Is latest Pacer arrest an indictment on Larry Bird?

August 16, 2010
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There’s never a good time for domestic violence—or to otherwise run afoul of the law. And let’s be clear here, I’m not a judge or a jury. In the case of Indiana Pacers rookie Lance Stephenson all you currently have are allegations. But those allegations were serious enough to get him arrested Sunday morning.

That’s bad news for the Pacers at the worst possible time.

For the first time in a while, Pacers fans had something positive to cheer about last week. The acquisition of Darren Collison addressed the team’s point guard issues. James Posey was a nice addition as well. Gone is Troy Murphy and his fat contract.

At last, Larry Bird had done something Pacers fans could almost universally applaud. With one year left on his contact, the pieces seemed to be falling into place for Bird and his lieutenant, David Morway.

Then news broke that Stephenson threw his girlfriend down a flight of stairs in New York. This is the same player the Pacers signed to a two-year guaranteed $1.5 million this summer. It’s a guarantee the Pacers didn’t have to offer the 40th pick in this year’s draft. But essentially, Pacers brass were saying, “In Lance we trust.”

Stephenson was supposed to be part of a rookie class—along with Paul George—that was going to solidify Bird’s front office job here.

Bird took two somewhat risky players. George has great potential and had flashes of brilliance at Fresno State, but is largely unproven.

Stephenson was the 2010 Big East Rookie of the Year at Cincinnati this past season. The 6-foot-5 guard was the Pacers' second-leading scorer in the Orlando summer league at nearly 15 points per game, and led the league in field goal percentage at 73 percent.

Stepping out from under the shadow cast by former Pacers President Donnie Walsh, it looked like Bird might finally be ready to take flight on his own.

Pacers President Jim Morris was recently in the IBJ office professing his confidence in Bird. Both men were looking pretty smart last week. Finally, there was some Pacers news to talk about besides the Conseco Fieldhouse lease deal.

The Pacers’ tide was rising at just the right time. The team is in the heat of their off-season selling period, reaching out to sponsors and current and potential season tickets holders.

Then Stephenson stepped out of the Blue and Gold blueprint and into the headlines of dozens of newspapers, TV and radio newscasts and Internet stories.

Morris and the rest of the Pacers marketing staff must now regroup and decide how they’ll reach out to sponsors and ticket buyers. Instead of selling Collison, Posey, George and the new-look Pacers, they have to convince team faithful the Stephenson arrest shouldn’t be an indictment on Bird and his staff.

Worse yet, Morris—along with owner Herb Simon—have to convince their customers and community supporters this shouldn’t be an indictment against the entire front office, the same front office that vetted Stephenson this summer and even hired a private investigator to do a background check.

This isn’t the first time Stephenson, 19, has been in trouble. I won’t go into all that here, but Bird clearly thought the trouble was either behind Stephenson, or that he is such a talent that he warranted the risk. And Morris has to take responsibility for signing off on that deal.

Mayor Greg Ballard might also be feeling a bit uneasy, having supported $33.5 million in public funding to help cover Conseco Fieldhouse costs. This isn't the sort of representation the city wants from the professional teams it stands behind.

So far, the Pacers have only released a brief statement regarding Stephenson’s arrest. Yes, they deserve time to gather facts before elaborating. Eventually, though, Pacers officials are going to have to answer not only what next, but how and why did this latest misstep happen?

There’s still plenty to be optimistic about regarding the Pacers’ upcoming season. But it’s too bad Pacers brass will spend so much of their time in the coming weeks worrying about the wrong kind of spin moves.

And it’s unfortunate Stephenson will be spending so much of his future dealing with the wrong kind of court.

