Pacers’ hard-earned success requires continued vigilance

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As chronicled in a story in the most recent IBJ, the Indiana Pacers are red hot this year. They have the best record in the National Basketball Association and team officials seem to have dug themselves out of the abyss they were in for what seems like the better part of the last decade.

Friday’s home game against the Portland Trailblazers was the team’s 16th sellout this season. That’s as many as the team has had in the previous two seasons combined

So far this year, the team is averaging nearly 17,300 fans per home game. If that pace continues, it will be the highest attendance mark in 13 seasons.

Overall, attendance is up 19 percent this year—the second-biggest increase of 30 NBA teams. Ticket revenue is up more than 20 percent.

Through 45 total games, TV ratings of games televised on Fox Sports Net are up 138 percent over last season. That’s the highest regional TV ratings increase among NBA teams.

It’s almost easy to forget the Pacers averaged a league-worst 13,538 in attendance during the 2010-11 season. The Pacers bottomed out at 12,221 during the 2007-08 season.

The Pacers weren’t playing the best basketball during those down times. But there were certainly other factors at play that led to that slide.

It’s easier still for the casual observers, and perhaps even some of the players who haven’t been here all that long, to forget just how much work it took to clean up the team’s image and put it back on this road to prosperity.

The Pacers—and most especially the team’s young players—must remember the types of gains achieved by this team are hard earned and delicately maintained. Especially in a family-oriented—some would say fickle—market like Indiana.

That’s why the timing of stories about Paul George’s escapades with a stripper last summer is especially bad. In some markets this type of thing would roll over the team like water off a duck. But this is Indiana. And fans seem to care not just how good the players that represent their state’s teams are at the games they play, but they also want them to be stand-up citizens.

I’m not here to judge Paul George. And I’m not saying he’s not a stand-up guy. But some of the details of the story are less than flattering. I won’t go into the details here.

Rightly or wrongly, folks in this market are going to view George in a little dimmer light now. I’ve already heard several fans say they’d rather have their children wear a different player’s jersey.  

And before people jump the case of judgmental Hoosiers, remember, Pacers executives have sold this team on the basis that not only are these good players, they’re good guys. If I’ve heard that once, I’ve heard it a thousand times in the past two years.

I’ve heard it from Pacers owner Herb Simon. I’ve heard it from team president Jim Morris. And last week I heard it from the team’s sales boss, Todd Taylor. On the whole, I think they’re right.

As a lifelong Indiana resident, I know my Hoosier brethren can wag a disapproving finger. I’ve also known them to be fairly forgiving. I sense they’re prepared to let the George incident slide and chalk it up to a youthful indiscretion.

And why not? As near as anyone can tell, George broke no laws. This doesn’t nearly rise to the level of previous indiscretions by former Pacers players.

But if another incident comes along—especially concerning George, this incident will be brought up again and probably magnified by a mostly cordial local press corps.

All might be forgiven this time. But not forgotten.

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