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The Score - Anthony Schoettle

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Sports Business

Timing of NBA lockout hits Pacers, Mack hard

November 23, 2011
KEYWORDS Sports Business

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.

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