Benner/Sports and Conseco Fieldhouse and Arts & Entertainment, etc. and Pacers and Opinion and Pro Sports

BENNER: Think twice before ripping the blue and gold

April 24, 2010

Allow me to join the crowd.

Which means handing me a club so I can treat the Indiana Pacers like a baby seal.

Passing me a hammer so I can pound another nail into their coffin.

Tossing me a steel-toed shoe so I can kick their sorry butts on down the road and, oh, please take Herb Simon, Jim Morris and Larry “No Longer A Legend” Bird with them.

Especially Simon and Morris. What have those bums done for our city other than take, take, take?

In the last two weeks, pretty much anyone with a keyboard, microphone or forum has condemned the Pacers for announcing they are losing money and seeking remedies to stop the bleeding.

The response has been venomous, ironic in that it arrives on the 10th anniversary of the Pacers’ reaching their zenith in public opinion and popularity.

Ten years ago, there would have been no thought of making the Pacers gargle daily doses of vitriol.

Ten years ago, they were beginning a playoff run under Coach Bird that would take them all the way to the NBA Finals and six games against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Ten years ago, they were finishing their season in the pristine confines of the new Conseco Fieldhouse, selling out every game. Tickets were so hot scalpers handled them with Nomex gloves.

Ten years ago, Pacers flags were flying from cars, porches, balconies and the tops of skyscrapers. The notion of their leaving was as distant as Neptune.

Then stuff happened.

Ron Artest erupted when he caught a cup of beer on the noggin. Reggie Miller retired. The economy tanked. The Indianapolis Colts won a Super Bowl and became the city’s team du jour. In an attempt to cleanse themselves, the Pacers traded bad guys with bad contracts for good guys with bad contracts. Meanwhile, Commissioner David Stern and NBA minions neglected to tend to a badly broken business model that allows big markets to play with monopoly money while small markets deal with real dollars and losses.

And allow us to pause here to point out that the Pacers are far from alone among NBA teams hemorrhaging red ink.

So it’s a fine fix we’re in if we are to keep a franchise that gave us our first modern-day presence in professional sports and whose very success was key in driving the early days of downtown redevelopment. It’s the same franchise that common folk once pitched pennies into buckets to save and was rescued for this city by the very man (and his late brother) who is now being vilified basically for being wealthy.

Listen, if Herbie weren’t committed to this city, by now he would have told us all to pack sand, sold the franchise and put this town forever in his rearview mirror.

The same goes for Jim Morris, who has been in the driver’s seat for so many of the great things that have happened in this city. I’ll flat out make the statement that the Colts (no Hoosier Dome, no team), the NCAA and those Final Fours would not be here without his guiding influence. Now he is being roundly ripped for answering honestly that the Pacers would have to consider all their options in determining the franchise’s future.

Was that a threat, or merely a statement of fact? In any case, Morris has discovered his previous toil at feeding the world’s hungry was actually the easier job.

Still, I defy anyone to tell me that losing the Pacers (and the WNBA Fever would be virtually certain to disappear, too) would be a positive thing for Indianapolis in general and downtown in particular. This would not be addition by subtraction.

And please: The Pacers’ leaving will not keep the libraries open. The Pacers’ leaving will not improve IPS. The Pacers’ leaving will not repair sidewalks and sewers. It is simply illogical to think otherwise.

Do I absolve the Pacers of responsibility for their predicament? Absolutely not. Businessmen make business decisions with their big-boy pants on. And if a resolution is to be found, there has to be a lot more give than take on their part.

But I’m not going to grab a torch and join the haters who so want them gone. If they get their wish, I hope I’m around 10 years from now to check back to see if this really is a better city without them. I’m certain it won’t be.•

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Benner is director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. Listen to his column via podcast at www.ibj.com. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.

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