Slap from national media could galvanize Pacers faithful

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I’m not a big fan of teams and players playing the “We get no respect” card.

But in the Indiana Pacers’ case, it’s justifiable.

As Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic discussed the NBA playoffs Thursday, they spent more than five minutes talking about why they never talk about the Pacers.

On the upside, at least the blue and gold got some national media attention. But only as Greenberg and Golic explained how the Pacers have no marquee players and no pizzazz.

To rub a little salt in the wound, the duo waxed poetic about Boston’s recent surge—they’ve won seven of 10—and went on about how dangerous the Celtics and their point guard Rajon Rondo can be in the playoffs.

Hello! The Pacers have won 11 of 12 games. That type of streak sounds pretty dangerous to me.

Another ESPN personality, Colin Cowherd, last week said the Pacers have “zero” chance of beating either the Chicago Bulls or Miami Heat in the playoffs. “Zero.”

Zero? Really? So why do they play the games?

On Thursday, Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon were asked on their television show “Pardon the Interruption”: “Chances the Indiana Pacers are title contenders?”

While Wilbon said the Pacers have a 70 percent chance of making some noise in the playoffs, Kornheiser said they have 10 percent.

“They’re 4-6 against the Bulls, the Heat and the Celtics, so I’m not going any higher than 10 percent,” Kornheiser said.

When Wilbon pointed out that Indiana won in Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles and were 3-3 against Boston and Chicago, Kornheiser shouted him down, that 70 percent was “way too high, way too high!”

But that’s not the part that really stings. Another of Kornheiser’s observations does.

“They don’t have a lot of stars and they don’t have a really exciting team,” Kornheiser said.

Fortunately, for Pacers officials, those national talking heads aren’t the folks buying Pacers tickets and sponsorships. Unfortunately for those same Pacers officials, guys like Greenberg and Kornheiser have a great deal of influence over the people that do buy those tickets and sponsorships.

I hear far too often from people in the IBJ newsroom, from family members and friends and respondents to my blog posts and the IBJTheScore Twitter account the same thing echoed by the national media.

Despite a 41-22, there’s still something missing. There’s a lack of excitement.

To me, it’s starting to feel a lot like 1994, when coach Larry Brown led the Pacers on their first serious pursuit of an NBA East title. The fifth-seeded Pacers lost in seven games to the N.Y. Knicks in the conference finals, and the local fan base was transformed.

If we here in Indiana decide to bash our own team, so be it. But don’t you outsiders dare throw darts at our team. That’s the way it was then, and I have a feeling that’s the way it still is.

In the 1990s, it wasn’t just the Knicks vs. the Hicks, or large market vs. small market. It seemed to a good many of the team’s followers that it was the Pacers vs. the big-market teams and all the big-market media and NBA brass who wanted those big-market audiences.

It certainly wasn’t just about the Pacers vs. the Knicks or Chicago or Los Angeles. Not to the Hoosiers rooting the team on.  

It was the Pacers [and their followers] vs. The World.

And the team and its players embraced that. The whole state cheered when Reggie Miller emerged for a playoff game wearing a Superman T-shirt. He was our hero, our dragon slayer.

Nothing in this decade so far has galvanized the Pacers fan base.

How else can you explain a team of this caliber attracting an average of only 13,937 attendees through 30 home games, ranking 29th in the 30-team NBA? The Pacers average 936 fewer fans per game than the Charlotte Bobcats, who are 7-54 this season.

Tickets for Monday’s Pacers game are selling for an astonishing 89 cents on StubHub today.

The Pacers have taken a strong step forward with a new advertising campaign this month. In it, Larry Bird states “We’ve got something to prove, and I kind of like it that way.”

What more proof do local sports fans want? The national media has already shown us that once again it’s the Pacers vs. the World.

Here in Indiana, it’s us against them. Just like 1994.

And I kind of like it that way.

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