  • Posey
    Who is Sam Posey? You should not be writing about sports; you have no clue what goes on.
  • serious questions
    This wouldn't be such a big deal had the Pacers not been dealing with all they've dealt with the last four years. You begin to wonder if this is just a blip or if this is the final nail in the coffin. Pacers have to have better handle on who they are adding to the roster. They just can't afford any more missteps.
  • Own it!
    Why would Larry Bird be responsible for the actions of one of his players? I dont remember Donnie Walsh being held responsible for the brawl in Detroit. Larry has tried to do well with the resources he has at his disposal. To hold him accountable for making what appears to be a leap of faith decision, and then hammer him for it is extremely unfair, and deflects blame from the young man who is clearly to be held accountable. He's probably had people covering for him all his life and felt untouchable....
  • Thugs!
    Why can't there be a clause in ALL pro athletes contracts that if they are arrested and convicted, that their contract is null & void AND their professional career is over?
  • Recourse
    Do the Pacers have any recourse on the guaranteed $1.5M they gave Stephenson if he is ultimately found guilty and incarcerated? Surely there is a stipulation in the NBA rules that states you don't have to pay a player if he gets in trouble with the law.
  • who is responsible?
    Terry, I'm not saying Lance Stephenson shouldn't be held responsible for his actions. But I'd say it is incumbent upon Larry Bird to build a roster full of relatively good character people. There are as many business reasons for that (maybe more) as moral reasons. I doubt Lance has ever given much thought what consequence his actions have on this franchise. That's Larry Bird's and Jim Morris' job ... to consider those things when drafting and signing players. Can you predict every action of every person on the face of the planet? No. Can you make some reasonable assumptions based on a 19-year-old recent past? Uhh, probably. To others who have asked about Stephenson's contract. Some contracts do have morals clauses in them, but NBA contracts have more guarantees than most. As soon as I get a return phone call from Pacers officials, I'll ask those questions.
  • Morality Clauses
    It's time for morality clauses -- not only in team contracts -- but league player's union contracts. Players with 2 offenses are banned for life. Regardless of talent. Every league should have it -- especially the NFL, which despite perceptions of the NBA, is the worse in terms of player arrests.
  • Partyville? Real Mature
    ...also Partyville is a jerk. The writer clearly states James Posey. Moreover, unless you are a professional editor, read the article for content and perspective. If you don't like it then go elsewhere. It's in poor taste to personally attack an author for his work.
  • Last straw for Bird
    Enough is enough with Mr. Bird. I hope Simon gives Larry the boot before I leave work today. How many strikes is this guy going to get?
    Stephenson had a guaranteed contract, you have got to be kidding me!
    Indianapolis is giving Bird way too much credit for acquiring Collison. Let's face it, Collison is too good to come off the bench and would not be utilized properly in New Orleans playing behind Chris Paul. The Hornets had to deal Collison now so they could at least get something in return. As a result, Bird happened to be the blind squirel that found the nut during the Collison/Troy Murphy deal. Sorry Larry, all you know how to do is sign thugs and an abundance of small forwards. That forumla has not and will never win.
  • Here we go again maybe
    I think that we are at a point where we have good guys on the Pacers, guys who for the most part won't go out and screw up so badly it ends up in the paper. At some point you have to bring in guys that can play too, and hope the good character guys can rub off. Hate to say it...don't know what Stephenson has seen in his life...believe me, there are still a lot of men out there that believe in controlling women with a punch in the face. Maybe he has seen a lot of it...if he has, it takes some time and counseling to learn the other ways of resolving differences. Allen Iverson, Artest, Stephen Jackson, Stephenson...they grew up where there is a lot of when things get tough enough, they do what they know and have seen. Not an excuse, just the truth...I think Larry knew this was a possibility but they took a chance, hoping the guys around here would keep him in is telling that he is at home right now, away from here. When he is here maybe things go better...maybe not...but you can't ditch the guy yet, in my opinion. He was, by all accounts, no problem in Cincinnati, also a long way from home, he fell in line.
    Interesting take above...all pro athletes should have their contract voided if they are arrested and convicted. We don't do that in most professions...I think second chances are important...most of us have at least one event in our life that we would like to get back, be forgiven for, etc., especially when we were Stephenson's age. 19 is mighty young...It fascinates me that people are so judgemental, and ready to be punish athletes...we revere them till they screw up, then want to burn them at the stake. When these kids are 15-16, a player the caliber of LS is know all over the basketball world...he is famous, but has no money and no life skills, and has AAU sycophants, his entourage, and college coaches(and guys like Sonny Vacaro, agents)that he sees on TV slobbering all over, greed, the NCAA, professional sports (and us) have created this monster...athletes, players like this are the least able to handle, the least equipped to deal with notriety and money.
    Look at Lebron lately...fairly smart guy, all the money in the world, not inclined to crime...he has his friends advising him now...they are not professionals...he looks pretty stupid doesn't he? These guys simply don't have what it takes to deal with the world they are in...they are athletes, not exactly the braintrust of the next generation
    I don't get how Greg Ballard is feeling the heat...he tried to keep the Pacers here because it is not in anyone's best long term interest for the Pacer's to not be here, except maybe the Simon's. He has nothing to do with LS getting arrested, and that by itself is not going to deep six the Pacers franchise. It is a setback, not a deal breaker...let the legal system take its course, give Stephenson one more break if the system sees fit to give him a break, if anything else happens, then get rid of him. I don't disagree about some sort of morality clause...good for me, some number of criminal offenses would be too many...
  • It is relevant to go into his past and bring up what he has been accused of. Per the Star, he was charged with groping a girl at a bus stop his senior year. A charge that was dropped to a misdemeanor. No reason given for lowering the charge. Nothing else is listed. So it would be hard to judge this guy for being a crimnal or a thug as some are doing without knowing the facts. Even with the current charge, we need to wait to see what comes out. The fact he was charged means he was accused of pushing her down and she had physical injuries. Did he push her down out of anger, lose his balance or did she fall down and accuse him of it? Hard to tell the truth and the best thing is to let the justice system figure it out.

