Timing of NBA lockout hits Pacers, Mack hard

November 23, 2011
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The Indiana Pacers have been the victims of some awfully bad timing lately. The same could be said for former Butler University basketball star Shelvin Mack.

Both have been hit hard by the National Basketball Association lockout that some think could stretch into the new year—and quite possibly beyond.

The lockout has hit just as the Pacers seemed to be turning the team around. A playoff appearance last season reinvigorated a beleaguered fan base, and there was real hope that the team’s attendance could claw from the bottom quartile of the league.

Making the timing of the lockout even worse is the Indianapolis Colts’ unexpected swoon. With the Colts in the dumps and media darling and fan favorite Peyton Manning on the shelf, media and fan attention on the Pacers this season would have been more intense in central Indiana than it has been since 2004.

I’m a lifelong resident of central Indiana so it pains me to say this, but few towns flock to a winner—and run from a loser—like Indy. Don’t get me wrong. Hoosiers love their sports and teams. They just love them a whole lot more when they’re winning. And a Hoosier sports fan in love is one much more apt to pull a few dollars out of his pocket to spend on tickets, merchandise and whatever else goes with the game experience.

The Pacers could have been poised to capitalize on this trend. And few NBA teams could use more of a boost. Depending on whose numbers you believe, the Pacers have lost between $16 million and $30 million annually in recent years.

At least this year’s wound wasn’t entirely self-inflicted. NBA Commissioner David Stern and NBA Players Association boss Billy Hunter are owed a big part of the blame.

I’m not sure the same can be said for Mack, who fled Butler after three glorious years for the riches of the NBA.

His first miscalculation was thinking he’d be a first-round draft pick, which would have earned him a guaranteed contract. Second-round draft selections get no such guarantee.

There’s been much debate about Mack’s NBA prospects. Some love his size, strength and jumping and shooting ability. Other NBA scouts aren’t yet convinced.

That showed when Mack slipped to the second round, going 34th to Washington in June’s NBA draft. But miscalculating his draft status wasn’t his biggest mistake. Not by a long shot.

Just about every NBA analyst and insider predicted long before Mack declared for the draft in April that this would be a long, hard-fought lockout. Indiana University law school dean Gary Roberts predicted months ago that the entire NBA season would be wiped out. Roberts, who was a National Football League attorney and has been involved in several labor disputes, might have been a voice Mack should have listened to last spring.

You would have thought a smart guy like Mack would have heeded the age-old advice—stay in school. That’s especially good advice—for any student—when the job market is questionable and there’s much more in college to learn.

So Mack works out in his native Kentucky with no paycheck and little prospect of playing in a meaningful basketball game this year. He could have been dressed in Bulldog blue right now, improving his skills and his draft status.

And the Pacers?

Well, if there’s a short-term upside, it’s that they’re not losing as much money this year since their biggest expense—player salaries—is gone.

But long-term, the Pacers are missing an invaluable opportunity to put the team back in the media spotlight and grab the attention of a fan base hungry for something to cheer about.

  • Small Market Woes
    To say "few towns flock to a winner—and run from a loser—like Indy" is not so much a reflection on the quality of the fans, but rather the quantify of the fans in a small state like Indiana. The Pacers, IU and PU football have all been on the decline since the Colts' moving trucks rolled in from Baltimore. Only Conseco's brief novelty interrupted the Pacers donward spiral. I'm not saying having the Colts is a bad thing. I'm just saying there's a limited size to the discretionary spending pie that's being cut more ways. The college teams are well subsidized by their conference peers. Will the Pacers subsidy by the Simon's finally run out? On the bright side, the Colts have helped increase the popularity of high school football to where it appears to exceed interest in high school basketball. Or was that "class" basketball that led to its demise?...but I digress.
  • Mack
    I don't think it is fair to say, in retrospect, that Mack made such a huge mistake. There were many, including the #1 pick Kyrie Irving, who came out early. No one could have predicted with certainty a delay or possible cancellation of the season. The NFK had a lockout and they got it fixed in time. For Shelvin's talent level and given the Dawgs back-to-back title games, this may have been his best option.
  • Mack should have known better
    If memory serves me correctly, the same IU dean (Gary Roberts) who accurately predicted the serious (and possibly season ending) NBA labor strife, also accurately predicted that the NFL labor fight would be resolved by August or September. Roberts, like many others, understood that the issues in the two leagues were completely different, with the NBA model being far more broken than the NFL and the two sides in the NBA fight being much further apart in their respective stances. If Mack would have had an advisory team worth a nickel they would have told him the obvious: Stay in school! Sitting, doing nothing, not playing and not getting any better, much less any exposure is never anyone's best option.
  • J Bird-Crazy
    J Bird.....you couldn't be more wrong. The peak years of attendance and interest of IU, PU, and the Pacers all came well after the Colts arrived. IU had peak football attendance in 1991 (seven years after the Colts arrived)PU had peak attendance in the Rose Bowl year of Drew Brees (15 years after the Colts arrived) and the Pacers attendance did nothing but increase througout the 90's and early 2000's until the Ron Artest melee. Finally the state of Indiana has about 6.5 million residents...in 1984 when the Colts came the state only had 5.45 million. So that's an extra 1 million people to fill a combined 120,000 to 125,000 seats.
  • Expensive
    Truth be told, pro sports are way too expensive to support more than one team per year. Colts tickets and the related game-day expenses are particularly insane. And the quality of play in the NBA isn't worth the price of a ticket near the floor. Honestly, the best sports entertainment value in town right now is the Naptown Roller Girls. I don't feel like the pro teams are really interested in me unless I'm willing to drop $75 a head.

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