It has taken 24 hours, five stages, several drinks and one trillion text messages, but I have finally done it - I now accept Tyler Hansbrough as an Indiana Pacer, and I'm OK with it.
How did I get here? It was a long, arduous journey that was a montage of crying, smiling, dismissing my Pacer fandom, praising our leader Larry Bird and, ultimately, cowering in the corner of my apartment wondering how the hell to feel about a lottery pick being used on a 6-foot-9 forward from the University of North Carolina who should have taken 10 picks later.
But eventually I got up, brushed the draft off my knees and realized that the world was still spinning and everything was good in PacerLand. So let's take a walk down the five stages of acceptance of Tyler Hansbrough. This process isn't for everyone, so if you need a visual, watch this.
Stage 1: Denial
With the 13th pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, the Indiana Pacers select...Tyler Hansbrough from the University of North Carolina. Before the Pacers made that pick, I had been frantically scanning the draft board for the player who the Pacers were going to draft.
I needed to update Indy Cornrows as soon as the pick was made, so I loaded all of the YouTube highlights of players who might be drafted by the Pacers. I had each one tabbed: Eric Maynor, DeJuan Blair, Jrue Holiday, James Johnson, Jeff Teague and Ty Lawson.
I even went a step further by making a fake headline saying the Pacers had drafted Holiday. I was certain Bird would take Holiday, trade down in the draft and pick up the player that he and O'Brien had been gushing over for the past week - Tyler Hansbrough. Every time either Bird or O'Brien talked about Hansbrough this week, it became more apparent that they were in love with him. Remember when you were a teenager and your friends asked you about that super, hot chick that you had a crush on? Your eyes gazed toward the ceiling, an innocent smile slid across your face, and you talked and talked and talked about how wonderful she was in every way. That was O'Brien on the radio Thursday before the draft. He did both afternoon sports radio shows, and it was easy to see O'Brien gazed toward the ceiling and transfixed with a love potion when discussing Hansbrough. It was disgusting.
Then, the pick was announced. Like other fans, I was floored. As the great Clark Griswold once said, I wouldn't have been more surprised if I had woken up with my head sewn to the carpet. This just didn't happen, did it? I raced through my mock drafts, thumbed through other people's mockings and found that the Pacers had made a mockery of us all. Larry Bird pulled a fast one. The Pacers really did draft Tyler Hansbrough.
Larry Bird: "We had some point guards we wanted, but we felt if Ty was there, we had to take him."
Stage 2: Anger
The texts poured in immediately after the pick was made. From my cousin, "R u kiddin me? Croshere Junior, that's who we draft?" From a Bulls friend, "I am so happy I get to watch Hansbrough suck on yer team next year." From a Celtics friend, "Hahahahahahahaha."
My wife's response helped out too. "Oh wait!" she exclaimed. "I've actually seen that guy before. He's the guy I always made fun of for looking like a baby! How cute! I can't believe that's who the Pacers drafted." Wow.
Now I was starting to hate the pick, hate Larry Bird and hate the Pacers for ruining my life. If Hansbrough doesn't pan out, I'm going to hear about it forever from everybody. This is your fault Larry Bird. How could this happen? What was Larry Bird thinking? The negatives raced through my mind: too slow, too short, struggles defensively, no potential, undersized, another Josh McRoberts, a younger Jeff Foster, another Austin Croshere.
I started to get angry.
Larry Bird: "Not everybody's going to be happy with who you take, but once they see him play, they'll be very surprised. He fits in well with us, and he's going to have a great career."
Stage 3: Bargaining
I couldn't understand how Hansbrough was the best pick at No. 13. The thirteenth pick should give you somebody who can become a starter and situate your team for the playoffs down the road. Every scouting report on Hansbrough says he'll be in the league for 10 years as a decent role player who thrives on intensity to better the team, but he'll never, ever, ever be an All-Star.
As the draft kept going, I started to bargain with Mr. Bird. "If you just trade this pick down in the draft, or maybe make another blockbuster deal somehow involving Jamaal Tinsley, all will be forgiven. I promise to keep making payments on my season tickets. I promise to buy another Granger jersey. I promise to never doubt you again. Just, please, do NOT keep this pick!"