    If this guy was a gang banger or had a history of crimes, I could see holding the Pacers responsible for a poor choice. In this case, the court of public opinion is lacking real facts.
  • Lance Artest Deux
    I was amazed the Pacers picked Stephenson in the 1st place. I saw him play at Cincy a couple of times last season and came away thinking he was a ball hog who played little D and sulked when he was benched. I also knew about his previous record, which fit the M.O. of most UC hoopsters over the past years. So when the Pacers picked him, I hoped for the best but am not surprised by the news of his alleged assault. With a 2-year guaranteed contract, I'm hoping the kid somehow learns from this mistake (doubtful)and is put on double secret probation (also doubtful). Regardless of the judicial outcome, it's another sad PR fiasco, once again, for the Pacers.
  • exonerated?
    Whether or not Stephenson is exonerated, the stigma of being "the guy who pushed his girlfriend down a flight of stairs" will be with him forever. This is not a legal issue, it's a moral one ... and it speaks directly to the brand image of the team.
    • not panicking
      Hey, Stipo shot himself in the foot in college and lied about it due to embarrassment, and also got into a fight in college at a White Castle. We all forgot that (sort of).
      If Lance has done something wrong then he will pay the legal consequences, but as far as the Pacers...I think it comes with the territory of 19yr old millionaires.
      Like the TV commercial for the cheese snacks, you have to wait for the maturity.
      With players skipping college, the maturity for many just isnt there.

      I am not excusing Lance if guilty, I'm just advocating not indicting the Pacers or the city or the Mayor for the stupid and immature actions of a 19yr old.

    • Stipo
      PacerDon, That's a good memory you have. As I recall, Steve Stipanovich, during the incident you referred to in the early 1908s, said he was shot by a guy who said "I hate basketball players." Which I must admit, is a pretty odd thing to claim. Nevertheless, I'm not sure you could compare accidently shooting yourself at home (and being embarassed and stupidly lying about it) to throwing another person down a flight of stairs. But as you say, let's let the courts have their say.

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