When the newest Indiana Pacer, Paul George, was asked why he went to Fresno State—not exactly a hoops hotbed—his answer caught me by surprise. In fact, it blew me away.
I had heard of Paul George for several weeks leading up to last Thursday’s NBA draft. This was the guy who could be the real sleeper of the 2010 draft, basketball experts said.
But until Friday, I had never heard from George.
His simple answer to a complex question during his first meeting with the Indianapolis media showed me that George could be the most business and marketing savvy player on the Pacers roster.
George said he went to Fresno State because they had a beautiful arena, and he wanted to help “fill it up,” adding he wanted to help build the program.
Now how many 18-year-old kids do you know that are concerned about selling tickets, filling arenas, facilities utilization and program building? Maybe I’m giving George too much credit. But I don’t think so.
An answer to a question a few minutes later gave me further insight into what makes this guy tick.
George was asked why he left Fresno State after two years. He didn’t balk and he didn’t waffle. He stated simply, matter-of-factly that the chemistry had become bad there, and it was no place for him to grow—personally or professionally.
I hope this guy turns out to be as good as basketball draft analysts say that he can be. Because he sure talks one heck of a game, and I mean that in the best way.
I criticized Larry Bird last year for drafting Tyler Hansbrough, putting too much emphasis on character and not enough on raw talent and potential. This year, I praise Bird for perhaps doing the same thing.
I have nothing against Hansbrough, and actually hope he heals and can be part of rebuilding the Pacers. But the jury still out on that.
But with George, I think Bird has gotten it exactly right. This looks like a guy who has equal parts star talent and character.
George didn't get lots of looks from big-time programs coming out of high school. And he slipped through the pre-draft workouts mostly unnoticed. Could he be the cornerstone rejected by others? Bird can only hope his prodigy has those types of savior-like qualities.
For those worried about the team having too many wings and not enough dribblers, they’ve missed a subtle yet very important change within the Pacers franchise. The team’s culture is spinning 180 degrees from where it was just three years ago.
Some still wonder what’s taking so long. Bird is finding that it’s much more difficult to change a team’s culture as a player personnel boss than it was as a star player.
But I think he may finally be turning the corner. With only a year left on his Pacers contract, I’m sure he’s hoping it’s not too late.
While George was peppered with questions from the media last Friday, Pacers Roy Hibbert, Brandon Rush and A.J. Price were working up a lather in the weight room 50 feet away. Josh McRoberts and a handful of other Pacers are also regulars there during the off-season.
You might ask, what’s so unusual about that? After all, they’re highly paid professional athletes and should be ready when the season begins. But that’s not the way it works with many teams and players.
Four years ago, you could have fired a cannon across the Conseco Fieldhouse weight room at any time during the off-season and had little chance of hitting a player pumping iron.
But it remains a difficult sell in this era of instant gratification. The progress is indeed difficult to discern. It’s easy to think that progress doesn’t exist.
Yes, the Pacers still desperately need a point guard. But Bird knows those are relatively easy to come by.
There are much rarer commodities in the NBA; People who fit your culture and who will work hard without prodding. And players who understand this is a business. That it’s about making sure your employer gets made whole. And that your customers get their money’s worth.
In Paul George, the Pacers get all of that.