let me give a little background...i'm a die-hard knicks fan (but i come in peace) that was born and raised in connecticut. both of my parents are originally from south bend and IU alumns but moved to CT after getting married. ive been out here since my freshman year at IU in 2001 and now live and work in indianapolis.
i may have grew up in CT but i feel like i was almost a pacers expert at that time since i followed them so closely during the hey-day of the knicks/pacers rivalry.
its amazing how much things have changed since then. i remember the biggest outrage for me was reggie and his choking antics, but in hindsight that was just him having fun on the court. off the court, he was a model citizen and im sure you were all proud to have him representing what was (at the time) the premiere franchise in the city of indianapolis.
throughout the 90s, the pacers were always a playoff team (except '96 i believe). and despite the heated rivalry, they always earned my respect because they weren't a thug team (like riley & the heat). they finally got over the hump and knocked out my beloved knicks to reach the Finals in 2000. after that, i expected them to take a major slide (kind of like the knicks) because of their aging roster. i figured it was the last hurrah. but a couple of great management moves (most notably the double-D for JO trade along with the best/rose for artest/miller swap) kept them in championship contention.
when i moved out here, i had four roomates at IU from my sophomore-senior years. i remember specifically in '03 and '04 all four of them watching the playoff games with pacers jerseys on. one roomate's parents had season tickets so he went to all of the home playoff games. there was excitement then.
im not sure when specifically the interest in the pacers started going down the tubes, but i think you can credit their current slide to the night of the brawl. going into that night, alot of people believed that the pacers were championship contenders but the brawl ruined those hopes. i remember watching the magic/pacers game at conseco on tv when indy had only seven players (i believe) dressed after all of the suspensions. it was almost like the entire crowd was united behind these bench players trying to cheer them on. the love was still there.
that same season (reggie's last season to be exact), i was a senior in college and did an internship with WIBC which allowed me to go into the locker room after home games so i was around the team alot. on friday and saturday nights, conseco was still packed. but without artest, and without JO for almost half the season, the championship hopes were completely deflated. tayshaun's block ended their chances, but even after the series loss to the pistons, i still felt like this team mattered.
after reggie's retirement, the team started going into a tailspin with bad roster moves, most importantly the decision to hang on to artest. ron-ron was traded for pennies on the dollar (for peja, who had peaked in '04), and other roster moves, like the saurunas signing, failed miserably.
i believe it was the '06 offseason that absolutely crippled the franchise (from a winning/losing standpoint). a wasted 2007 draft pick for james white who was cut in camp, losing peja in free agency (essentially getting nothing for artest), crosheres soon-to-be-expired contract for marquis daniels...in fact the only good move they made was letting freddie jones walk. i didn't even think that bringing al back was a good idea, considering how he didn't fit with this team, especially since it meant dealing out of the deepest draft in recent memory.
i really believe the straw that broke the camel's back was the club rio incident. that forced the pacers to trade jax in another pennies-on-the-dollar deal. in one of the worst trades in recent memory, the pacers traded the two best players in the deal and took on MORE money to do so, while giving up sarunus' busted expiring contract as a throw-in.
after that came the six seconds saloon but that hardly mattered. the city was already over it. more dirt was shoveled on the pacers grave after the colts super bowl win.
so what's this latest shawne williams arrest mean? nothing really. i now work for the ESPN radio affiliate in town and we opened the phone lines up for this subject and barely got any calls. i think there were a couple calls suggesting how they don't care about the pacers anymore and how they gave up their season tickets, etc. shortly after those calls, the only thing people cared about was how colts LB freddie keiaho's elbow was doing.
the fact is that this franchise could've and should've completely cleaned house with the artest trade two years ago and didn't. the writing was on the wall then. the fan base was already teetering off the cliff after the brawl. the pacers could've saved face and shipped he and jax and tinsley and even bird off, but they didn't. now they're too late.
what now? well, what are the options for this team? they're locked into horrible long-term deals with dunleavy and murphy. they only have one really talent youngster (granger), but i just don't believe he has a very high ceiling. he can be a really good pro for the next ten years, but he's not a franchise player. JO will be 29 when the season begins but he has the knees of an aging vet. im not sure what walsh and larry saw in diogu (the supposed "gem" of the warriors deal) but whatever it is, i don't see it. tinsley is still actually a pretty dcent player, but he a) shoots too much, b) is always hurt. i mean look at this roster: travis diener? kareem rush? would these guys even get a roster spot on half of the other NBA teams?
its sad too. i actually do pull for the pacers since being out here, mostly because the knicks have become just as irrelevant and the great rivalry is a distant memory. not to say that im not still a huge knicks fan, i still am, but since i have to follow the pacers, i do want them to do well. the losing is also upsetting to me because of how much basketball means to this state.
i've been to new castle fieldhouse where 9,000 people showed up to see new castle play munice central. 9,000 at a HIGH SCHOOL basketball game. i've been to assembly hall against #1 duke and felt the walls shake. back in the day, i remember thinking that the market square crowds were the only ones in the NBA that challenged the decibel level of the garden. even conseco, in its infancy, rocked in the 2000 Finals.
it's a shame that the pacers no longer give this city anything to cheer about, on or off the court. now the only question is, not only when will this city get to watch winning basketball again, but when will this city have a team with players worth cheering for?