During a recent episode of the Indy Cornrows Courtside Podcast, host, J.P. Cavanaugh sat down to interview the Indiana Pacers' play-by-play radio broadcaster, Mark Boyle. After touching on various topics such as how the well-known radio voice spends his offseason, lack of attendance at home games in Banker's Life Fieldhouse, and the importance of Herb Simon as the Pacers' owner, their conversation turned toward the team's involvement in the community. In response, Boyle said that he would compare the current roster's collective character to that of the team that was here in the late 1990s, which included among others Reggie Miller and Mark Jackson. He added that the current Pacers' team-like its aforementioned predecessor-can accurately boast having "solid people and really great players" on their respective rosters.
Boyle later added the following insights:
"In professional sports now, that is not a combination that is easy to find. You can find good teams with questionable characters. [You can] find bad teams with questionable characters. You can find good guys on bad teams. [It is] not the norm to find a team from 1-15 full of good guys who will never cause you any trouble off the court, who will never be involved in any incidents that will embarrass themselves or the franchise, and are good enough to compete for a championship."
Boyle concluded his response by stating:
"That is a rarity in sports today."
For the most part, Mark Boyle's glowing assessment of the team-whose current roster actually includes 14 players-should not come as much of a surprise. It is not exactly a secret that the Pacers' front office has made a concerted effort since November, 19, 2004 to bring players with high quality of character to Indianapolis. It is the franchise's resolute commitment and hope that the days when Pacers players were known more for their off court antics than for winning are long gone.
Just think about it for a second, what greater symbol could there be of the Pacers closing the door on those memories from the past, than the image of Pacers President of Basketball Operations, Larry Bird, presenting hometown hero, George Hill, with the NBA's league-wide Kia Community Assist Award for his work with Kids Against Hunger?
But George Hill is just one player on this championship contending roster.
Mark Boyle makes the point of noting that the team from "1-15 is full of good guys."
What about the rest of the Pacers?
Prior to finalizing Paul George's maximum contract extension, Larry Bird was quoted as follows:
"He's a great kid. He's one of the nicest young men you'll ever meet, and he's a good player. And we think we should take care of him."
From the onset of George's career as a Pacer, he has consistently demonstrated that he is a "great kid." Last season, he partnered with Papa John's to raise money for Riley Children's Hospital. During the month of August, he took time away from his offseason to spend time with the kids at Riley. George met with several young patients, and later told the media present at the event:
"They light me up, as much, hopefully, as I light them up."
Like George, Roy Hibbert also took time during the summer to give back when he hosted the 5th Annual Celebrity Softball Challenge held at Victory Field in memory of Caroline Symmes, who died of cancer at age 5 in 2009. Each year, the proceeds from the event go to the Indiana's Children's Wish Fund - a statewide not-for-profit organization that grants wishes to Indiana children who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness.
Hibbert's charitable efforts did not stop when summer turned to autumn. He, along with teammates Chris Copeland, Rasual Butler, C.J. Watson, Orlando Johnson, Solomon Hill, and Donald Sloan, helped serve meals at the Pacers' 16th Annual "Come To Our House" Thanksgiving Dinner hosted by David West and his wife. According to Scott Agness of Pacers.com, the Pacers assisted in serving over 650 meals to individuals from various shelters in Central Indiana. David West conveyed his belief that hosting the annual event is, "part of service that we're required to do as people." He later added:
"We understand the importance of it and obviously understand that there are folks out there less fortunate than ourselves. Any opportunity that you have to lend them a hand, do something to contribute to their everyday life, obviously you want to be a part of that."
Last spring, West and his wife helped reduce prom costs by donating prom dresses to some 500 girls from several Indianapolis Public Schools. Teammate Lance Stephenson followed their lead when he developed a contest to give away the 'Ultimate Prom Experience' to a young couple in Indianapolis.
Far from exhaustive, these are but a few of the charitable works sponsored or hosted primarily by current Pacers ‘starters.
What about 6 thru 14?
Danny Granger's long-term commitment as an Ambassador for the NBA's 'Dribble to Stop Diabetes' campaign is well-known by most Pacers fans.
But, what about some of the newer faces?
Well, it is does not take a lot of research to deduce that new reserve point guard, C.J. Watson, has made giving back a definite priority in his life as a professional athlete. The "Quiet Storm Foundation" (cofounded by Watson) is currently partnering with the "You Win We Win Foundation" to collect toys for the 2013 holiday season. In addition, as part of the 2012 US State Department's "Sports Envoy" program and the NBA's "Basketball without Borders" initiative, Watson traveled to Senegal where he made the decision to become a founding member of "Jr. Seed". Created for middle school age children, "Jr. Seed" is an offshoot of "Seed Project"-a program that aims to teach African youths the game of basketball as a "means to inspire them in the classroom". Watson's efforts in this new initiative helped to provide scholarships to five students, which enabled them to be part of the program this year.
Watson is not the only player on the Pacers' roster that has gotten involved with "Basketball without Borders." During the summer, Luis Scola and Chris Copeland made a trip to Buenos Aires to mentor campers. Additionally, as part of "Basketball Without Borders Americas," the NBA players present participated in various community outreach projects such as aiding in the construction of transitional houses and hosting a basketball clinic for Special Olympic athletes. Moreover, during the offseason, Scola also took time to play in the "2013 Yao Foundation Charity Game" in Beijing, China, the proceeds from which helped youth in poverty stricken areas of China to afford participation in the "Yao Foundation Hope Primary School" basketball season.
As previously stated, Rasual Butler, Orlando Johnson, Solomon Hill, and Donald Sloan helped serve meals at the Pacers' annual "Come to Our House" Thanksgiving dinner. Similarly, Ian Mahinmi, Orlando Johnson, and Solomon Hill got involved with the "Kids Against Hunger" event orchestrated by Kia NBA Assist Award Winner, George Hill and held at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Scott Agness of Pacers.com reported that through their efforts-along with those of 400 Pacers' employees-a grand total of 59,686 meals were distributed in Indianapolis, as well as, to several other areas in need outside of the U.S.
More recently, Donald Sloan, assisted by Solomon Hill and Roy Hibbert, hosted his first "Knock Out Hunger" event for children at the Boys and Girls Club of Indianapolis. Scott Agness later reported that, in addition to participating in a knock-out basketball tournament, the kids present at the event were provided with Thanksgiving meals.
There you have it, Pacers' fans. Your team's collective success on the court is well-matched by its outstanding community service, which does not come from just one good guy but via players 1 thru 14. It certainly seems that "NBA Cares" is more than just a slogan, or public service announcement to the Pacers. It truly is a way of life. After the Pacers' annual "Come to Our House" event, Frank Vogel described the Pacers' off the court initiatives best, by stating:
"It's very important for us with the Indiana Pacers not only to compete for championships, but to give back to the community..."
With Thanksgiving Day and the Season of Giving fast approaching, perhaps Pacers' fans everywhere ought to take a few moments to consider how blessed they are to cheer for a group of players that not only compete to win every game, they set an extraordinary example of service to others by graciously giving back locally, nationally and internationally. In addition to all of that, they eagerly embrace their fan base in a variety of ways such as Area 55, G2 Zone, tailgating at a Purdue football game, or hanging out at a complete stranger's home after purchasing a PS4.
Indeed, Pacers' fans, there is much for which to be thankful.
This roster is special.
Like Mark Boyle stated, it really is a "rarity in sports today."