Indiana Pacers: The Year They Lost a Fan

Matthew WellsContributor IApril 17, 2012

I will never be a Pacers fan again.  And it’s really sad.

I once loved the team with all my heart. My eyes would finally give in as a child listening to Pacers radio voice Mark Boyle gleam about the presence of “D-Squared” Dale Davis on the boards against an underwhelming Golden State Warriors squad.  

Many a night was spent yelling at Travis Best for dribbling the ball too much. I even witnessed Rik Smits’ career high night of 44 points against the Clippers in 1995 from a nosebleed section of Market Square Arena.

Oh I loved the Pacers.

Reggie was my idol. I shot with his terrible follow-through (which is why I never played past eighth grade) and envied his ability to drive people insane with his wit. He knew when to yell, knew when to be quiet, knew when to push his teammates a little bit farther. He aspired to bring the Pacers to greatness with every fiber in his body.

You could feel his desire in your heart. He inspired a fan base with his propensity for making clutch shots and talking trash to anyone and everyone. He was a blue-collar player with white collar skills in a blue-collar market. He could rough up the boys from glitzy New York and charm the wives of factory workers in small town Indiana.

But then there was the fight.

I left like everyone else did. The whole situation is embarrassing. If you are a sports fanatic who has sat close to the action, there is no way that you didn’t cringe when seeing that footage for the first, second, or thirty-third time. It was barbaric and absurd.  Childish and moronic. The adjectives are endless, but never seem to do the scene justice.

So many different demographics were affected by the horrific nature of that night at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

There were the loyal fans that would never leave, but sure thought about it pretty hard. There were the bedside listeners who couldn’t afford seats because they were laid off for the third time in three years but saved every last penny for that one Tuesday in February when it was feasible. There were the season ticket-holding corporations that couldn’t risk associating their image with a group of players so opposite of their morals and values.

All of those backgrounds, class levels, and work ethics had one thing in common: they were angry.

However, if the Cincinnati Reds had done the same thing (and they almost did in 2010), I would have went to a game the next week if I was offered tickets. Sure, I might have been upset and composed some insensitive blog about the pitiful direction of the franchise. But, I would never leave my Redlegs.

This fact caused me to realize something. I was the true definition of a fair-weather fan when it came to the Pacers.

And it embarrassed me.

A friend of mine in college was a die-hard optimist of the Pacers despite all the troubles they were going through as a franchise. He would post incessantly on Facebook about how the NBA Draft would gradually rebuild the organization and help restore the Pacers respectability among those at the top.

Andrew was thrilled about the selection of Danny Granger and I had never heard of him before. He thought that Roy Hibbert’s skills and work ethic would give the team a much-needed boost of enthusiasm. I questioned Hibbert’s lankiness.

My ill-informed observations signaled to me that I was out of touch with the game of basketball and that Andrew was a true fan that would protect the love of his life for anything.

I am that way with the Reds and I don’t even realize it sometimes. It’s most likely annoying to my friends and is probably a major reason why I don’t have as many as others do. I love talking about why certain guys shouldn’t hit at the top of the order and how big-league managers are sometimes the biggest waste of space in the world.

The fact of the matter is nobody really cares as much about what I care about the most. Frankly, the Pacers aren’t what I care about most. Therefore, I am not a true fan.

Instead, I found hockey as a refuge for my deserted "fandom."

The Chicago Blackhawks’ games are almost all on television and the game of hockey translates beautifully on the radio. I have committed myself to learning all of the terms (half-boards, re-direct, enforcer, rink-wide pass, etc.) and realized that the game’s structure really fits my personality style.

I love the process and the unpopular and hockey is ALL about the process and the unpopular.

There is extreme glee found in achieving a goal after so much hard work.  The players have such an enigmatic presence off the ice because the game is still underground in America to the general public. The fans are so protective of their game and are unwilling to share.

They will share if you go watch the team at a road game. Wearing your team’s jersey in the other team’s arena is a sign of common brotherhood.  A man that looks like he runs a Chicago-style pizzeria talks to me EVERY time I go watch the Hawks in Columbus because I am wearing the gorgeous home jersey. And get this: it’s a different guy each game!

Hockey has now what the NBA had in the mid-90s.

The rivalries are exploding, certain teams have their trademark style that hasn’t changed in five years, and players act outside of their usual behavioral patterns. The NHL is gaining momentum and is starting to finally brand itself as an experience instead of a privilege.

It’s no longer “Watch Crosby, he’s great!” Instead, it’s “#becauseitsthecup." Fans latch on to the sense of being involved in the moment and get tired of players being jammed down their throat.

The good news is that the Pacers players being jammed down my throat are much more likeable and their coach is even more pristine.

There are plenty of reasons for me to come back and enjoy Pacers basketball again. George Hill and Paul George are electric.  Danny Granger is trying so hard to become an elite, “you can count on him in the clutch” player with a little bit of grit. Roy Hibbert’s personality is incredibly enjoyable and it seems to permeate the attitudes of his teammates. Plus, Conseco, er, Bankers Life Fieldhouse is one of the best places to watch a game in all of sports.

However, what kind of fan am I if I desert the team and try to come back now that they are competitive again? It’s selfish and pathetic, but more likely a protection of my personal "fandom."

Watching the Reds get no-hit by Roy Halladay in Game 1 of the 2010 NLDS was an insult to my being. It hurt my feelings, it made me angry, and it made me more excited to watch the Reds win Game 2. And then they lost again. And you know what? I was even more excited because I was getting to attend Game 3, my first playoff game since I was seven years old in 1995.

And then they lost again.  But, as a true fan does, I convinced myself that the 2011 team would reach the NLCS.  And then they lost 83 games and finished in third place.

However, here I am, back in the saddle, hoping that a 4-6 start can turn into 7-6 after a three-game sweep on the road at the first-place St. Louis Cardinals. This undying belief is true fandom.

If the Pacers lose Game 1 to the Magic at home, I will probably just flip it over to the Reds game without any emotion tied to the game at all.

It’s sad, but it’s what I get for deserting the team. Bandwagon fans are no fun and I pledge to never be a Pacers fan again.