Professional sports are a curious enterprise. People expending a lot of energy, emotion, and oftentimes money pulling for grown men, most of which are millionaires, to score points based for the most part on where they happened to grow up is kind of a silly idea when viewed from the outside in. But, I don’t care- sports are interesting, entertaining, and fun to invest in emotionally. Yes, even professional sports. There’s something to be said for seeing athletic competition at its highest level, and if it’s fun to participate in as a spectator too then I’m all for it.
Growing up in central Indiana I’ve had some interesting experiences following the pro teams nearby, at least once I got past the ‘front running little kid’ phase of my sports fan experience. I don’t really care much about major league baseball other than I generally wish the Cubs and the Reds well. The Colts are king around here right now, and I am enjoying it immensely. The NFL is a great league and having one of the elite teams is a great thing for a football fan especially now that they finally got over the hump, and I can’t wait for our season ticket spots to open up next year.
One thing I do have to cop to, which is true really mostly everywhere, is that I share a spot in the fan base with an extreme amount of bandwagoners. Of course, this holds true for almost any good team, but it seems like our ratio is much worse than other places like Green Bay, Cleveland, etc. The last Colts game I went to the fans started doing the wave when the offense was on the field. I get absolutely infuriated by our fans way too often.
Which brings me to the Pacers. I remember feeling the electricity around the state when those mid 90s playoff series were heating up. Reggie. Spike Lee. John Starks. The Dunkin’ Dutchman. Boom Baby. Indiana is ‘the home of basketball’ and no place rocked quite like Market Square Arena during the eastern conference finals. An elite team that always fell just short (sound familiar?) but that always had the support of a great fanbase. Getting edged out in game 7 of the 98 eastern finals in Jordan’s last Bulls year was a heartbreaker. But the team made the right moves and persevered until finally it looked poised for a championship run in the 2004-5 season.
Pretty much everybody knows what happened next.
What people don’t seem to remember is the stretch after the brawl how large crowds continued to show up while probably the least talented group of players in the league fought (not literally) through every game and still made the playoffs. But the damage was done. The brawl and the subsequent flip out of Artest put a stigma on the Pacers that sticks to this day and will continue for years. After the brawl was a few months old but still a major sports topic the word ‘thug’ started to pepper more and more conversations involving the Pacers. Reggie Miller retired. Jermaine O’Neal battled injuries. Jamaal Tinsley got a huge contract but struggled under Rick Carlisle. Stephen Jackson fired his gun in the air outside a strip club. Tinsley and Marquis Daniels got into an argument at a bar. The Colts continued to prosper, Conseco Fieldhouse attendance dropped.