There's a lot for Indiana Pacers fans to like about the New York Knicks. And perhaps even more for the Pacers sales team to like about them.
Few teams have done more over the Pacers' 45-year history to galvanize its fan base than the Knicks. The Kentucky Colonels of the ABA days come to mind, but other than that, the Knicks evoke a rallying cry in Indy like few others.
And fewer teams have helped the team sell more tickets short- and long-term than the Knicks. Sure Chicago Bulls fans flood the Fieldhouse a couple times a year, but the Knicks have done so much more for the Blue and Gold.
Every great team needs a seminal moment or two to grab the fan base by their collective shirt collar and pull them cheering from their seats.
In the 1990s it was Reggie Miller's eight points in nine seconds at Madison Square Garden and the showdown with Spike Lee. It was Dale and Antonio Davis against the rough and tumble Knicks front line, Rik Smits battling Patrick Ewing and chants of Knicks versus Hicks.
Those games and those moments helped the Pacers not only sell out those playoff games but turned Pacers games for years to come into major community events. They also helped rally support for the construction of the $183 million Fieldhouse.
Now we're a decade, a brawl and a public shoot-out removed from the glory days the Knicks helped fuel. With their troubles long behind them, the Pacers have a sleepy fan base that is long overdue for a wake-up call. It's time for this city to become familiar with a new generation of Pacers stars and hometown heroes.
Enter the Knicks. They've got stars (players and fans), the big market, and yes, they still have Spike Lee.
The Pacers, in many eyes, are small town and small time, with no real marquee stars … yet. They're underdogs and under appreciated by national hoops pundits. In short, they're right where the Indy hoops fan base seems to love it most.
This series has all the ingredients to unite the Pacers fan base once again and create true demand for Pacers tickets.
While the Pacers said they sold out all three home playoff games against Atlanta, anyone at the 18,165-seat Fieldhouse could see there were between 1,000 and 1,500 empty seats at each of those games.
Game three versus the Knicks on Saturday will be an important gauge of where this team stands with its fans. I don't expect there to be an empty seat in the house. I expect the remainder of the Pacers-Knicks series to be appointment TV viewing for anyone who remotely considers themselves a basketball fan in Indiana. It remains to be seen how this series will affect ticket demand next season.
One thing is certain. A prime opportunity stands before the Pacers franchise, and if they grasp it, and again create some Reggie Miller-like memories in the battles ahead, it could well be a tipping point in terms of the way this city feels about this team, and by extension ticket sales, for next year and beyond.
Indianapolis has a bad reputation for only loving a winner. And maybe that's partly true. But it's worth pointing out that Miller never won an NBA championship, and few athletes are loved here more than he.
I think what this town loves is a team whose sum is greater than its parts. And a team that can play the role of David with nothing more than courage, a sling shot and the willingness to step up and take the big shot. A shot big enough shot to slay a giant, or at least make him stagger.