I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a hoops fan. Besides growing up in a city, I was probably your stereotypical Indiana kid - basketball hoop in the backyard, buzz cut (when I wasn’t rockin’ the Steve Alford) and an affinity for all things Hoosier. There’s so many fond memories I have of watching a game with my dad or pretending to make the Keith Smart shot or playing Nerf against our family dog, Duchess. As a kid, we would go to Pacers games every now and then. This was back in the we-need-to-have-a-telethon-to-save-the-team-we’re-so-bad era. Names like Dr. Jack Ramsey, Waymon Tisdale, Chuck Person, Vern Fleming, Herb Williams and Steve Stipanovich were seeped into my brain by osmosis. My love of the Pacers though, was cemented a bit later, in the ’90-’91 season. That year, Dick Versace was replaced at the helm mid-season by Bob Hill, and the Pacers faced the vaunted (and beloved in Indiana) Boston Celtics, featuring Larry Legend on his last legs. Somehow, I was at Game 4 in MSA, with relatively decent seats as I remember. The Pacers were down 2-1 and facing another quick playoff exit. But, The Rifleman and Reggie had a different plan in mind, rallying in the fourth quarter to eke out a 116-113 victory. I don’t remember the specifics, but I remember the energy vividly. It was close down the stretch, big shots were made, and it was the loudest and craziest game I’ve ever experienced.
I was hooked. The Pacers became a constant. Even when I moved away for college, I would listen to games on the radio while driving the campus shuttle around Xavier’s campus. Somehow, if you were on an East-West street, you could pick up the AM station from Indianapolis. There were definitely several times folks had to wait to get to their destination because a crucial game was hanging in the balance. After college, I moved back to Indy for grad school and spent way too many nights (or just the right amount) watching and discussing the Pacers with Jon and Joey and whoever else would listen. We spent what little money we had on 10-game ticket packages and cheered on an amazing team playing in an awesome venue. We should have been rewarded with a title, but that’s for another blog post.
After grad school, I followed a calling from the west coast, spending 5+ years in Santa Cruz. The distance made following the team harder, as did their lackluster play and off-court antics. But, I still listened to as many games as I could, often staying late at the lab to catch the end of a close one, despite the certain wrath to be absorbed from my then girlfriend for delaying dinner. And I still had faith in my boys, eschewing the points in every two-taco bet with my Laker-loving postdoc advisor. Now, as an east-coaster, I’m following this team with as much fervor as ever and looking forward to more deep playoff runs, memorable shots and incredible moments.