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SPORTS: Latest Pacers incident calls for stronger response

December 17, 2007

Just so you know, I already had decided to revisit the Indiana Pacers this week.

At the quarter post of the marathon that is the NBA season, the Pacers were performing admirably and above most expectations. They had knocked off Utah and Dallas. They had won three of four games on a West Coast trip, including a victory at Denver. They scored a huge road victory over the rapidly rising Eastern Conference power, Orlando.

That left them at .500 through 20 games, second in the Central Division and looking more and more like a team that, if healthy, could make the playoffs come April.

There's no question that new coach Jim O'Brien's up-tempo style is bringing out the best in some of his players, notably Mike Dunleavy and Danny Granger. Jeff Foster is rebounding like a man possessed. Jermaine O'Neal looks as if he is getting back into shape and adjusting to O'Brien's run-likethe-wind approach.

The bench is providing quality minutes and production, from Troy Murphy to Shawne Williams to Marquis Daniels. Even David Harrison, while still not getting a break from the officials, is staying on the court long enough to contribute. Many are awaiting the return of Ike Diogu, who looked impressive before he went on the injured list.

And, yes, Jamaal Tinsley is thriving in the free-flow-and-go system. No, not enough to make Pacers fans love him, but perhaps enough to make them forget why they didn't like him.

But then, in a hail of early-morning gunfire outside the Conrad Indianapolis hotel, the budding good vibes disappeared.

They were replaced by the rallying cry, "Get rid of the stupid thug."

Indeed, if I could sum up the hundreds of comments, either online or spoken to me personally, offered in the wake of the latest JTI-Jamaal Tinsley Incident-those six words probably come closest, excluding the racist bile that could be found on the local daily's Web feature "Talkback."

It doesn't matter that the Pacers guard broke no laws in the wee hours of Dec. 9. It doesn't matter that he possibly was an innocent "victim" or a "target" because of his wealth and celebrity. It doesn't matter that Tinsley is an adult with free will to do as he pleases in his free time as young adults-whether it's on West 38th Street or in Broad Ripple-are wont to do.

What does matter is that there is another JTI at a time when his employer couldn't afford to have any of its representatives be accused of anything more serious than jaywalking.

So, once more, the franchise takes a slap upside its head, a punch to the gut, and an absolute burning at the stake in the court of public opinion.

Space does not allow a rehash of the social issues at play. We all just want to know why, if you're making $5.85 million a year, "fun" is to be found at a pedestrian joint at 3 in the morning? We want to know, why roll out the Rolls? We want to know why, if you're being pursued by hostile dudes with an assault rifle, there were no cell-phone calls to 911? We want to know why Tinsley is hanging with a guy with an outstanding drug warrant. We want to know why his brother, who was legally armed, believed it necessary to pursue the attackers and turn downtown streets into a shooting gallery. We want to know why Tinsley, with a trial on intimidation charges scheduled next month, would dare risk putting himself into such a situation.

Sure, a chastised Tinsley braved the media, apologized and vowed to alter his lifestyle so he wouldn't place himself in jeopardy again or do further damage to the reputation of the franchise.

Fine. Swell. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

These guys think they're bullet-proof, until the bullets start flying through the car windows. One supposes if rounds from an assault rifle whizzing beneath Tinsley's nose don't drive the point home, nothing will.

Yes, it could have been tragically worse. Tinsley or one of his pals, including equipment manager Joe Qatato, who was injured, could be dead.

Unbelievably, Tinsley was back in the starting lineup in the next game. Meanwhile, the Pacers franchise was left to recover from all the collateral damage.

Sorry to lean on a cliché, but this one rotten apple is spoiling the entire barrel. As a result, so many others in the Pacers organization have to suffer. Again. What a shame.

This time, I agree with the public sentiment. Whatever it takes, and whatever harm it does to the Pacers short term, it's time.

Get rid of him.



Benner is associate 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. To comment on this column, send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.
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