss it further on today's show.