I started thinking, "Why couldn't we have taken a chance on somebody?" Bird's insistence on drafting experienced collegiate players seemed to be leaving promising young talent on the draft board. Since Bird's return to the franchise in 2003, only one first-round pick by the Pacers played less than three years in college, and that guy, Shawne Williams, didn't set the best precedent for underclassman. So, Bird is scared and scarred by underclassmen. But when you've got Jrue Holiday, Eric Maynor and Ty Lawson available, you go after them, right? They have potential to be stars and be compliments to Danny Granger. Our only true starter needs a wingman, and Hansbrough is not the answer.
In several columns preceding the draft, I pleaded for the Pacers to trade down and pick up some pieces to provide depth in all the weak areas (point guard, wing, post...hmm, everything). The worst-case scenario was the Pacers staying at No. 13 and picking a player who only shored up one roster spot. Consider the worst-case scenario accomplished with flying colors.
The night went on and no trade was announced. It was rumored that the Pacers came close to unloading the No. 13 pick to the Bulls for two first-rounders. Hansbrough still would have been the pick at No. 16. I went to sleep, dazed and confused.
Jim O'Brien: "We're just trying to take the most talented guy when we pick. Last night, for us, it was certainly Hansbrough. [His workout] was by far the most intense workout we had and it was a direct result of what he brought to that workout."
Stage 4: Depression
By Friday morning, I reached the fourth stage of denial. I didn't want to talk about the pick, didn't want to open the paper, didn't want to ask questions and didn't want to get answers. I just wanted to get away from it. I did not care anymore.
But I could not get away from it. Everyone kept texting me. "What do you think?" they asked. People at work asked, "Hey, about that Tyler Hansbrough?" Yeah, how about that, you stupid jerk. Can't you see I'm depressed here? I moped around, head down to the floor and wondered when it would be 1998 again. When will I love to watch this team play night-in and night-out again? Why am I still a Pacers fan after all the crap that went down these past four years? Maybe all those people who shunned the team after the Brawl were right, maybe it was time to move on.
Larry Bird: "He's a mature four-year guy, great college career. He's got good mechanics, he's very well-rounded. He scored in college, he'll score in the league. Tyler's been beat down for four years. Everybody says his game won't translate to the NBA. He'll be fine. He'll do a good job."
Stage 5: Acceptance
Dateline: Friday afternoon. I get a text from a buddy that says, "I don't why, but I like this pick. It was the worst draft ever, so at least we got something from it. Something is better than nothing."
It was the worst draft of the decade. People had been saying that for months. When I pleaded for the Pacers to trade down in the draft, it wasn't just to get more picks, it was to get away from the lottery. There were too many unproven players. Earlier this week, ESPN's Chad Ford said the 2009 No. 8 pick would be the No. 18 pick in a normal draft. So the Pacers were really drafting a player who would've gone in the mid-20's one year ago. If you think about it that way, Hansbrough doesn't seem so bad.
Here's a guy who was massively productive four straight years in college. This is a guy who won a NCAA title, was a big man who could dominate in the paint, score from the elbow and control the ball on the outside. This is a guy who played intense every night. This is a guy who faced one-on-one with a 7-foot-7 behometh and instead of taking the wide-open jump shot, decided to drive straight to the basket and dunk on his face. Jeff Foster would have shot...and missed.
"Maybe it's not such a bad pick," I kept telling myself. "Maybe it doesn't matter if we couldn't trade down. We got the guy we wanted. Bird did good last year, maybe I should trust him again. He's got other tricks up his sleeve this summer. I know it."
People are ticked off now, but I guarantee that come November, Hansbrough will get one of the loudest ovations every time he comes off the bench and leaves the court. That's just how it works at Conseco "Reggie Miller" Fieldhouse. Pacers fans love work ethic and determination. They love players who take charges, go for loose balls and show that they care even in games against Memphis and Washington. Of the 25 games I attended last year, Foster, Josh McRoberts, Jarrett Jack and Granger always got the biggest boost from the crowd when entering the court. Why? Because fans applaud players who give them their money's worth.
There's no guarantee that Hansbrough will be an All-Star. There's no guarantee that Hansbrough will be a starter. There's no guarantee that Hansbrough will be a role player. But he is going to give fans their money's worth. So no matter how much we don't like the pick in June and July, most fans will appreciate him in six months.
I didn't like this pick. I still don't love it. But I'm accepting it. Please prove everybody wrong, Tyler. Otherwise, I'm getting rid of text messaging.
Tyler Hansbrough: "There's nothing to it but to prove some people wrong. I think some people just love me or hate me. That's the way it is. The way I look at it, people didn't think I was going to be a very good college player, and I was successful in college. I am coming in there, ready to prove some people wrong."